Parents must decide whether or not their child will be best managed in a mainstream school, with a high rate of contact with mainstream children, or in a special or residential school, where the chances of the child coming in contact with mainstream children is considerably less. Special and residential schools may have better educational programs for autistic children but may not provide enough positive role models of more ‘normal’ behaviors. Some people also feel that special schools can encourage kids to mimic other children with similar problems.
For most children with Aspergers I would consider that as a basic”rule of thumb” mainstream schools with support will be the best option for your child’s long term progression. This is because for children with Aspergers the main issue is not one of cognition, learning or understanding, it is more the case of challenges with social situations. So your child will fare best if supported well in an environment where typical peers for the rest of his or her life (i.e. the general population) are around. The much more”artificial world” of special schools and communities may not always prepare children as well for the general community. But I must stress this is a”rule of thumb” as there are certain institutions and certain individual cases where this much more specialized approach would be beneficial.
Choosing the exact right school most definitely needs a visit to the school and a talk with the teachers who will be teaching your child. Before such a visit it is essential to have considered your own fears and thoughts about the school experience for your AS child. What questions do they have, what do they want to know more about. You can draw up a list of questions between you that you can take along and ask of the staff at the school.
Some of these questions may include: – How integrated will the child be in the classroom? – What techniques are used to support pupils if they are struggling to cope and about to go into”melt down”? – What is the plan for reducing arousal if necessary? – Will your child be well taught both theoretically and practically about coping and living in the community with others?
Your child may want to know how teachers will talk to him, what the other pupils will be like, what subjects and classes he will be in etc. Some of your choice in relation to schools will depend on the degree of Asperger’s your child has and his or her age. Younger children will need very small class sizes with early education so that, when the child reaches school age, he or she may be more integrated into the classroom.
The ‘right’ school understands Aspergers and has methods in place for teaching children with Aspergers. They carry a positive attitude about Aspergers and place expectations on your child for progress, in whatever way it occurs, in the school setting. The greater is the likelihood that you’ll feel your child’s needs are being addressed and that he/she will have a chance to improve along with learning important social skills from other children.
But once you have chosen the right school this is only really the beginning as you then need to work closely with the teachers to ensure that they know all about your child. They may well know about Autism and Aspergers. But they won’t know about your individual child. It is your job to be an advocate for your child and teach the school what they need to know.
So to summarize this article on choosing a school – the major decision for parents is mainstream vs. special school. Beyond this the child and parents must visit the schools with pre-prepared questions to help make their decision. Then once the child is at school it is essential for the parent to educate the school staff further about the child, and to remain as actively involved in your child’s educational experiences as possible.