There is a greater awareness than ever before of the different ways in which children learn and the recognition that some children, even those who are very bright, may need different settings than the traditional school in which to learn. Fortunately, special needs schools have cropped up around the country to educate children with developmental, behavioral, psychological, and cognitive needs that are not met in the general-education classroom. These types of needs include, but aren't limited to, the following types of diagnoses or conditions:
- dyslexia, or developmental reading disorder
- language-based disorders or speech disorders
- ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
- autism and autistic spectrum disorders, including high-functioning autism or Asperger's Syndrome
If your child has been diagnosed with one of these disorders, you may need to educate him or her outside of the traditional school system, even if he or she is bright. Here are some tips to finding the right school:
Make sure the diagnosis is right:
Have your child evaluated by a qualified professional to ensure that you have him or her diagnosed correctly and that you understand everything affecting the child, including emotional, cognitive, developmental, and other factors. Your doctor or school psychologist can recommend a person to evaluate your child, and you may be able to have the evaluation conducted by the local school system or covered by the school board.
Use your local school system.
Sometimes, your local school can offer your child services that may allow him or her to stay in the general-education classroom. Staying in the general-education classroom is referred to as "mainstreaming." Your child will be surrounded by typical peers and may be eligible to receive services such as physical therapy, occupational therapy, counseling, a paraprofessional, and a resource room.
Find local parents' groups.
Local organizations such as Resources for Children with Special Needs in New York offer workshops for parents that help them understand how to choose a school for their special-needs children. Look for organizations in your community that help parents evaluate and understand how to choose the right schools for their children.
Visit special education schools and make sure they are right.
When you visit a special needs school, make sure it is set up to help your child with his or her specific concerns and issues. The other children should be like your child, and the staff should be trained in helping children like yours. The school should have a means by which it communicates with parents regularly about their child's progress. Investigate the school in the same way you would any other school-by talking with the teachers, visiting classes, and speaking with other parents. Here is more advice about how to advocate for your special-needs child.