Selecting a School For a Special-Needs Child – How Do You Find the Best School?

As a Realtor, I’m sometimes approached by parents of kids with special needs. They’ll ask: “What are the best schools in the area for this situation?” Maybe their child has cerebral palsy. Or a hearing disorder. Or a speech problem. Or ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder). Or any of a hundred other physical or mental issues.

One disadvantage Realtors have is that we can’t say: “This is a great school” or “This is a terrible school.” The reason: What may be a good school for one child may be a poor one for another. So, like parrots, most Realtors will refer parents to web sites that rate schools. (And there are some very good sites. Still, that doesn’t answer your questions.

So what do you do? Here are four tips.

First, you may already be a member of a non-profit group that deals with that particular disorder. If so, ask them.I have some experience with kids with learning challenges, and kids with ADHD. One of the national organizations (with hundreds of local chapters) is CHADD–Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. I’m involved in the local chapter, and we get similar questions frequently. And, trust me, the experts and the parents know which schools are supportive and which ones aren’t. As a Realtor, I may not be able to say that one school is better than another. But as a parent, I know… and as a parent I’m willing to share that information.

If you’re not already involved in such a group, you should be. Most of them have lots of great resources: Often regular education meetings, support groups, a referral program to experts and professionals in the field, and much more. So, join. Then tap into those resources.

Second, ask your child’s pediatrician or a specialist your child goes to for recommendations and suggestions. The specialists, in particular, will know which schools are more supportive and which ones are less. It’s likely that they’ve appeared before school evaluation boards with the parents as the school has considered whether to approve a 504 Plan or an IEP for children.

Third, some school PTAs also will have a committee or subcommittee on special education. The parents on those committees will tell you what the school is like for kids with special needs. Frankly, it’s a very good sign if a school’s PTA (or other parent group) does have such a committee/subcommittee. It indicates a high level of awareness already.

Fourth, visit the school and talk to the school’s principal, or a guidance counselor. You’ll get a good idea of the school’s general approach–whether it’s open and supportive… or not–toward children with special needs.

Those four tips will help you choose a school that’s best for your child.

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