Should My Child With Autism Go to Public or Private School?

Should My Child with Autism Go to Public or Private School?

When children with autism are ready to begin attending school there are several options to consider. These include public schools, private schools, and private schools for special needs students.

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Public Schools & Autism

Public schools are required to comply with the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This law requires that children with disabilities receive a “free appropriate education (FAPE)” in the “least restrictive environment (LRE)” and that instruction must meet their “unique needs”. Parents of children with disabilities notify the school that they believe that their child has a disability. The school then completes a Full and Individual Evaluation (FIE). If the FIE concludes that the child has a disability then the school develops an Individualized Education Program (IEP) that includes specific academic goals for the child. Parents attend the initial and annual IEP meetings and receive updates on their child’s goals when report cards are issued. The child may be placed in one of several settings which may be full inclusion in a general education classroom, inclusion in the general classroom for most subjects but special education classes for reading and math, or full attendance in a special education classroom.

If a child with disabilities attending public school exhibits behavior problems, the school may decide or the parent may request that the school complete a Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA) and develop a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) which will become part of the student’s IEP. Parents will want to make sure that the FBA is completed by either a licensed psychologist or Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) and that data is taken and observations made to develop the report and recommendations that will be used to create the BIP.

The advantage of attending public school is that it is publicly funded so there is no cost to the parents. In addition, Texas law requires that students with autism be allowed to leave for appointments for ABA therapy. This can result in a child attending school half days and attending ABA half days or school on some days and ABA on other days to get the benefits of both.

Depending upon the setting, a public school may give the child the opportunity to be around typical children. Being around typical children may be a great opportunity for social interaction. However, attendance with typical students may also expose the student with autism to bullying, especially in middle and high school.

Public school experiences for children with autism can vary significantly, depending not only on the specific school district, the specific school principal, the person in charge of the special education program at the school, and the individual teachers themselves. Parents are advised to do their research on the school district and the school and talk to parents whose children have attended in those districts and schools.

Private Schools For Typical Students

Private schools do not have to comply with IDEA and may not accept children with disabilities if they feel that they do not have the expertise needed to teach them. Some private schools may accept a child with autism and be willing to learn what they can do to support the student, including allowing an Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapist to assist the child in the school setting. They may even set aside a separate room so that the therapist can pull the child out of class either on a schedule or on an as-needed basis to help the child to be successful in the private school classroom setting. If a family is using health insurance to pay for ABA therapy it’s important to find out whether or not their insurance will pay for ABA support in a school setting.

Private Schools for Special Needs Students

There are many private schools for students with disabilities in the Houston area. These schools can be an excellent option for a child with autism because they have the ability to provide more individualized and specialized instruction. Children with autism may also be more comfortable in a smaller school with smaller class sizes than in a typical public school.

Private schools for special needs students can vary significantly. Some schools will only accept “high functioning” students with autism. Others may only accept students with autism who have no behavior problems, even though behavior issues are one of the three key characteristics that define autism. Parents will want to review the contracts carefully for private schools as some of them may require that the parents pay the full year’s tuition if the child withdraws from the school during the school year, regardless of whether the parents or the school make the decision. Private schools may allow a “trial day” or other trial period that will help both the school and the family determine whether the school will be a good fit for the child.

Research the Options

Given the options available, parents will want to do their research to determine which school environment will be the right choice for their child. Family to Family Network and Texas Project First are excellent resources regarding IDEA and the rights of students and parents in the public school system. One of the best ways to learn more about private schools is to review websites, take tours of several schools, and ask lots of questions.

There are many social media groups where parents share their experiences with both public and private schools and will answer specific questions about their experiences. At Steps to Progress we have experience with children with autism who have attended both public and private schools. We are available to share resources and our experiences to help parents find the information that they need to make the best decision for their children.

Contact our office for more information on what school option to choose for your child.