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Which School Is Best for My Child with ASD?

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What School Is Best for My Child with ASD?
By Temple Grandin, PhD


Autism Asperger’s Digest May/June 2012

I get asked all the time by parents about which school is the best for their child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). I have observed that success in school depends so much on the particular school and the people who are involved. Public or private is not an issue. It depends on the particular staff who work with your child. It is really important for PreK and elementary school children to get lots of contact with neurotypical children to learn appropriate social behavior.

There are many children with autism or other labels who do really well in their local public school system and are mainstreamed in a regular classroom. Children who have been successfully mainstreamed range from fully verbal advanced placement (AP) students to students who are nonverbal and/or are more severely involved. Unfortunately, there are other schools that are doing poorly due to a variety of factors.

Some parents choose to homeschool their child. There are lots of good homeschooling materials on the Internet, such as KhanAcademy (www.khanacademy.org), which offers a multitude of free classroom materials for math and science. Others look for a special school for their spectrum kid.


Special Schools for ASD

Recently I toured specialized schools for both elementary and high school students who are on the spectrum. Within the last few years, many new specialized schools have opened. They tend to fall into two types. One is designed for fully verbal children who have autism, Asperger’s, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, or some other learning problem. The kids are enrolled in their new school to get away from being bullied or to keep from becoming lost in the crowd in a huge school. The other type of special school is designed to fit the needs of students who are nonverbal and/or have challenging behaviors.

I have visited four day schools that enroll children with autism or other labels who just do not fit in at a regular school. Teasing and bullying were often a major reason for leaving the former school. Problems with aggression in many students on the spectrum disappeared when the teasing stopped. None of these schools accepted kids who had been in serious trouble with the law. Most of the students I met at these schools were fully verbal and did not have serious problems, such as self-injurious behavior. They were kids who were a lot like me when I was their age. The student population ranged from 30 to 150. Keeping the schools small is one of the keys to the success of these special ASD schools.


Effective Classrooms for ASD

I observed two types of classrooms at these specialized schools. The first type was just like my old 1950s–style elementary school. There were about 12 children in each class, and they all sat at desks while the teacher taught in the front of the classroom. Keeping classes small was essential. The school enrolled about 100 students, ranging from kindergarten through high school. These students were mainly the socially awkward geeky kids who got picked on by bullies. I talked to them at an assembly where all the students sat on the floor of the gym, and their behavior was wonderful!

The other type of classroom I observed had a teacher-to-student ratio of 1:3 or 1:4. Students from several different grades were in the same classroom, and students were taught in subject areas such as math, science, or English. Each student worked at his own pace as the teacher rotated among the students. In all the classrooms a quiet environment was maintained because many students have difficulty with sensory issues. I was glad to see that in most of the classrooms hands-on activities were used.

Every child is different. What works for one may not work for another. There is also a lot of variation in schools, from city to city, and region to region. You know your child best. Take into account your child’s strengths and challenges when deciding the right school for him to find the best possible match. Most importantly, make sure the staff at the school have the proper training and background and use instructional methods that are a good fit for your child’s needs.


Temple Grandin is an internationally respected specialist in designing livestock handling systems, and is the most noted high-functioning person with autism in the world today. She is the author of numerous books on autism and is a worldwide speaker on autism topics. Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships, coauthored with Sean Barron and Veronica Zysk, captured a prestigious Silver Award in the 2006 ForeWord magazine Book of the Year competition. Her previous book, Animals in Translation (2005) was on the New York Times Bestseller list. For more information visit www.templegrandin.com

Copyright © Autism Asperger’s Digest. 2012. All Rights Reserved. Distribution via print is prohibited without written permission of publisher.

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