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Touring a School for a Child with Special Needs

Touring a School for a Child with Special Needs

My son, who has autism, is almost 13 years old. That means over the years I have toured many potential schools for him. Most of the time I have walked out of crying. At some I have walked out saying, "OK, I don’t hate it." And at a few, I have walked out of the school saying, "This could work." I always made sure to take really good notes and go in with my list of questions at the ready. That is how I came up with what I feel are the most important things to look for when touring a school for your special needs child. 

1.  Safety

This is definitely a priority to me! Will I feel like he is going to be safe there? How large is the building and what type of security do they have at ALL doors? Is there a security guard on duty at ALL times? Are guests buzzed in and out and is there a written log kept of who enters the building? Are there cameras at ALL doors? These are questions we as parents have every right to have answered. 

2.  The Students

As you tour the classrooms (which you should absolutely be allowed to do), look at the children. Are they engaged in activities? Academics? Is there a social component? What are they doing? Are they working in groups or one-on-one? Do you see children that seem like they may interact with your child on some level? Ask if they have the same classification as your child. You want to make sure a school is not just putting random kids in a classroom together to fill up a room. You want there to be some type of reasoning as to why these children were put together. 

3.  Classrooms and the Facility

How large or small are the classrooms? Will the size work for your child? What is the student-to-adult ratio in the room? Do they have the supplies needed to properly teach? How are the rooms decorated--is there too much or too little stimulation for your child's needs? Will your child be distracted? Since many special needs children have 12-month IEPs (Individualized Education Progreams) you will want to make sure there is air conditioning—and that it works and will be turned on when needed. Are the floors clean? This will be very important if your child puts things in her mouth. 

Related service rooms, the gym, and the lunchroom also fall under this category. Be sure to check them all out. You will want the related service rooms to be a place where your child will be able to stay focused during a therapy session. You will want lots of padding in the gym, and as for the lunchroom, cross your fingers that it looks clean.


4.  Staff

Have they been answering all of your questions?  Have they shown you everything you have asked to see? There should be nothing to hide. What type of interactions have you observed between the staff and the students? Do they seem like people you can picture working with your child and regularly communicating with you? And how will that communication take place--email, phone calls, a notebook? And how often?


5.  Teaching Methods

You will find that some schools have a specific teaching method. Those schools will tell you exactly what it is and how it works. Some other schools will not be able to give you a definitive answer for this question. Over the years I have heard things like, "We teach however necessary" or, "It depends on the child" or, "We have a few different ways." It is up to you to know what is best for your child and to decide what answer you feel comfortable with. Different methods work for different children, but whatever you’re looking for, this should be a question on your list. 

Additionally, a school should also have a full time nurse and an adaptive physical education teacher for special needs children. 

These are some of the things that I have come up with during my many years of touring both public and private school programs for my son. It is always important to ask all questions and make a list of pros and cons. Once you figure out which things are most important for your child, you will be able to make the best decision that you possibly can.

RELATED: Browse our directory of schools and other resources for kids with special needs.

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Dana Greenberg


 Dana Greenberg is a mom of twins living in Manhattan. Dana's site The Autism Club was created as a way to connect moms who have kids with special needs, like her son Jack--who has autism--and offer them a space to tell their stories. You can follow Dana on Twitter @theautismclub or on Facebook @theautismclub.

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