Choosing the right school for your child can be a difficult task. But, choosing an appropriate educational placement for a child with special needs is even more difficult due to your child’s unique learning needs, problem behaviors exhibited, and/or lack of age-appropriate communication and academic skills. Therefore, it can become a full-time job for a parent to find a school that best meets the needs of their child. Below are a few helpful tips to use when choosing the right educational fit for your “special” child:
1) Tour opportunity- a school that would be a good fit would be one that would allow you to come and tour the school in order to see the classrooms and speak to the teachers and administration personnel. It is important to see the structure and set up of the classroom, the interactions the teacher has with the students, as well as the students who are placed in the classroom that your child would be assigned to prior to committing to a particular placement.
2) Volunteer/shadowing opportunities-if the school will not allow the parent to shadow the child during the school day, this may be a red flag. It is important for a parent to see how their child is interacting within the classroom and to have an “open door” policy for parents who are interested in being involved in their child’s learning.
3) Collaboration with outside specialists-the school should be willing to have outside therapy specialists come in to the school to shadow the student and meet with the teachers in order to ensure classroom demands and goals are similar to those targeted in private therapy sessions (ST, OT, ABA).
4) Low student to teacher ratio- a classroom that has a lower student to teacher ratio may be a better fit for your child over one with a large amount of students. This will allow more individualized attention and fewer distractions.
5) Experienced teacher -the teacher drives the success of each individual student in the classroom. Therefore, it is important to have a teacher who has experience with your child’s diagnosis and behaviors in order to tailor the educational program to their unique learning needs.
6) Good role models-having more advanced children in your child’s classroom allows your child to imitate appropriate behavior. Therefore, it is imperative that your child not be the highest functioning student in their particular class.
7) Experienced behavior specialist/behavior analyst on site-having a particular person assigned to addressing problem behaviors is imperative. This person should have experience collecting data and developing, implementing and training staff on function-based behavior plans.
8) Secure campus-The ideal school for any child would be one that does not allow outside visitors to access the campus without going through the administration office. It is also important that the school is secure in order to keep children who wander on school property. This also includes a recess area/playground that has full fencing and a locked/secure gate.
9) Appropriate assessment/curriculum-Since all children learn and develop at different rates, it is important that your child receive an initial educational assessment to determine their strengths and areas to target. Then, their curriculum should be based off of the assessment tool and tailored to their specific needs. Updated assessments should be conducted frequently to measure skill acquisition and maintenance and to make changes to the academic goals, as needed.
In short, when seeking out an educational placement for your child with special needs, be sure to ask the staff questions regarding these 9 areas. Once you feel comfortable your child will thrive in a particular learning environment, it will be will an exciting time to watch your child head to school to learn all of the skills needed to reach their fullest potential.
Do you know of a particular school in the Tampa Bay area that has exceeded your expectations? Leave the information in the comment section below. We would love to hear about it!