Some parents insist a particular school model is best for autistic students, but the truth is, there is no perfect solution for every child. Every child has needs and considerations that vary in priority, and schools are staffed with personnel who vary in their ability to meet those needs, regardless of the institutional structure. This article will outline some of the main benefits and drawbacks of both public and private schools for autistic education as well as a list of essential considerations for selecting the right educational solution for your child. For a discussion on homogenous classrooms in an ABA setting, refer to our previous articles on this form of autistic education: Part 1 and Part 2.
There is No Perfect Autistic Education System
I recently read an article from a parent advocating for public schools primarily because of the tremendous cost savings. The author asserted that autistic children will have financial needs beyond school, and it isn’t too early to start saving for the inevitable expenses of adulthood. This is certainly an important consideration, but it overlooks the factors that go into raising confident children who have a better chance of growing into independent adults who need less financial support down the road, and some of these components may be addressed in the school. Therefore, it is important to consider a variety of factors before making decisions about autistic education.
Below are some common potential benefits and drawbacks of each educational system. These certainly aren’t true of every school.
Autistic Education in a Public School
- Mandatory IEP implementation
- May offer a better snapshot of “reality” with a larger number of students who are also autistic or disabled in similar ways
- More programs and activities for socialization that match their interest and ability
- In a larger school, autistic students may not be known by everyone, creating isolation, and opening the door for bullying and teasing.
- Public schools see more IEPs, so meeting your child’s specific needs becomes more difficult for teachers and staff who also have to address the unique needs of other diverse learners. Although they are required by law to meet your child’s IEP needs, unfortunately, this doesn’t happen at every school.
- Not faith-based, so there is no unified religious culture for them to identify with
Autistic Education in a Private School
- Smaller community where everyone tends to know each other and accept them for who they are
- Unifying religious culture to identify with
- If the school is small enough, bullying is easier to control and combat.
- Large financial investment
- Limited programs and extracurricular offerings
- Fewer disabled peers to identify with
- Not required to implement an IEP (although many do so to the best of their abilities)
- Most likely will not offer a program assistant for the child
Either public or private, ask yourself these essential questions to help determine a safe and successful autistic education for your child:
Essential Questions for Autistic Education
- Is this school implementing my child’s most important needs as spelled out in his/her IEP?
- Do the teachers and staff treat my child as a welcome member of the school community, or as a chore for them to address each day?
- Is my child succeeding academically?
- Are efforts being made to proactively address academic problems?
- Does my child have friends? (Not just people who are polite, but people he/she spends time with outside of school?)
- Am I able to be a strong educational advocate for my child, checking in frequently, assessing progress, and ensuring his/her needs are met? Does the school support my involvement?
- Does my child enjoy going to school?
These questions can be answered favorably in both public and private school environments, and parents can ask for recommendations from other parents, or visit schools in their area to compare what they have to offer. Parents have found autistic education solutions in both types of schools, but the issue shouldn’t be diminished to a matter of money, if possible. Teachers and school systems are an important part of helping our children develop academic, social, and emotional confidence. Constant reassessment of this development is critical for autistic students, just like it is for any other typical child.
Additional Reading on Autistic Education