How do I decide which middle school is the best fit for my child with Autism and ADHD?

I have a special needs child starting 7th grade in September 2015. I need info on the best schooling for his education. He currently is in a Georgia public school but has IEP and is in special program called RISE program for children with Autism and ADHD. What's the best choice?


Lisa Friedman, Inclusive Educator, Religious School Director, teacher, wife, mom & friend

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I agree completely with Abbie, visiting the schools in person is critical. I would also add that as your child is entering Middle School, it would be completely appropriate for him to visit with you. It would be worth asking him to share his impressions about how the different settings and professionals make him feel. In addition, I would suggest observing his interactions with staff - are they kind, patient and eager to get to know him? And how are you treated? As the person who knows your son best or as a potential nuisance? I'd suggest that you want a school that views you as a partner. Best of luck!

Abbie Mood, Early interventionist & Freelance Writer

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While I don't know about particular schools in Georgia, I do have some thoughts on how to choose the best class/school for your child with autism (or any child with special needs, really).

First and foremost, visit all of the schools and classrooms you are considering (even in the public school system) and meet the teacher(s). What do you notice about the school's attitude towards children with special needs? How do you feel about the teacher? Will the teacher and service providers think outside the box, or have the same plan for every child?

Depending on the importance of this one to you personally and to your child's needs, will your child spend time in a general education classroom or around typical peers or is there a specialized program that he will be in all of the time (which is what the RISE program sounds like)? Again, depending on your child's needs and services, will they be able to provide what he is supposed to get (such as technology, etc.)? Legally, they have to provide what the IEP states, but checking out the school will give you an idea if they actually have the resources required. Some schools also have sensory rooms or can provide different kinds of therapies, like pool therapy.

Tedra Osell, PhD, Parent of 2e teen, former homeschooler and college professor, SENG Model Parent Group Facilitator

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The transition to middle school can be a tough one for kids, and it's wise of you to be thinking seriously about this decision. You probably already know that with an IEP your son is entitled to the same educational opportunities as any other student; the purpose of the IEP is to ensure that your son gets the accommodations (help) and, if necessary, modifications (changes to assignments) he needs in order to access those opportunities--core educational standards, of course, but also any electives, extracurricular activities, advanced classes, and the like.

When looking at the local school options, then, the first thing I'd keep an eye out for is what the administrators' and teachers' attitudes are when it comes to making sure your son has all the opportunities available. If you get the feeling that the school has a "one size fits all" approach to its students, I'd be wary; what you are looking for is a school where the adults make it clear that they understand that every child is an individual. Ideally, the administrators and teachers your student will come into contact with will focus on what his strengths are at least as much as they focus on his learning disabilities, and communicate their interest in making sure he has their help to do his best work.

Finally, when it comes to middle school in particular, paying attention to the culture of the school--especially for students who are "different" in any way--is vital. Middle school can be challenging for young people, as they start transitioning from childhood to adolescence, and finding their "place" in the social scene is both important and trickier than it used to be. Middle school students are starting to shift their frame of reference from pleasing adults to pleasing their peers, and the pace at which they're doing this can vary greatly. Children who are still oriented towards adults may seem "immature" to their peer group; children who are more oriented to fitting in with their peers can find themselves making decisions that, from the point of view of adults, are poor ones. Even though we as adults tend to think of "how a child is doing in school" as being about grades and academics, middle school students tend to think of it as being about making friends and being able to get along with others.

It's important to keep in mind, then, that an unhappy, stressed, or anxious child is not a child who is in a good place to learn. I'd pay close attention to how the school or program you are considering handles bullying, peer relations, and disciplinary issues: how much of a priority does the school or program place on helping students navigate the "non-academic" aspects of middle school? If your son or daughter will be at a school with peers who are already his friends, that will be a great help; if he or she is going into a school that is different from most of his or her friends, it will be vital to find out how the staff intends to go about helping him or her integrate into their peer group.

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