I have discovered that one of the most stressful challenges in raising a child with autism is the debate on where and how to educate them.
My best advice I can give to any parent is to start investigating what is available in your area, privately and publicly.
School systems usually want to place autistic children in special needs classrooms, but this is not always the best fit for every autistic child.
There are a lot of benefits for an autistic child to be placed into a mainstream classroom.
- Social Opportunities: Because children with autism tend to have challenges socially and tend to have poor communication skills being around neurotypical children can be a great benefit. If they are surrounded by children who have the same problems as they do they have no one to model after. You will be surprised how much autistic children will learn from socializing with neurotypical peers.
- Mentors: It is said that children can often be cruel, but they can also be very helpful and encouraging. Children make great mentors for autistic children and love to help teach, especially preschool age children. I have been amazed at how loving and supportive the children I have seen have been, and in turn they are gaining some incredible life lessons.
- Expectations: The expectations placed on neurotypical children are greater then those with special needs. In some cases this is necessary but in many this prevents the child from even having a chance. For example, in a mainstream education class children are expected to be quiet, follow instructions, sit still and participate in the classroom activities. Too often in special education classrooms these expectations are not there usually due to the ratio of student to teacher and the variety of disabilities represented in the classroom.
It is necessary to state that not every school district or school for that matter has a poor special education program. It is important to visit and take a look at any school, whether it be special needs or not. I advise spending a morning there, be a fly on the wall and see how they conduct the classroom and handle the children. Some regions of the country have incredible education programs for autistic children and many are following suit because of the great impact autism is having in our society.