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Where Are the Best Schools for Kids with Autism?

By August 21, 2009

A reader writes:

Why can't I seem to find any information on where the best schools in America are for children with autism?† My family is willing to relocate anywhere in the U.S. in order for our oldest son to get a chance at the best education possible, but I can't seem to find any information available.† What is even more frustrating is that my wife is a Pre-K Teacher ).† You would think that we would have access to information regarding school districts and specific schools nationally.† Any insight, resources, websites,†or direction you could offer would be appreciated as we are considering relocating within the next year and would like to make the best choice we can for our son.

Here's how I responded:

I think that's because everyone has a different idea about what's "best" for a child with autism, and every child with autism is different.† Some parents rave about the "special" programs in their school, while others take the same schools to court to fight for inclusion. Some want to see schools stress academics, while others feel social and communication skills are key.

As a result of parental pressure, budgets, local resources and district philosophy, schools vary tremendously in what they offer - and parents vary in how they respond.† Some schools are terrific for kids with Aspergers, while others have terrific life skills programs.† Some are gung-ho for inclusion, while others feel specialized programs are the way to go.† And still others are generous with their cash for private settings.† Some have ABA classes; some use RDI or Floortime or TEACCH.

I'd suggest that you zero in on a few locations that look promising, and then connect with parents in those areas through Autism Society of America chapters and special ed parent groups.† Find out what parents think, what's offered, etc.† Then visit.

Honestly, I don't think there IS a "best" autism setting.† It's all about your child's needs and your preferences.

What do you feel is the best type of program for a child with autism?† Are you happy with an "ABA classroom?"† Full inclusion?† A focus on social or academic skills?† Share your insights!

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August 21, 2009 at 9:32 am
(1) Sandy says:

Many people have this same question and the reason why there is no list is because special ed is based on the individual, not a standard offering of services. You can find nationally of any school how many special ed children are enrolled. Not too many years back, California was considered the best place to be and many people relocated there. Right now, it isn’t the place to be and it’s quite a mess. Also with the public school, it’s an appropriate education, never is it best. Parents really need to speak the IDEA language because using such words will not make a good first impression. The only way to get the best education is to enroll in private school and even then, it’s really a matter of how the child learns and their capabilities. Unless it’s a private school for autism, the only list out there would be that of other parents experiences. As Lisa said, in any school you can have equal amounts of parents happy with the school and disgusted with the school. basing a move due to others experiences is no manner to base a move. Also, private services should be considered aside from the public school.

The best thing for a parent to do is locate an area feasible to live and then make special ed work for the child. A family could relocate and find out the new school is no better than the school they just left. A parent needs to be able to address what the needs of the child is and how this or that would benefit the child via services, adaptations and accommodations.

I just got back the state testing scores which so happens to be a current topic else where. My son partially meets state standards. Due to his disability, I doubt he’ll ever be academically on target and I’d be darn surprised if he ever did well on state testing even with the accommodations they provide. Does this mean he’s not getting an appropriate education? That teachers are not teaching him? No. It means due to his disability, even with the many efforts of many people, academics is going to be hard for my child no matter what setting he is in and it’s going to take him longer than a year to master those skills. I can not base his academic improvements off these state testings.

August 21, 2009 at 11:15 am
(2) Leila says:

If I were this parent I’d relocate to a State/city that has a good reputation for funding services such as ABA and has good schools in general. The more options, the more likely he’ll find a good program for his child.

August 21, 2009 at 12:37 pm
(3) Joanne Bianco says:

My son is now 17. He is a high functioning autistic teenager. His social skills were poor and he needed reinforcing in areas that our public school did not offer. I was very fortunate to have a wonderful special education director in my town. He made sure that our children received the best possible programs available.
Unfortunately, the director became ill when my son was 10 years old. He had terminal cancer. He suggested at that time that we should look into out of district schools for my son. I was against this, because I felt I wanted my son mainstreamed. I did not want him in a school exclusively for autism.
I was so wrong! I checked out the school. It is in Providence, RI. It is called the Groden Center. My son started there the following September. He was always mainstreamed up to this point at the local public school. He always recieved his therapies and had a one to one aide. One my son began school at the Groden Center, I never question the decision.
He is now 17 1/2 and loves school. He has made such progress. He has learned so very much, both academically and socially. The Groden Center has several sites. They begin at a young age and keep them until they are 21. My son goes to school 5 days a week and is transported by the town where we live. His day is from 8 am to 2 pm. He arrives home at 3pm, sometime a little bit after depending on how many stops the bus driver has. He is never alone, He recieves the best care. They also have residential sites if necessary. They have prepared my son for the Special Olympics, which he participates every year. I love the school he is in. We do not need to live in Providence to attend, however the school is paid by the school district that you reside in. Some towns and cities prefer to educate their students in their own school district, even if its not best for the child. Our state department of education can help with all that is needed to be sure your son received the best that is available. I would be happy to help you if needed.

July 8, 2011 at 11:46 pm
(4) daneara johnson says:

hello my name is daneara johnson i have an 2 year old little boy and he is autistic.it is very hard and very difficult and very challenging.he get 3 tharapist tuesday wensday fridays and the rest of the days he gets in school on monday and thursdayl.he goes from 11 00 to 3 30 but just reading on what you wrote it really touch me i am concern for my child when he gets up in school.im am very scared for him because i want him and the best schools so that he can get the best teaching and if you have any comments please feel free to EMAIL ME AT THE EMAIL ABOVE.THANK YOU VERY MUCH

August 21, 2009 at 1:19 pm
(5) California Father says:


As the father of an autistic five-year-old, I am very concerned about the kind of school my son will be going to next year. But as an RSP (special ed) teacher, I am concerned about ALL kids. What chance does an autistic child have in the current educational environment? The classes are overcrowded and the Obama administration is pushing standardized testing and charter schools. Every year I must administer high-stakes tests to my special ed students. This takes time away from valuable instruction and demoralizes kids who are often two-three years behind academically. Charters often turn away children with special needs, diverting resources from traditional schools that, by law, must welcome everyone. But I worry about overcrowding the most. There is nothing in the education stimulus bill that addresses the laying off of teachers (many of them special ed experts) or the overcrowding of our classrooms (many of them inclusion with autistic kids). How will my boy be able to function in a kindergarten class that has a student/teacher ratio of 30/1? Obama sends his girls to a (private) school where the ratio is 16/1. Those kids get the attention they need. Shouldn’t ours?

“Honestly, I don’t think there IS a ‘best’ autism setting. It’s all about your child’s needs and your preferences.” I agree but it’s also about whether the government is making the best decisions for our children. Right now itís not.”


October 16, 2010 at 10:46 am
(6) Kathy says:

Hello CF,

I cam across your answer on this site and very impressed. I too have a preschool autistic daughter who is 4. I am worrying about next year, when she goes to kinder garden. I live in a “not so good” district and the placements there are clearly not appropriated for my daughter.
I am going to look into private and charter schools.
Do you have any suggestion for me ?
I’m in Orange County, California.

Thank you very much.

August 25, 2009 at 1:20 pm
(7) Sandy says:

I will have to say that Charter schools don’t all have a special ed department and if they didn’t, a parent of a special ed child wouldn’t then apply for enrollment there. There was an article in our local paper about Charter schools in this state (which I believe was the first state to allow Charter schools) and how they divert funds and students from public schools. Public schools started having budget issues back in the 1970′s and 80′s and you could see the affect on kids who were thought to be ADHD. Charter schools are not to blame for that. Charter schools are a good option, and I believe in every state since NCLB has had standard state tests. Those tests were not generated towards special ed kids to begin with and although I myself don’t take my notice of the test scores, it is a useful tool to see how much the special ed child is retaining and carrying over. I have no problem with my kid taking those tests. The public education does have issues and they have for many many years of which many ignored, and some of them very major ones. In this economy, there isn’t going to be an easy fix.

My son goes to a Charter school, which has a special ed department. No school educationally is going to be perfect, even home schooling is not perfect for academically educating a child. Education for some kids with autism is just going to be hard for them due to their disability. I can not blame the school if my son cant master the multiplications tables, or if he cant read or write well. His disability makes those things harder for him and academically, I can accept he’ll probably always be below is grade level. I will have to say for my son’s school, there is great benefits of the Charter. Number one, the class size is much smaller and they group 2 grades together and have the same teacher for 2 years, 1-2, 3-4, 5-6 and so on so if a child is behind academically, they can still go with their grade lower peers class. My son will never have to transition to a middle school or high school. he’ll always be in the same building. But I will say I still do have my fair share of IEP issues but none so great that I ever regretted enrollment. Just like home schooling, private schools, Charter schools are an educational option. Obama pushing for Charter schools is a good thing, and in no way by not allowing Charter schools would that fix the public school system.

September 18, 2009 at 7:19 pm
(8) julie says:

We are just discovering and testing our son for autism. Probably high functioning (aspergers) and have him in kindergarten private christian school in california. Before he entered kinder I knew he would not tolerate a large class size and steered clear of public schools that are struggling. The second day of school he had a meltdown and his teacher cautiously mentioned to me he may be high functioning autism. He is reading, writing and doing math at high levels but his social skills are poor. I too am concerned about what the future may hold. For now he is staying where he is only 1/2 day (it was full day) and staff and kids are very nice–that is important. We are waiting to see what our psychologist has to say about school after all testing is done.
It is a hard one but it helps if you feel comfortable and trust whoever is caring for your child. My son also has severe food allergies and asthma. I go with my gut feeling first. Alot of schools promise this and that but you have to size up who can fit your needs the best.

Good Luck!

December 8, 2010 at 12:31 pm
(9) priscilla parker says:

Tampa, FL. They have several schools for autistic children. The state also has a scholarship program for the schools called the McKay foundation. There is Sydney ZSchool for autism in Tampa, The ABA Academy in St. Petersburg, and Pinnacle Academy in Bradenton. This is the best place I’ve found in my research for our daughter.

July 17, 2011 at 11:04 pm
(10) Dena says:

This is just a comment on the McKay foundation scholarship, which my son (in St Petersburg, FL) has been invited to apply for several times (he is now a high-functioning autistic on grade level after being diagnosed as severe at age 3 1/2…the GFCF diet and supplementing with coromega twice a day has helped him tremendously). If you accept the Mckay foundation scholarship you LOSE ALL FEDERAL protection. This is why I would never even apply for that scholarship. The Tampa/St Pete area is great for autistics in elementary, but it appears to be lacking in supports for middle school children in the public education system. None of the schools listed above are public schools, are they? EXACTLY. Tampa/St Pete is NOT the place to be if you can’t afford a private education…Douglas Jamerson Elementary in St Petersburg is fantastic for elementary school if you get Cassandra Murphy or Jessica Rowe but once elementary is done, you have to start the search over. That’s where I am at now…middle school search. I’m already looking ahead for High school.

September 2, 2011 at 5:30 am
(11) movingtofloridamom says:

We are relocating for employment in 4 weeks to Florida. We will be in the Tampa Saint Pete area. Our daughter is going to start 8th. What are your thoughts on FACE academy in Tampa and Pepin Academy in Tampa?

December 18, 2010 at 3:38 am
(12) alycee says:

I went online and starting researching. I found a site called dana’sview.net , and i also went to autism speaks.org. I am relocating from Dallas,tx. I ned to find a great school for my autistic child. Please visit these sites I hope they will help you and good luck.

January 3, 2011 at 6:22 pm
(13) Daniela says:

Best school ? well the besxt program is the NEST program. It’s only orffered in NYC though

January 7, 2011 at 1:13 pm
(14) CB says:

Yes, I think that the ASD NEst Program is a very good option in NYC I live in Queens and I am praying everyday that my son will be accepted in that program for kindergarten, but there are very few seats and in my humble opinion they will be very very very strict, so what are my options I am in tears, I do not know, my son is 4 and was born in 2006. In the public education system his options are just ASD Nest, or a ICT Class (Integrated class) that can go up to 25 children in the same classroom or a special ed class with 12:1 just special needs children. My son is very smart, he knows his numbers, his shapes, his colors, is spelling now and we think he will soon began to read, separate words like stop, welcome he can read them. He is very high functioning he is now attending an integrated classroom 17 children 10 regular ed 7 special needs, we just need to work in his eye contact and his distractibility sometimes he is hyper. He was diagnosed with mild autism a year ago. And if we want private schools what are the option, nobody seems to have an answer. Please HELP!!!!!!!!!!!

January 12, 2011 at 12:58 am
(15) Taylor says:

Look into vision therapy. From what our therapists are telling us our twins sometimes look at you with their head turned because their focus/eye strength makes them want to use their peripheral vision. They can’t focus looking straight ahead as we do. Look up children’s therapy works in GA. I wouldn’t suggest moving here but just call to get information. I hope this helps.

January 14, 2011 at 9:23 am
(16) Brittnaye says:

My son is 3 and has been daycare since was 3 months until he was 2 years old I had another baby and decided to stay home while at home I discovered my son was different needless to say he has autism. A couple months before he turned 3 I putr him back in daycare scared for the kids because he has always been aggresive to them he needed to be in an evironment with “regular kids”. He has came along way he is talking better still not where he should be for 3 but not sounding like baby talk. He is still very grumpy but truly can see his personality more his bubble is punctured. But my problem now that socially he is coming along but as far as him learning is a different story. Part of his stimming is reading. I dont know if he can really read or not but every store, logo gas station, traffic signs he knows or understands what they mean. He knows his alphabets and numbers. I honestly think he taught himself. If you ask him if he is a girl or boy he doesnt know, I dont know how to teach him in simpler ways. So I got flash cards. He can only sit down for 2 minutes so at daycare I think its hard for the teachers too keep his attention so then he gets over looked. I’m fighting the public school system now. Medically he is diognosed as Autism Disorder with the school system he is perfectly fine, bull. You know the school system also wants to put him in a class with peers like him and I dont see how that helps. If all the kids in there have social lacks then how will they help eachother? We do have good schools here for autism I’ve heard but I can’t afford it. Its very fustrating because I don’t want my son to be behind because I’m broke.

January 21, 2011 at 2:39 pm
(17) sydney says:

Southborough, MA (near Boston). New England Center for Children (www.necc.org). Excellent school – residential or day – for children with autism or developmental disorders.

We also looked at Evergreen Center in Milford, MA. Also a very impressive residential program.

January 28, 2011 at 11:06 pm
(18) Ed says:

We have been in the searching mode for a decade and have relocated four times two specifically for better programs, the last due to job requirement. Our best experience was in S. America with the prime element being the high expectations of our team of specialists. Since leaving that model and returning to the US Model our best progress has come by getting all the available services and insisting on progress. We left the supportive culture to now ha ing to battle and threaten to make some progress. It takes a village to help these kids, and the parents have to be the biggest advocates and next is the philosophy of the teachers involved. Good luck.

February 14, 2011 at 10:59 am
(19) CN says:

I think many ABA practitioners would tell you that the Princeton Child Development Institute (PCDI) in Princeton, NJ is the best austim school/center in the country. NJ is a good option in general as there are a handful of schools that are designated as PCDI dissemination sites that are based on the PCDI program and have program directors who trained at PCDI. In addition, there are a number of other well regarded ABA based autism schools/centers in NJ.

April 22, 2011 at 7:51 pm
(20) Amanda says:

If you have an autistic child DO NOT come to Little Rock, Arkansas. It is the worst place ever as far as options for children on the spectrum, especially the more severe end of the spectrum. The public schools in Little Rock are disgraceful. There are 2 private schools, each with waiting lists a mile long.

July 11, 2011 at 6:53 pm
(21) Daneara johnson says:

Hello my son is two years old and im cocerned about his speech and communications skills are very very very poor he But he does no how to say bubbles and do the sign languges fore more and eat, but its very hard on figuring out what he is trying to say he only goes to school for two days a week and get the rest of the three days services at home im am very stress out because they only g up untill he is five years old ,and im searching now is because im really cocern and these years go by really fast and im gonna be looking into private school and charter schools for my son im am now one month pregnant and we just wants whats best for our son …..

August 28, 2011 at 7:07 pm
(22) nicole says:

My child is 32mths and his speech regressed.He has been diagnosed with austism. Can anyone suggest a good private or public aba schools in Mississippi,Alabama,GA or TX?Thank you

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