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Special needs programs and schools: a primer

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By Valle Dwight

How to choose a special needs school

One advantage parents have when looking at special needs schools is that by now they probably have a sense of what will work for their child — or at least know what doesn’t work (whatever the public school was doing). Use that knowledge when looking at the programs you are considering.

Some questions to ask when choosing a special needs school:

  • Is the school accredited or licensed by the state? What are the training requirements for the teachers? Check your state’s education department website to find accreditation information.
  • Does the school have an active professional development program for staff? The world of special education changes quickly and the best schools will be up-to-date on research-based methods. Meet with the school’s director and ask about the staff’s ongoing training.
  • What is a typical day in the classroom like — how is the day structured? What's the learning environment in the classroom? How are behavioral issues dealt with? Is the noise and/or activity level something that your child can handle?
  • Is the teaching staff using technology in the classroom? Do they use other adaptive tools to help students?
  • What are the outcomes? Ask for data on how the students fare — what percentage goes to college or is able to transition back to a public school.

Final words of advice

Visit any school you are considering. Look at how the classroom is set up. Is it the right kind of environment for your child? How many children are in the classroom? How does the teacher handle disruptions? Do the students seem engaged?

Seek out parents whose children go to a school you're considering. Talk to them about their experience. Ask them if they think the school is a good fit for a student with your child’s particular needs. Involved parents can be your best and most honest source of information.

Valle Dwight is a reporter, writer, and mother of two school-aged boys. She has written for many magazines, including FamilyFun, Wondertime, and Working Mother.


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