The environment in which special needs children are educated is critical in their intellectual, physical, social, and emotional development. Any parent would be concerned about their child’s learning environment, but parents of special needs children must take an active role in assuring their child is in the best possible learning environment for him. What is a perfect fit for one child is not adequate for another. A parent’s worst fear is to have their child neglected or left behind in the classroom.
With such a big decision, how can you ensure your child is in the best school for him? The first step is to know what your options are. Most parents are surprised at how many options they really have. Parents should begin by contacting the school district to find out what options they offer. Many school districts offer a special education in a regular classroom with typical children. Some schools offer special education in resource classrooms. Special day schools are available for specific disabilities and conditions. Separate classrooms are available for children with visual or hearing impairments. Residential schools are available in some circumstances. Other options are homeschooling or a private or charter school. Just a word of caution: Private and charter schools have to find their own therapy services for special needs children. Make sure these services are adequate before enrolling your child in any school.
Once you know your options you can begin investigating them. Find out everything you can about each option. Specifically ask about teacher qualifications and experience. Visit the classrooms you are interested in, and speak with the teacher and therapists. Take note of how many students are in the class, as well as how many aides the teacher has. Keep in mind the needs of the other children in the class, as this will affect the quality and quantity of attention that will be paid to your child. Ask what enrichment activities the classroom provides—Do they take therapy-specific field trips? Do they attend school assemblies and activities? Decide what the most important aspects of your child’s education are. Which options meet those criteria best?
After you have made your decision, be sure you keep in contact with your child’s teacher and therapist to ensure your child’s needs are being met. Volunteer in the classroom so you can see just how your child functions in his educational environment. Remember that the more involved you are, the more you can be certain your child is in the best possible learning environment.
Remember, you always have the option of changing the learning environment. If you find your child is not thriving in his education, try to determine what the problem is, and, if necessary, revisit your original options and choose a different one.