February 2017

When you have a child with special needs, you may find that one size does not fit all when it comes to schooling.  We happen to live in a state (Virginia) and a county (Fairfax) where the public schools are one of the highest rated in the country.  Having said that, the mission of any public school is to teach to the common denominator while attempting to cater to specialized needs whether those specialized needs are for lower performing, higher performing or special needs children.  Your child may not fit into the public-school pattern – your child may need something different than what the public schools provide.  There are options available in such situations and they have their pros and cons.

The first option is private schooling.  More than ever before, there are private schools that cater to various academic challenges.  There are schools that address the needs of a child with autism, ones for the gifted and talented and some for the rebellious child who can’t conform.  Below are some of the Pros and Cons to consider when placing a child with special needs in a private school setting.

Pros

  • Specialized schools can address specialized needs.  For example, if your child is autistic, placing him/her in a school that only addresses autistic children means that the staff are well-equipped to address those challenges.  Likewise, for gifted and talented children.
  • Private schools offer a flexible curriculum.  Because they are not state certified, they can create a curriculum that caters to their special population.
  • Private schools generally have smaller class sizes.  This can be a great benefit, especially since we have seen the sizes of public school classrooms growing recently.

Cons

  • You must pay private school tuition fees, and those can be hefty.
  • Private schools don’t have to cater to the needs of a special child (though they can – see pros above.)  You must find a school that caters to your child’s special needs rather than just a private school that caters to kids of all abilities.
  • Teachers are not necessarily certified since teacher certification is not a requirement for employment in a private school, and so, you may come across teachers that are less trained than their counterparts in the public school system.  It is a good idea to ask for the certification requirements/guidelines for each school.

Another option is home schooling your child.  Home schooling has taken off in the past 15 years and can be a great option for many families.  I found this site which contains useful information on home schooling in Virginia.  To home school your child, you must inform the State that you are doing so.  You can find the form on-line (do a Google search on home schooling in your district.)  Then, you must find/buy or design a curriculum that works for your child.  If you chose to buy a curriculum, there are many options.  One of my favorites is found here.  If you choose to design your own curriculum, you must present that curriculum to the State for approval before you are allowed to home school your child.

Pros

  • Flexible schedule.  Your child can learn at their own pace and yours.  Therapy appointments become easier to schedule.
  • Less busy work.  Our special children get brain fatigue more quickly because they are exerting so much effort to do what most take for granted.  By home schooling you are providing them with the ability to focus on what is academically necessary.
  • Well rested children.  By studying when they are most alert and completing their academic day in less time, special kids will be well rested and will be able to tackle other challenges with much more rigor.

Cons

  • Home schooling curriculums cost money or parent’s time.  The curriculum would either need to be purchased, for a hefty sum that repeats each year, or the parent will have to devote lots of time to designing a curriculum.
  • Reduced publicly funded services.  If you chose to home school, your child will fall under an Individualized Service Plan (ISP) and not an Individualized Education Plan (IEP.)  Each school district handles an ISP differently therefore you must find out what is covered and what is not prior to making the decision to home school.
  • Isolation.  Both the parent (who is home schooling) and the child will feel a certain amount of isolation.  Some of that isolation can be remedied by finding and engaging with other home schooling families.

Note: Many schools now offer a hybrid option where a child can receive instruction in the core subjects (history, science, math and English) at home while other classes like electives and languages can be taught at the district school.  The child will still be subject to reduced special education services though. 

Whatever you decide to do, you should research your options extensively to do what is best for your child.  I have found that when considering the needs of a special child, there are no easy answers, but trusting yourself in advocating and doing what is best for your child is always the right answer!

Update on August 14, 2017: Recently, a parent pointed out an article about school options.  The article was published in the June 2017 edition of Exceptional Parent Magazine and can be found here