Choices in Education

Considerations for the Student Diagnosed with Autism/Asperger Syndrome

Most children with Autism or Asperger Syndrome attend their local public school. There they get additional services like special instruction, either in the classroom or in a separate room. Or they might get special accommodations, such as extra time on tests.

But for some parents, the discovery of their children’s learning issue triggers a much broader journey. In addition to advocating for the best possible services from the school their child attends, they may carry out an exhaustive school search, switch between schools within a district, commute to another district, or even move to a different state. In some cases, parents hire education consultants or advocates to help them find the best solutions for their child. In the most extreme cases, they hire lawyers to sue districts or states to help them pay tuition for specialized private schools.

Knowing how much energy, time, and resources you can or want to invest in this process is a very personal decision, but it’s helpful at the outset to understand the range of educational options that many regions have. Special education funding varies by state and children living in isolated rural areas usually have fewer options than those living near large populations.

What the Law Requires of Your School District

If you live in the United States, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that your district provide the “Least Restrictive Environment” for your child’s education. That means that they must consider such options as mainstreaming before deciding (with your involvement) on a more specialized setting.

You may, of course, decide that your child is better off in a specialized setting but if you decide to work with public schools, you may have to prove that the mainstream setting is not working before seeking funding for a private or specialized setting.

Below is a broad overview at the following educational options:

  • Public School    
  • Private School
  • Homeschool      
  • Charter School

Public School

Autistic support classrooms have several great advantages: they are usually very small, with a high adult to child ratio. They offer supports, such as visual teaching tools, which are specifically selected for autistic students. And they may also include intensive speech and social skills training in their curriculum. Autistic support classrooms, however, tend to be quite segregated from the rest of the school. It’s not unusual for teachers of children with autism have lowered expectations of their students’ intellectual abilities.

Pros:

  • Challenges to excel
  • Social skills learned by observation
  • Real-world environment that teaches life skills
  • Prepares them for diversity critical for future neighbors & co-workers

  Cons:

  • Teacher lacks specialized training
  • Budgetary restrictions – less attention

Homeschool

Because the options for educating an autistic child are limited—and in many areas almost non-existent—a growing number of parents are turning to homeschooling.

Pros:

•You can focus on helping your child understand every aspect of a subject before moving on to the next.

•Tailor the schedule to fit your child’s learning habits

•You can maintain doctor’s appointments or therapy services without missing any important lessons.

•You can create a lesson at the playground, the grocery store, or the waiting room of the doctor’s office. You can practice math, science or other skills almost anywhere, anytime.

•You can incorporate sensory integration into your child’s schedule.

•You control meals and snacks, which is important if your child has food allergies, or if you are using a gluten and casein-free diet.

•Lesson your fears of bullying by peers

Cons:

•Financial hardship by loss of extra income.

•Challenges with teaching certain subjects

•Difficulty keeping up with the demands of daily life and school life.

•Children who are homeschooled tend to miss out on those leisure and fun activities that are a part of the public school system.

•Your child may not want you as a teacher. Just as some children behave better when they are with people other than their parents, so might your child learn better when with a teacher rather than with you.


Private School

Most special needs private schools are designed for children with typical social skills and learning disabilities. Autistic children tend to have problematic social skills, which means that different supports and programs may be needed to help them integrate into the school community.

Pros:

  • smaller class sizes
  • more individualized teaching
  • significant flexibility in terms of curriculum 
  • No standardized testing.
  • Set up based on a specific therapeutic philosophy. May spend the majority of the day implementing behavioral intervention. There are others dedicated to teaching through Floortime and still others with the focus largely on Relationship Development Intervention.

Cons:

  • Location is not always close by
  • Costly – upwards of $75,000/yr
  • Unlikely to learn coping skills §
  • Few typical private schools hire teachers with specific special needs training.

Charter School

Charter schools are fairly new in public education, and they’ve generated a lot of interest and inquiry. For many families and educators, charter schools offer more options for how students will be educated. For others, charter schools are confusing.  If a charter school is considered to be an independent Local Education Agency (LEA) under its state’s law, that charter school bears the exact same legal requirements for providing special education services as any other LEA (or district).

Pros:

  • Charter schools are considered “public schooling” and must abide by all state regulations.
  • The charter school may have an emphasis on the arts or science
  • A smaller teacher-child ratio.

Cons:

  • Some can close due to lack of funding
  • Quality various dependant upon independant style of administrator

Special Education Referral Process

Parent Resources 

Texas Project FIRST (Families Information Resources Support and Training) is a project of the Texas Education Agency committed to providing accurate and consistent information to parents and families of students with disabilities.

The Partners Resource Network (PRN) is a non-profit agency that operates the statewide network of federally funded Parent Training and Information Centers (PTI’s) in Texas. The mission of PRN is to empower parents of children and youth with disabilities in their roles as parents, decision makers, and advocates for their children and to promote partnerships among parents and professionals.

Special Education Information Center Toll Free Information Line

The Special Education Information Center provides information related to special education to parents, school personnel, and other members of the public.

The contact number is 1-855-773-3839 (1-855-SPEDTEX)

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Gabriela Lemos was born in Porto Alegre, Brasil, and was raised in San Antonio, Texas. She is currently a student at UTSA, graduating in December 2014 with a Bachelor degree in English. Brie states that she loves language and words, and the way in which people communicate with each other. She has always been interested and attracted to the autism community. “I find those on the spectrum to be incredible in so many ways, and I believe we can all learn from each other in our different strengths and weaknesses. I would love to use my talents to aid those who are not as strong in areas which I have confidence, and in turn receive an infinite amount of lessons and aid from those who I work with. Everything you send out, comes back to you, and I plan to practice sending out love and compassion every day”. We feel so fortunate to offer Brie’s talent of writing as well as her passion for autism awareness every week through our Aspergers101 Weekly.

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