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Private School for Children with Autism - Pros and Cons

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Updated July 05, 2008

If you have a child with autism, you have probably considered the possibility of a private school. Private schools for children with autism can be terrific options. They offer strong therapeutic interventions that are tailored specifically for kids with special needs and avoid the many possible pitfalls of the public school system. Many kids with autism thrive in private settings, and many go on to careers or higher education.

Generally, private schools are best suited for children who are very high functioning, have significant behavioral and sensory challenges, and/or are having a tough time managing the public school setting. Children with Asperger syndrome, in particular, can suffer badly in public school as a result of bullying and are often left out of social activities. Children with significant behavioral and sensory issues are often best served in a small, specialized setting where 1:1 supports are built into the program.

But private school is expensive. Specialized private schools can run $50,000 or more per year. Obviously, this kind of bill is beyond the means of most families. In fact, the bill for special needs private schools is often footed by the local school district.

To get a child placed in such an expensive setting, parents need to prove to the school district that no available public setting could meet their child's needs. This isn't easy to do since just two or three children can set the district back more than $100,000! It takes a lot of time, energy, and dedication to get a district to fund private school, so parents need to feel confident that the choice is right for their child.

Typical Private Schools and Autism: Pros and Cons

Unless you have a high functioning child or a special relationship with the school, few typical private schools will accept a child on the autism spectrum. This is changing slowly as schools build a better understanding of the autism spectrum. Overall, administrators don't believe they can serve our children. Occasionally, parents will strategically "not mention" their child's diagnosis. But in the long run, it's likely that your child's challenges will make it impossible to continue in a typical setting without support.

Typical private schools can be wonderful settings for your child with autism. They offer smaller class sizes, more individualized teaching, and significant flexibility in terms of curriculum. They don't require standardized testing, which can be a huge plus. The private school community is smaller and more intimate, meaning that you and your child can get to know the parents and children well.

Unlike public schools, though, which are required by law to educate your child, typical private schools have no obligation to take on children with special needs. A typical private school may say "yes" to a kindergartner with high functioning autism or Asperger syndrome, only to change their minds mid-year. And, though many private schools are working toward supports for children with learning disabilities and other special needs, autism is still a bit of a mystery. How do you help a child who is a whiz at reading but can't handle circle time? Few typical private schools hire teachers with specific special needs training.

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