If you have child who has been diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) you have a lot of decisions in store. One of the biggest decisions for parents of any child with special needs is how your child will be educated. I can tell you from my personal experience that this is an incredibly hard choice to make. There are many factors to consider including your child’s learning style, level of functioning, and how much you and your family are willing to go through to get the best education for your child. There will be pros and cons to any schooling selection you make as well as some compromises. In this series of articles we are going to talk about the educational options available for your child on the autism spectrum including public, private, and home schools. We will begin our exploration with the public school system.
This is probably the first type of educational setting that pops into most people’s minds when you talk about schooling options. For many parents this is the most viable choice for their autistic child as it is free. But is public school the best setting for your child? Again, much of this depends on your child’s needs, the school district where you happen to reside, and how willing you are to deal with bureaucracy to get your child’s needs met. There are many advantages to the public school experience but also some possible downsides. Here are some of the pros and cons to choosing public school for your child with special needs.
• The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), mandates that your child with an autism spectrum disorder has access to an individualized education program (IEP) specific to his or her disability and educational needs. In addition, your child is entitled to be placed in the least restrictive educational environment. The goal is that your child will be mainstreamed into a classroom with non-disabled peers if possible.
• Public school is free.
• Your child may have access to technology, field trips, clubs, and social events that he or she may not have otherwise.
• The school setting will give your child exposure to being in groups and a chance to interact with peers.
• Your child may have access to special education services such as speech or even occupational therapy.
• You will have access to a team of people (teachers, aides, and other school personnel) to collaborate with in meeting your child’s educational needs.
• Our public school system lacks the funding to provide all the services many children with autism may require. In a PBS NewsHour series by Robert MacNeil called Autism Now one segment discusses how the demand for educational resources for autistic children is far greater than the available resources.
• The process of getting your child’s school to meet his or her needs through the IEP (Individualized Education Program) can be physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting. For example, our first IEP meeting for our son lasted five hours. The impetus is upon parents to prove that your child needs the services you request. Once the IEP has been written, it can also be difficult to ensure that it is followed through. It is certain that you will be spending much time and energy to be your child’s best advocate.
• Transportation to and from school may be an issue for your child. If your child rides a school bus, this can be an especially problematic time for many children and teens on the spectrum. In some cases this travel time can be very unstructured which can induce anxiety for your child. In addition, there are some school bus drivers who do not understand the challenges of autism or your child’s vulnerabilities. Bullying may also be a problem in this setting. According to (Hoover,Oliver and Hazler 1992) most bullying happens at school and on the school bus to and from school.
• Most children on the autism spectrum have some type of sensory issue whether it is being over-reactive to certain sounds, or being sensitive to touch. The school bells, speaker announcements, crowded halls, and general chaos of a school may be overwhelming for a child on the autism spectrum. Some teachers and aides will try to accommodate your child’s unique sensory needs (such as providing a quiet place free from distraction to learn) and some have very little understanding of how these factors can impact your child.
• Each school year will be a vastly different experience for your child depending upon the teacher assigned to instruct your child. You may luck out one year with a teacher who is skilled, knowledgeable and accommodating and the next year you may find yourself at odds with an instructor who is uncommunicative and reluctant to address the needs of your child. The beginning of each school year may be anxiety provoking not only for your child who must adapt to these changes but for you as a parent in constantly having to renegotiate the quality of care and services your child receives.
• If your child has any special dietary restrictions due to food allergies or sensitivities you may have concerns that your child will exposed to these foods during the school day. If you have a child who is not very verbal or does not understand which food ingredients may be harmful to them, the school setting may pose a risk. Substitute teachers, volunteers, other parents, and students may be unaware of your child’s allergies. If you have a child with a food allergy such as one to peanuts or nuts (which can be fatal) you will have to be very pro-active to make sure that the school takes every precaution to protect your child.
We would like to hear from you now. Do you have a child or teen on the autism spectrum currently attending public school? How is it working out? What have been some of the greatest challenges in working with the school system? Are there things about public school that you really appreciate? Tell your story here. We are listening.
Published On: July 31, 2011