Question: What are the pros and cons of enrolling my child in a neighborhood school versus a school designed to serve only students with autism?
Answer: Lets think through first the pros of the neighborhood school. There are clear advantages to being close to home: you don't have to deal with the lengthy bus ride, the child often is on the same schedule as other children in the family, there's an opportunity to interface with typically developing peers during the course of the day and the children that the child's in class with are often other neighborhood children giving way to an opportunity to have playdates and other social opportunities outside the school day.
But there are also significant cons in terms of the neighborhood schools. The first is really a numbers game. In a neighborhood school, there are usually fewer children with autism. And so the classroom that's available is often quite heterogeneous with whichever children with autism happen to attend that neighborhood school. And it might not be the right mix or match for your particular child with his or her pattern of strengths and weaknesses.
A specialized school dealing with children with autism is in a situation where they have many more children with autism and they're often able to provide more classes and certainly one is often a match for any particular child. There's also an issue with a difference in terms of the continuum of services available. We spoke before about the three-pronged needs of the child with autism in terms of educational goals: academic, social and behavioral needs.
The specialized school for children with autism will have a variety of educational approaches that they are utilizing that can address and often match with the needs of a particular child. The social curriculum is part and parcel of the full day when the child spends it in a specialized setting. And in terms of the behavioral needs, there's often a full team of psychologists, a social worker, a functional behavioral analysis, a behavioral intervention plan and even a crisis management approach when significant behavioral issues occur.
A specialized center for children and families with autism also has additional family supports available in most instances as well. So, by going to a specialized setting, you're often as a family in a situation to access more specialized services that can address the needs of a broader range of children.