Choosing the Right School for a High Functioning Child with Autism

playground alone autism

With the turn of a new year, many parents are already
looking into enrollment options for the fall of 2011, and
one of the most common questions parents of
children with autism will ask during this process is: “What school is best for
my child?”

The answer is not an easy one. Each child is different and a
school that may be suitable for one may not work for another. However, one of
the most important things to consider is creating a balance between socialization
and academics. A school that provides good socialization opportunities is just
as important (if not more important) as a school that provides a solid academic
foundation.

As a parent of a child with autism, it is heartbreaking to
watch them from afar on a playground while other children play around them –
all alone in their own little world, unable to break free. 

Children with high functioning autism who are mainstreamed into
a neurotypical school will almost always struggle in these situations. They often
desire to play with other children, but because of their condition and
inability to connect with others, they won’t know how. Instead, they will be
content going up and down a slide over and over again to satisfy their
repetitive and self stimulatory tendencies.

The best recommendation for a child who is struggling making
friends is to focus on one or two kids in their class who share common
interests. Our son has found a wonderful friend at school and this friendship developed
because they both had a strong interest in the same video games. During
playground time, our son would approach this child and talk about defeating the
latest “Boss” in Super Mario Galaxy. These types of conversations helped open
the door to a great relationship.

If you do choose to mainstream your child in the coming 2011-2012
school year, it is extremely important to help them establish meaningful
friendships and relationships with these "typical" kids.  Find the one who has the same interests. If they
both like animals, offer to take them to the zoo on a play date. If they like
video games, invite him or her over to play on your Nintendo Wii or
PlayStation.  This will make things
exciting for the "typical" child and offer an opportunity to get to
know yours when he or she is most comfortable and can be
themselves.  It is early enough now in your school search to test the
waters as much as possible. Some schools may even let the child sit in for a
half day to get an idea of how he or she interacts with the other kids. 
Look around as much as possible, with socialization issues being a primary
concern.

Understandably, the above scenarios are not always possible,
particularly with lower functioning children. 
However, at an early age, the efforts to focus on socialization skills
and building meaningful friendships are vital for the success of your child later in life.
When choosing to enroll in a school this year, make sure you find one that will
provide a healthy balance between academics and socialization and you will
potentially see your child make incredible progress.