I remember when Charlie, my son who has autism, was much younger the hard road we traveled in finding those schools that would help him the best.
At first, inclusion was the most important thing to me. Later, I changed to making sure he was being taught the grade level skills or life and social skills that he needed. I was like a seesaw, back and forth trying to figure out what was best for Charlie.
I was tired of hearing what other kids had or didn’t have, what funding he could not have, or even what he needed or didn’t need and that person hadn’t even met my son. At the time I was fighting for a para to help him in the general education setting. I felt he could do it with just some extra support, but no was the answer over and over again.
My Charlie is now seventeen and a sophomore in high school at a private school. He has been in private and public as well as charter schools (which are public as well). My recommendations are not about public vs. private. It is more about the settings themselves and your specific child's needs. My experience over the years has been a principal of a special needs private school for nearly nine years, an assistant behavior analyst, and the best one yet—a mother to Charlie.
Here are my 5 important reminders in trying to find a school for your child.
CHILL- Yes you hear me, chill. You are not good to anyone until you first breathe in and out. We can’t get any point across if we are talking crazy. We can’t get any point across if we are rude. We can’t get any point across if we are angry. Get yourself together when communicating with school personnel. No one wants to listen or help if you are not cooperative and you are demanding. I am going to tell a little secret between me and you. For the last few years when my husband and I went to our son’s IEP meetings, we would each take a water bottle (half full) and one of us would crunch it gently if the other was getting a little testy. We tried to prompt each other to remain calm. A few times my husband left to use the bathroom, but it was really because he was getting too angry and needed to “chill.” As you are navigating your current school situation or looking for others this is the first step you should take.
PICK THE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOUR CHILD NEEDS- Each of our kids need various things especially the younger they are, but pick your #1 thing you think is the biggest need they have. Some examples might be: my child isn’t talking, my child hits himself, my child isn’t going to the bathroom on their own, or maybe your child struggles to write at all. Make a list each year (because it changes every single year) of the things, in order of importance, the skills you want your child to learn. Do they need a larger or smaller or school? Do they need a strong speech/language person? Do they need a strong behavior support person? Which is the biggest support needed? Once you make this list it becomes clearer then what your goals are for them and what schools can support those skills lacking most important to you.
DO YOUR HOMEWORK- Yes I know we already feel overwhelmed, but we must investigate what is out there so we are able to make a sound decision. The obvious first thing to check is safety. Has the school had any teachers or staff arrested regarding care of children? Is the school current on their fire and health inspections? Look up their reviews on the internet.This can tell you the most sometimes. If they have a Facebook page look up that too. There are always those disgruntled folks that nothing makes them happy, but we parents usually can wean out those. Ask your friends, post on social media and ask for others recommendations. Ask the school what they use to assess progress. Ask about their open door policy to observe or have a parent conference. Ask what specific intervention tools they use and for what reasons. Ask what their re-enrollment rate is. Go to the actual school of course and tour while other kids are there. This tells you the most when you meet people face to face.
REALIZE NOTHING WILL EVER BE A PERFECT FIT- I know this is a shocker... not! Every single school has different supports and different missions/visions. You need to understand what their goals are, what they care about. Ask questions about their staff and what certifications they have. Ask how long each of them have been there. Ask how many years they have worked and have had experience with the specific disability your child has. Ask about the administration, what experience do they have and why they are working there. As a Principal I tried to hire people with heart. I was looking for folks that besides their experience and training, did they have the heart to work with special needs kids. It should never just be a job to them. If they don’t have the heart to help kids who may scream, hit, pinch, or kick, then they might not have the heart to help your child on his/her really tough day.
PRAY- Ask God to guide you on this journey every step of the way. Ask Him to lead you by knowledge, power, and discernment. He has a big plan for your child, you just have to keep looking to Him as you figure out the next step for your child. It is never easy to have your child move to another school. It is always best though to move if it doesn’t work anymore. Sitting in the quiet of just you and God asking for His wisdom is the best thing you can do. There is nothing more satisfying when God speaks directly to your heart and guides you to the place that is meant for them. Sit, listen, and move.
I hope you noticed the first reminder is chill and the last reminder is pray. Both reminders are a way to get you to a peaceful place.
We have to be in control and have a sense of peace as we navigate this challenging and often times very stressful time. Just keep going to Him with your requests and let Him guide the way. You can do it!
Blessings, Patty Myers www.building-pathways.com