Picking the right school for your child

Picking the right school is so important for any child but especially so for a child with additional needs such as being on the autism spectrum.

Choosing the right school for a child with autism is a crucial decision that can have a profound impact on their development and overall well-being. Children with autism have unique learning needs and require specialized support to reach their full potential. Therefore, it is essential for parents to carefully consider their options and select a school that can provide the individualized attention and resources that their child requires.

One of the primary reasons why picking the right school for a child with autism is so vital is because they often have difficulty with social interactions and communication. Children with autism may struggle to understand social cues, make eye contact, or engage in reciprocal conversations. As a result, they may feel isolated and misunderstood in traditional school settings where they may be teased or excluded by their peers.

By choosing a school that specialises in working with children with autism, parents can ensure that their child will be surrounded by educators and classmates who understand their unique needs and can provide the support and encouragement they need to thrive. These schools often have smaller class sizes, specialised curriculum, and trained staff who are knowledgeable about autism spectrum disorders and how to effectively teach and support students with these challenges.

Your choice of school is crucial for your child's academic, social, and emotional development. it can provide the necessary support and accommodations to help the child thrive and reach their full potential.

From our own experience and talking to other parents 'the right school' has a number of key factors to look at such as:

The staff: They will have teachers and support roles who are trained and experienced in working with children with special needs. These teachers and support staff will understand the unique challenges and needs of each child and will be able to provide individualised instruction and support. This can make a huge difference in the child's learning and development, as they will be receiving the specialised attention and assistance they need to succeed.

Resources: The right school will have appropriate resources and facilities to support the child's learning. This may include things like assistive technology, therapy services, and specialised instructional materials. These resources can make a big difference in helping the child overcome their challenges and make progress in their education.

Inclusion policies: Another important factor to consider when choosing a school for a special needs child is the school's inclusion and socialization policies. The right school will promote a culture of acceptance and inclusivity, where all students are valued and supported. This can help the child feel more comfortable and confident in their environment, leading to better social and emotional development.

Family support: One other thing to consider is does the school have a support system in place for both the child and their family. This may include things like counselling services, support groups, and parent education programs. Having access to these resources can help the family navigate the challenges of raising a special needs child and can provide your child with the support they need to be successful.

This is of course the ideal world and there are very few perfect schools. That's why you need to have a plan for your child's education to enable you to pick the best school available for their individual needs.

I'd like to share with you some of the key elements of an educational preparedness plan for your child as they enter education or move on to secondary education:

Be clear about what your child needs, is it a mainstream class with no support or with support, mainstream with a functioning class/unit for additional needs or a specialised school.  

Research schools in the area, or further afield depending on the nature and needs of the child. E.g. what resources have they, a classroom or unit for children with additional needs.

Make contact with the schools well in advance, around January/ February. Arrange to meet the head teacher/ or the Additional Education Needs coordinator/ whoever works in the area.

Have your list of questions prepared before your first visit or over the phone. Do not think I can’t ask awkward questions, e.g. language barriers, transition to mainstream classes, will they have access to an SNA put in place if required, support for medical needs, visual support etc.

Inquire about the qualifications and experience of teachers and staff in working with children on the autism spectrum.

Look for a school that offers a low student-to-teacher ratio to ensure your child receives the individual attention and support they need.

Consider the school's environment and whether it is conducive to your child's learning style, such as sensory-friendly classrooms and calm structured routines.

Ask about the school's communication and collaboration with parents and how often progress updates are provided to families. For example daily diaries, and regular face-to-face meetings.

Find out about the school's availability of resources, such as assistive technology, therapy services, and social skills training programs.

Consider the school's location and transportation options to ensure it is convenient for your family and allows for consistent attendance.

Seek feedback from other parents of children with autism who have experience with the school and ask for recommendations and insights.

Trust your instincts and choose a school that you feel comfortable and confident with that will provide the best educational and support services for your child .

Have a program in place to help ease your child in the school, such as SNA support to help your child get around the school, movement breaks, quiet time may be required, help with new skills such as getting used to diaries, timetables, lockers, canteens, looking after coats and bags etc (such life skills can be practised a little at home prior to starting school to help).

Look up social stories on starting a new school, what to do in a new school, how to deal with my worries and how do I ask for help, etc.

Remember if a school is not working out it is not the end of the world, you can change, the liaison officer within the school will help with a transition to another school. You always have to do what is best for your child and your family.

Ultimately, the right school for your child is one that can provide a safe, supportive, and inclusive learning environment that addresses their unique needs and helps them reach their full potential. By carefully researching and considering their options, parents can make an informed decision that will set their child on the path to success and happiness. Choosing the right school for your child is a vital decision that can make a world of difference in their lives.

I hope you found this information helpful and please visit my Facebook page Autism Dad Ireland for more help and support. Also please follow me on X @Autismdad67

Autism Dad March 2024