What To Do When The School System Fails To Meet Your Child's Special Needs

"We've had a rough school year with our son (6 year old with high functioning autism). So glad it's coming to a close in a couple weeks! My husband and I are seriously considering some alternate form of education for him in the next school year. What have other parents done in a situation where the school is simply not meeting their child's special needs?"

All Aspergers and high-functioning autistic (HFA) children are different and will have unique characteristics and behavior. Various traits will be displayed differently in every one diagnosed with the disorder. This can make it difficult for schools to adjust their program or restructure the environment in the classroom to accommodate the "special needs" child. As a result, some parents discover that the traditional school setting is not the best scenario for their child.

If you are considering a different educational route for your youngster, then one of the following alternatives may prove to be a good option:

Home Schooling—

The number of home-schoolers in America continues to grow and now totals more than 1.4 million children. The typical home-schooled child is involved in 5.2 social activities outside the home each week. These activities include afternoon and weekend programs with conventionally schooled children, such as ballet classes, Little League teams, Scout troops, church groups and neighborhood play. They include midday field trips and cooperative learning programs organized by groups of homeschooling families. For example, some Washington, D.C., families run a home-school drama troupe that performs at a local dinner theater.

Increasingly, moms and dads of students with Aspergers and HFA are choosing to home-school their kids. This may be because they are dissatisfied with their youngster's school district, his curriculum, or issues related to his IEP. Some moms and dads may feel they know best how to meet their youngster's educational needs, or they wish to afford their youngster individualized educational opportunities that build on passions and interests and provide one-on-one attention. In the most disconcerting circumstances, kids with the disorder may be home-schooled because they have been taunted and bullied by other children, or because educators have misperceived them as “lazy” or devalued them as “underachievers.”

The superintendent of the school district in which the family resides has the responsibility for the supervision of a home-schooling program. When an initial decision is made to home school a child, a mother or father submits a notarized affidavit to the superintendent indicating the plan to home-school the child. The affidavit should be accompanied by a set of objectives that are to be worked on for that school year. This process may be done at any time in the initial school year; however, in subsequent school years August 1 is the deadline for submission.

The school district is required to provide books to the home-schooling family of the texts used by the children in the school who are in the same grade level as the home-schooled child. There is a wealth of curriculum offerings available to home-schooling families as most major educational publishing houses have come to recognize the home school market. Some families choose to invest in one curriculum and use it exclusively; other families pull resources from various places. The one substantial advantage to educating from a traditional homeschooling model is that the supervisor of the program has the flexibility to make decisions that she feels are best for the child and to use materials that are consistent with the needs and abilities of the child.

Throughout the school year the supervisor of the program should keep a record of the days of instruction and all the subjects logged by the child. Some use a plan book, some use a calendar or computerized log. The supervisor also should be consistently and regularly gathering examples of the work done by the child for the portfolio to be assembled for the end-of-the-school year evaluation.

In addition, tutors may be accessed for various areas that the home school supervisor doesn't feel qualified to teach. Private schools or educational institutions affiliated with religious denominations may offer a more individualized curriculum with one-on-one instruction, but the cost of enrolling your youngster may be prohibitive.

When deciding to home-school, parents should be aware of the advantages and disadvantages of homeschooling so they can prepare for any challenges they may encounter.

Waldorf School Model—

Waldorf schools offer a developmentally appropriate, balanced approach to education that integrates the arts and academics for kids from preschool through twelfth grade. It encourages the development of each youngster's sense of truth, beauty, and goodness, and provides an antidote to violence, alienation, and cynicism. The aim of the education is to inspire in each child a lifelong love of learning, and to enable them to fully develop their unique capacities.”

Though most Waldorf schools are autonomous institutions not required to follow a prescribed curriculum, there are widely-agreed guidelines for the Waldorf curriculum, supported by the schools' common principles. Government-funded schools may be required to incorporate aspects of state curricula.

The Waldorf curriculum has from its inception organically incorporated multiple intelligences. There are thus a few subjects largely unique to the Waldorf schools. Foremost among these is Eurythmy, a movement art usually accompanying spoken texts or music which includes elements of role play and dance and is designed to provide individuals and classes with a "sense of integration and harmony". The arts generally play a significant role throughout the pedagogy and Waldorf education's unique integration of the arts into traditional content has been cited as a model for other schools.

The school considers that each phase of childhood requires different perspectives. This translates into seven-year spans, starting at birth through age twenty-one. Throughout, the emphasis is about sequentially teaching what is good, truthful, and beautiful. By these standards, educators honor the work of all kids. The individual interpretations of each youngster are valued in balance with the contributions of others. Kids are shown with care how to be discriminating, thoughtful, and prudent.

Virtual Charter School—

The virtual charter school is like a “public school in a home environment,” but it is not the same as home schooling. Former U.S. Secretary of Education William Bennett and some others started a company called K12, headquartered in McLean, Virginia. K12 provides the curriculum and management services; the virtual charter school hires the educators and support staff. The head of the school, the controller, and a few others are employees of K12.

Why choose a Virtual Charter School?
  • Academic accountability
  • Co-curricular learning opportunities
  • Community involvement
  • Diamond Model Partnership - parent, teacher, family support coordinator and excellent K12 Inc. curriculum
  • Flexible learning opportunities
  • Safe and nurturing home-based learning environment that offers education at an appropriate pace
  • Socialization and outings
  • State-of-the-art technology

To attend a virtual charter school, the child's mother/father withdraws him from the local school district and enrolls him in the virtual charter school. The school district funding follows the child and encompasses books, materials for art and for science experiments, a computer, and other materials. The child also receives a regular education teacher, a special education teacher, and an IEP, just as in the local school district.

The educators become the educational supports working in partnership with the moms and dads (who have the lead) to educate the youngster and ensure he takes all the state-mandated standardized tests. The mother or father must log time daily on a website and track the child's progress, such as what lessons he has completed; lesson plans are also received via the website. Frequent field trips, all of an educational nature, are planned as a way for the kids, educators, and moms and dads to connect with one another.

Charter Schools—

Charter schools are nonsectarian public schools of choice that operate with freedom from many of the regulations that apply to traditional public schools. The "charter" establishing each such school is a performance contract detailing the school's mission, program, goals, students served, methods of assessment, and ways to measure success.

The length of time for which charters are granted varies, but most are granted for 3-5 years. At the end of the term, the entity granting the charter may renew the school's contract. Charter schools are accountable to their sponsor (usually a state or local school board) to produce positive academic results and adhere to the charter contract.

The basic concept of charter schools is that they exercise increased autonomy in return for this accountability. They are accountable for both academic results and fiscal practices to several groups: (1) the sponsor that grants them, (2) the parents who choose them, and (3) the public that funds them.

Most states have an educational option called charter schools, in which the school district has received a “charter” from the state. The charter provides rules, such as where it is located and the maximum number of children permitted to attend. With a charter, the school district receives the funding and allocations based on the number of children. The state department of education grants the school district funding to pay for teacher salaries, equipment, and materials to meet the individual needs of each child in a charter school.

Charter schools are considered “public schooling” and must abide by all state regulations. The charter school may have an emphasis on the arts or science with a smaller teacher-child ratio.

Delta Program—

DELTA is best described as a cooperative endeavor among students, parents, and teachers to develop personalized learning programs which best meet the needs and interests of individual students while providing a shared sense of community effort. An important goal is to help students become responsible, independent learners and contributing community members through experiential learning activities and community involvement.

Since its 1974 inception, the Delta program has become a national model for alternative, “nontraditional” educational programming for eligible kids from grades seven through twelve. Delta is founded on the belief that children are motivated to do their best when they are responsible for their own learning. Classes are not arranged by grade level, but by learning level, from introductory to mid-level to high level.

Delta is a partnership between the child, moms and dads, and staff through shared decision-making. Enrollment does not exceed 200 children at a time in order for educators, administrators, and support staff to provide quality, personalized interactions with children. Children are required to complete all state-mandated requirements for education the same as their peers. The program differs in that each child has an advising team (like an IEP team), and an open campus structure allows for flexibility, experiential learning, and community service projects.

Each semester, children in tandem with their advising team design personal educational schedules by choosing from courses offered in required subject areas. However, as a guide, each course has a difficulty level that ranges from introductory to mid-level to high. When planning child schedules, the set number of credits required in each subject area is taken into account along with the difficulty level. In advance of course enrollment, each Delta child is aware of the course content, learning objectives, and the manner in which his work will be evaluated — all of which serves to promote independence and personal responsibility in learning.

Benefits of Alternative Educational Programming—
  • Alternate educational placements may benefit the youngster with Aspergers or HFA through smaller teacher-child ratios, leading to more individualized attention and quality assurance in your youngster's learning comprehension.
  • Educational curricula in alternate settings may have greater flexibility and provide for enhanced opportunities to reinforce curricula in ways that may be tangible and concrete for the youngster on the autism spectrum, such as regular field trips to museums, businesses, landmarks, and other community attractions.
  • Greater individualized attention may mean that your youngster's personal passions can be used to underscore his learning in ways that might prove difficult or impossible in larger public school classes.
  • Smaller class size may afford instructors the luxury of time to focus attention on meeting the unique educational needs of each youngster.
  • There may be opportunity for creative programming in which the youngster may have myriad choices from which to select when planning class projects, presentations, or reports.

Disadvantages of Alternative Educational Programming—
  • A disadvantage to alternative educational programming and placement may be the cost.
  • Social opportunities may be more limited with smaller or one-child classes unless efforts are made to compensate for this.
  • If a newly designed program is considered, planning, implementation, and start-up time are all factors that may be deterrents for some.

Your local school district or state department of education should be able to provide you with details about a range of education program options, as well as funding options and obligations in order for you to make an informed decision about where your youngster receives his or her education.

More resources for parents of children and teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism:

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