Choosing a school for a child with unique learning needs can be overwhelming. Often the hardest part is knowing where to start. While every family will make decisions based on their child’s individual needs and circumstances, these common considerations can help guide you through the process.
Go With Your Gut
Begin by having a thorough understanding of your child’s needs and strengths and know what accommodations your child would need in order to succeed. Look for schools that will integrate these accommodations throughout the day. It may sound simple but a large part of finding the right school starts with your gut feeling. What is your initial reaction when you walk into the school? This first impression doesn’t always tell the school’s whole story, however, that feeling may be a good sign to dig deeper.
Meet the school’s Principal(s) and the teachers your child will be interacting with. Be sure to ask about their training, qualifications and any certifications that relate to their experience educating children with unique learning needs. Attend a school open house or schedule a visit where you can observe classroom activities. Be sure to ask:
- Does the school offers methods of instruction tailored to the specific learning needs of your child?
- What therapies are available on-site to assist your child in meeting developmental, social, and academic needs?
- How are the therapies integrated throughout the school day?
- How will your child’s progress be monitored to ensure the goals of the Individual Education Plan (IEP) are being met?
- What professional certifications and/or compliance standards does the school adhere to that would qualify them to meet your child’s needs?
Family Supports & Resources
Because your child isn’t in the classroom 24/7, ask what type of supports are available throughout the school to help you and your family sustain what is being achieved in the classroom. Are there professionals on staff that can help your child transition into their new school or even help you identify community resources that can enhance your child’s growth and development? How does the faculty involve and engage parents (and siblings) in academic and social functions at the school?
We all know that communication is critical, especially concerning your child. It’s vital that you remain informed of their progress and even setbacks. How often are parent-teacher conferences conducted? What vehicles for communication are utilized by the teachers and staff? Is parental input welcomed and encouraged?
Talk Isn’t Cheap - It’s Priceless
Conversations with other parents will prove to be invaluable. . . .probably more than any other source. Ask about their experience at the school. Why did they choose this school for their child over other available options? What advice would they offer new students and their parents?
Other Things To Take Into Consideration
Tuition and scholarship opportunities - The state of Ohio offers two scholarships (Jon Peterson Special Needs Scholarship and the Autism Scholarship) for children with special learning needs. Ask if the school you are considering is a service provider of either of the scholarships. Keep in mind that all providers don’t offer the same programs and services. Inquire if other financial aid options are also available.
Transportation - Does the school provide their own transportation? If not, you will want to check with your school district of residence to see if they provide transportation.
Remember, nothing is set in stone, particularly your child's development. As their parent and advocate, remain flexible and keep an open mind about options for your child. What may have worked wonderfully for your child one year, may not the next. Your most important job is to ensure they are learning and thriving in their environment, wherever that may be.
When you start seeing everyone as your child's team for success with you at the helm as captain, then you know you are on the right path to helping your child achieve academic and social success.