Selecting a school for your child with special needs can be an overwhelming task. You are essentially choosing who will help raise your child during their best developmental years. In this article, we lay out the top 3 tips for selecting the best school for your exceptional child and family. 

Schedule a Tour
While online searches often begin the journey of a school search, visiting the school campus is invaluable. Any school with a reputable program will have tours available for prospective families and possible student visit or shadow day experiences. Before you visit, it’s important to lay out your top 3-5 priorities in looking for a school for your child. For example, small student to teacher ratio, diploma tracks, and in house specialized services (speech and occupational therapy). There are also key markers to a strong program that are helpful to ask about to indicate the internal strength of a school. These include, but are not limited to, student retention, teacher/staff retention, behavior plan implementation, and accommodations and modifications to curriculum. And although all of these details are important, there is nothing that can replace the heart and gut reaction you and your child feel when stepping into a school.

Connect with Current Parents
Word of mouth can be the strongest advocate or worst enemy for any school program. Connecting with current parents at a school is critical to gain insight from a parent perspective. If you know a current parent, then you already have your foot in the door. If you do not know a current parent, ask the school to connect you with one or two parents. A strong school will lift up their parents as ambassadors and connect them with prospective families. Making those connections before you enroll can be priceless to have a contact to reach out to for new student and family questions too!

Seek Family and School Community Connections
While the social, emotional, and academic growth of your child are key, the family and community connection of a special needs program can be just as valuable. Many special needs programs offer parent resources, such as parent-led associations, parent courses, and fun parent events! For example, a school may offer an annual Mother’s Day luncheon as a time for moms to have fellowship and celebrate one another. Another example may be a parent date night where they provide childcare for the students while the parents enjoy a dinner together. Seeking a school that strives to connect the family to the larger school community ensures that you are providing not only a strong foundation for your child, but also for you as a parent.

Whether you are just starting the journey of selecting a school for your child with special needs or looking for a switch from their current school program, following these tips can help ensure you have done your homework and due diligence in the process. Looking ahead to the upcoming school year? Begin the journey now, as you can never start too early. A strong educational experience is one of the greatest gifts you can give your child.

The First Academy is a private, Christian school in Central Florida that serves students with special needs at The First Hope of The First Academy. Applications are open for 2021-2022 and spaces are limited. Learn more and schedule a personal tour today at https://thefirstacademy.org/academics/first-hope/ or 407-206-8801.