Autism affects every child in unique ways, which means each child with autism has different educational needs.
Traditional public and private schools, cyber and charter schools, and schools for autism all provide educational opportunities, but which option is best for your child?

Comparing Traditional Schools and Autism Schools

With the right education, your child can learn, grow and develop abilities that help him or her succeed in life. Consider the comparison between how traditional schools and autism schools approach education when making this big decision for your child.

8 Differences in Autism Schools

1. Special Education Services

By law, the special education services provided by a traditional school must include an Individual Education Plan (IEP) for your child. This is evaluated on an ongoing basis to ensure support of your child’s needs. An annual evaluation is also conducted to certify the minimum amount of instruction and aid is met.

An IEP may include therapeutic interventions, Specially Designed Instruction (SDI) and classroom placement that’s designed to help your child succeed academically and prepare for future success.

From speech therapy to social interactions, your child receives a wide array of special education services that help her achieve her educational goals.

2. Trained Teachers and Staff

Teachers, classroom assistants, support staff and aides in a traditional school may be familiar with autism. However, many of these staff members have not specialized in autism during training or student teaching experiences.

Most autism schools hire staff members with specialized autism training in applied behavior analysis (ABA), errorless learning and other techniques. These skills and ongoing trainings equip each staff member to prepare your child for academic success and future independence.

3. Classroom Size

Most traditional schools feature a high student to teacher ratio with 18 to 27 or more students. Even in a smaller special education classroom setting, students of varying needs may be lumped together.

Autism schools, including Sarah Dooley, offer a small student to teacher ratio. Your child receives personalized and individual attention and instruction that meets her individual needs every day.

4. Curriculum and Resources

In a traditional school setting, students in each grade may be placed into different tiers based on ability, but learn the same material. The curriculum and related resources are not adjusted to address a child’s unique educational interests, strengths, and needs.

With a variety of curriculum options, an autism school tailors classes to your child. Sarah Dooley guarantees that every aspect of your child’s day, from the academic instruction to craft time, involves personalized instruction that maximizes his success in and out of the school environment.

5. Behavioral Challenges

Children with autism exhibit a variety of challenging behaviors, such as verbal outbursts, stimming or self-injury behaviors. A traditional school may be unequipped to handle these behaviors, instead imposing disciplinary action.

A behavior plan, structured environment, and trained staff in an autism school address maladaptive behaviors and improve functional skills. Many also employ a certified behavior analyst to oversee your child’s behavior plan, address setbacks and encourage growth.

6. Speech Services

Up to half of all children with autism require speech assistance.The inability to communicate often causes behavior challenges and definitely affects learning and socialization. Speech therapy is available in a traditional school, usually in a secluded setting for a limited time each week.

Autism schools employ a speech-language pathologist who will observe your child and collaborate with you and your child’s teacher to create a plan to facilitate your child’s language ability.

Through academic, social and leisure activities, the therapist will assist your child in communicating verbally, through sign language, or via other effective methods. Sessions often take place in the classroom, too, allowing the teacher and staff to participate in improving your child’s communication skills.

7. Community Involvement

Students in traditional school settings interact with each other and may participate in an annual field trip with the class. Community projects and interactions typically do not occur.

In an autism school, students participate in numerous community interactions. Sarah Dooley students visit local museums and parks weekly. They practice their social and educational skills by participating in community events as well.

8. Transition Services

Students in a traditional school may receive college prep, business, or job training skills. However, these limited options may not help your autistic child successfully prepare for the future.

In an autism school, your child receives job training and coaching along with other opportunities that prepare her for a productive, stimulating and independent life after school. These transition services occur on-site and within the community, often including internships and other life skill opportunities.

Choosing Between Autism Schools and Traditional School Programs

To ensure your child receives the best education possible, you have the option of choosing between traditional school options and autism schools. We encourage you to consider your child and talk to other parents, your child’s doctor, and service providers as you finalize your decision.

Explore the difference the Sarah Dooley Center for Autism can make in your child’s life and future.

Learn about our philosophy and approach

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