Choosing a Special Needs School

Choosing a school for a special needs child can be a challenge. It can also be a source of anxiety as a family navigates the special education system, weighs the options, and ultimately makes a commitment to send a child into a brand new environment. Many parents ask questions like: “Is this the right place for my child?” or “Is this school equipped to provide the supports necessary so my child can receive an education?” Here are some tips on how and what to look for when selecting a special needs school:

  1. Collaborate with your local school system: Chances are if your child has already been identified as having special needs, s/he might already have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 Plan and an IEP Team to address specific emotional, behavioral, or academic disabilities. Discuss with your Team what options might be available to best suit your child’s needs. If you do not have an IEP and are concerned that your child might need one, you will need to submit a request in writing to your child’s school principal or local special education administrator. For more information on this process please visit this link
  2. Ask for a tour: Contact the school and ask if you can tour the facility. This will give you an invaluable snapshot of the school environment and provide an opportunity to ask questions about the program and the student population. Ask if you can meet with staff who might be likely to interact with your child to get a sense of interpersonal style so that you can decide whether it is compatible with your child.
  3. Understand the school’s behavioral management system: What incentives, interventions, or supports are available to promote positive behaviors? How is staff trained in crisis management? How are disciplinary matters handled? How does the school collect and utilize data to track performance?
  4. Understand the school’s IEP delivery system: How does the school deliver the accommodations as specified in your child’s IEP? What educational techniques and strategies are used to help achieve the academic goals in the IEP?
  5. Understand the school’s communication system: How will you be notified about your child’s progress, critical events or emergencies, special school events, or calendar changes? How do the school’s staff members communicate with each other regarding your child?
  6. Look for features that will benefit your child’s unique needs: A small student-to-staff ratio will help ensure your child receives more individualized attention and academic assistance. Access to technological resources will help keep your child engaged, up-to-date, and prepared for the real world. Access to vocational skill development (horticulture, culinary, automotive, building trades, and more) will help teach your child to develop work skills and habits to carry into adulthood.
  7. Understand access to services: Does the school provide speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, counseling services and/or psychotherapy, social work services, or family therapy? What types of individual and group psychotherapies are provided? What is the scope of medical services provided? Is there nursing on-site and is the psychiatric (medication management) service part-time or full-time? How will the school advocate for your child if you or the school feels that your child would benefit from additional services? How does school clinical staff communicate with care providers already in your child’s life?
  8. Ask for a “shadowing” experience: Once you have narrowed down your choices, consider whether your child can spend some time to “shadow” other students in the prospective school. This can be an empowering experience for children who frequently feel that life is out of control and that decisions are made for, rather than with them. The practice may also serve to decrease anxiety surrounding meeting new people or even negotiating a new lunchroom. A shadow day or two will not only deepen your understanding of the program, but will also actively involve your child in the decision-making process!

Happy school shopping!

Ayanna Cooke-Chen, M.D., Ph.D., FAPA
Medical Director
The Forbush School at Glyndon



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manadala.pngOur Guiding Principles

Our Health System and specialized programs have each adopted one of our 12 mandalas as a visual representation of our organization's guiding principles. The guiding principles that each of these mandalas represent are applied and practiced every day by our compassionate staff.