When it comes to education for children with autism, the great debate is whether to mainstream or go to a school specifically designed for kids with autism. It is a choice that almost all parents of kids on the spectrum consider at one point or another. The answer that’s right for your child depends on where they fall on the spectrum, how prepared/accepting your public school is of autism and how your child is performing both academically and socially in school.
Thanks to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), all children with autism are entitled to an “appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment”. Unfortunately, an “appropriate education” is open to interpretation, as what is appropriate to your school’s administrators may not be the same standard that you expect for your child.
The goal of any school is to properly prepare the students for the next phase of life. Some parents feel that public school will best prepare their kids for life in the real world. The thought is that kids need lots of opportunities with students that do not have autism, so they can learn the coping skills that will be needed to succeed after graduation.
In public school, every child with autism must have an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP), which outlines your child’s academic goals, objectives, and special needs. IEPs are evaluated annually to measure progress and ensure your child is achieving his/her goals.
Differences of autism schools
Kids who aren’t thriving in the public school system may find schools specifically designed for children with autism is a better fit. Autism programs generally feature smaller class sizes, more individualized attention and a focus on sensory regulation, communication and social skills. Such programs use evidence-based teaching methods and treatment procedures that have been proven to work. Schools with programs specifically targeted to autism have the ability to provide custom therapeutic interventions that surpass the capabilities of the special education classes within the public school system.
Some areas that are often approached differently in schools for autism include:
- Promoting active engagement of students
- Replacing negative behaviors with functional skills
- Positive reinforcement strategies to improve communication and adaptive living skills
- On-site training
- Job coaching
Additionally, children who have been subjected to bullying often feel relief and acceptance with the realization that they are surrounded by peers with similar challenges.