Summer is quickly coming to a close and before we know it, our kids will be back in school, and for some moms, this cannot come soon enough! Families often ask me about the best school, the best program, the best class size or location for their child. It really boils down to a few simple items.
1. The Teacher
Josh has been blessed with some of the finest teachers in the world and believe it or not, they were in the public school system! Josh has had some real losers too along the way. One teacher Josh had would just park the kids in front of videos all day and spend her time on Facebook and shopping online. Another would just throw out his lunch box, saying she didn’t spend all her time in school just to be a waitress! Others teachers were even worse. I just cannot reconcile the wanting to be a special ed teacher and then hating the work. So obviously you will need a teacher that not only has advanced training in special education, but a genuine love for working with our children. This type of teacher is far more valuable than a special ed program with a large budget. What good would it be if it was paired with a poor teacher? A terrific teacher will make do with just about anything that she can lay her hands on. No one can deny the value of a dream team situation where everything falls into place and you have a healthy budget, awesome teachers, and great therapists, but these situations are exceedingly rare.
2. The Aide
There were aides that Josh just adored! These wonderful people have so much to offer in the classroom, everything from keeping the peace, which may not be so easy at times, to facilitating instruction. While they are in short supply these days, the availability in your child’s class must be assessed and rectified if an obvious oversight has been made in staffing. Without good aides, the teacher, no matter how good, will only be able to administer crowd control and will be totally frustrated for the year. In the “aide” category, I would like to include the Bus Driver and the team for those children who do ride the bus to and from school. For Josh, this just might have been a ride at Disney…in fact, most of the fun of the school day was getting on the bus! These awesome drivers and aides made each child feel truly special and welcomed…but the opposite can be true as well, so be on your guard in this area.
3. The Class
The number of children and type of children in the class can directly influence how your child does. It is really important for you to investigate the “anticipated” number of children they plan on placing in the class. Of course you will not be able to gauge the various levels of functioning of your child’s classmates until you get involved with the class. There was one class where one child was obsessed with choking my son, which didn’t go over so well with my wife. We had to work hard with everyone in that class to assure everyone’s safety.
4. The Program
The program is the foundation for everything taught in your child’s classroom. From behavioral management to academic teaching, the approach taken can be a “make it or break it” for your child. There are a myriad of different approaches, and of course, the one you are interested is the one that will be the most effective and produce the best results for your child. Depending on your school system, a school or independent Psychologist can perform a full battery of tests that examine your child’s psychological and learning profile. Once they evaluate your child, the school will have a better idea of the approaches to take to incentivize your child’s ability to perform and learn in the classroom. The teacher and aide must be onboard with the program and learning techniques for the program to work. For example, my son Josh responded to a “negative” reinforcement in that he would loose one of the frogs in a jar if a certain behavior was not maintained while a positive incentive, such as “adding” a frog to Josh’s jar, had no influence on him. Some children respond much better to positive reinforcements. Academic programs are numerous, for example, Touch Math and Writing Without Tears. Again, the key is finding the right program for your child. The iPad has a tremendous amount of applications that can be used for teaching as well.
5. The Classroom
Another variable in your child’s education is the classroom itself. It may be moldy, may have toxic bug spray along the floor boarder, buzzing fluorescent lights, ticking clocks, a speaker that may make an announcement at anytime, the potential for a fire drill at any moment…the list goes on and on. If the learning environment is toxic for your child, you may only have the option to remove your child from the classroom, otherwise you will be dealing with your child’s anxiety, worries, fears, perseverations for the whole school year without accomplishing any real learning.
6. The Schedule
A potential pitfall for parents is planning too much for our kids in one day. We hear a lot about how important speech therapy, physical therapy, applied behavioral analysis, occupational therapy and a host of other therapies like hippotherapy that our children “need” in order to improve. We hear to do any less will doom your child to stay forever autistic. Thus, well meaning families may build a 40-60 hour work week for these children with constant programming from arising in the morning to going to sleep at night. Our children can really get burnt out and stressed and I think, even depressed if they have this kind of schedule! Be careful in your design of the day, making sure there is sufficient down time and play time every day, throughout the day.
For the most part, many parents can influence enough of these variables in a positive fashion that creates an atmosphere conducive to learning and thriving. It is definitely worth the effort! If you find yourself in the unfortunate position where the school cannot meet your child’s needs, it may be necessary to switch schools or to even consider homeschooling for a year.