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Special Schools for Special Needs Teens?

by Jane Wangersky | June 5th, 2015 | Special Needs, Teens

teenage boy (400x400)“Does he go to a special school?”

I would occasionally get that question about my son, the one who’s “on the spectrum” — the autism spectrum. While he was elementary age, I thought people who asked it were uninformed, to put it politely. Everyone knew that special needs students were mainstreamed in the public schools, and that was what was best for them.

But when my son started high school, it was in one of those “special schools.”

The choice came after a lot of thought and discussion both at home and at his elementary school. I still think public school was the best place for him during the elementary grades — at least, it worked as well as any place would’ve, given the challenges. It had the resources, the support of the school district, and a student body about the right size, so he could be exposed to social situations without being overwhelmed.

High school was going to bring changes, and some of them would be issues. First there was the sheer size of the only public high school in our town — over 2000 students. The confusion could be disabling to someone who couldn’t filter sounds and sights. Next was the somewhat rigid way of channeling students into classes. We’d already got a letter from the school saying our son would be in a special needs program if he went there, and we had mixed feelings about that. And though it sounds trivial, there was what I called “the whole teen fashion thing.” Maybe I’m biased by my own experiences in high school, but I couldn’t help thinking a lot of needless problems would be headed off by a school uniform.

A new independent school for special needs students of all grades was, not exactly in the neighborhood, but close enough to commute to. There were only about 100 kids, with classes of 10 or less, and everyone was taught on a brain-based system that was explained to us at an open house. Everyone wore uniforms, designed not to scratch or otherwise distract. Our son liked what he saw of the school, and that was most important.

It took sacrifices, and it wasn’t perfect — nothing would have been. But it was good to know he was spending his school days in a place where he could get to know everyone, the teachers understood if he wanted to go out in the hall for a while, and no one got bullied for wearing the “wrong” clothes.

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