So, the time has come and you’ve decided to either move, change schools or your child is now entering adult services and you are trying to find the best programming for him/her. There are probably a million questions and concerns about the right path. So many plans to be made. So many people to take care of and ensure a move or change is the right thing for them. But, let’s be honest here, the decisions circle around the one person whose needs take precedence and often that’s our child/adult with special needs.
When there are so many things to thing about, it can all become very overwhelming. But there are some questions that, no matter what you are searching for, program or school, you will want to ask. Here are the top 5 questions I recommend every parent ask of a new program or school.
- What is the staff to student ratio? This is critical. If your child has high needs and the ratio for the program or classroom is a 1:5 ratio, you know that this could be a deciding factor or, at the very least, a point of discussion. I was researching day programs and one program had a 1:9 ratio! My son needs a 1:1 aide, so if that program is for him, we would need to discuss a personal aide for him.
- What is the community involvement in the school or program? I’ve toured a lot of schools and a lot of programs. Communities that engage with their schools and welcome our special children OUT in the community offer such a more positive experience for our children. I toured one program that was in a very high crime area. Not just a lock your doors kind of neighborhood, no, I mean you had to buzz to get into the parking lot because it was surrounded by a tall iron fence, there were no windows and we had to get buzzed in to the building…twice. I was pretty much not interested after that, but thought I should at least tour the program for comparison sake. I was told that the community was not involved and they were not involved in the community. They participated in outings, however, they were always in other communities. I understand why, however that was a turn off to me. I want to know that the community wants to support our school or program.
- What is the curriculum/method of instruction for _____? Whatever is most important to you, it’s fair to ask how they teach it. For me, it was always communication. I recently toured an adult program and saw ZERO pictures for communication. Many children and adults who are non-verbal use pictures to communicate. When I asked, they said they didn’t use them! I quickly crossed them off my list. If they don’t have the basic tools to work with your child, then that may not be the best option for you.
- Are they a hands on/hand off facility? I don’t think it’s ever okay for a school/facility to restrain a child unless they are so physically out of control that they are literally hurting themselves or someone else and I don’t care about the stuff in the room. I know it’s so frustrating, as a teacher, to have things destroyed, but whenever hands are put on a child, there is just too much risk to worry about stuff. It can be replaced. I also believe that they have an obligation to try all means possible to avoid restraining a child.
I have seen kids running head first, straight into a concrete wall. I have seen kids choke their teachers and then get up and try to attack anyone in the room, including other students, with whatever they could use as a weapon. I have seen kids try to throw themselves down stairwells. I have seen kids try to hang themselves. I have seen kids elope from school and try to run into busy traffic. There are times when safe, physical restraint by trained individuals may be necessary. (Of course, the next questions should always be…What happened? How can this be avoided? What did we, as staff, do wrong?)
But, the answer I want to hear when I ask this question is either “we are a hands off facility and train our staff in verbal deescalation” OR “we are a hands off facility unless the student is in serious danger of harming themselves or another human”.
Frankly, if my child is self harming and bashing his head into a concrete wall and you’ve tried to protect him, I’d rather see a safe hold put in place by trained individuals over my son causing himself brain damage. Your child may not be physical, however others may be. So asking how those dangerous behaviors are handled is important. My son is not aggressive, however, if faced with a situation where someone has cornered him and causing him distress, he may throw a punch…not cause for restraint, that’s when staff should kick in to deescalation mode. I’ve even gone as far as to ask for examples of how they would handle certain behavior. Also, if another child or adults cannot control himself, I want to know my child is safe and that people around him know how to handle this type of behavior. These questions are fair questions.
- How do you communicate/engage with families? If they look at you with a blank stare or say they call you as needed…that’s a red flag. If your child is non-verbal, your only connection to the school is HOW they choose to communicate. Weekly/Monthly newsletters, a school website, PTA, times when you are invited into the school, etc. are all great ways for schools to communicate and really, these are expected in these technologically rich times. There should be times when you are welcome into the school. Many schools no longer allow parents to “pop in” anymore. But, if you are never allowed into the school, that’s concerning.
There are many, many questions to be asked and researched, but these are the 5 that I lead with when researching. For your child, you may have specifics related to health concerns, personal care needs or other challenges.
I recommend you create a list. Make copies of this list with the answers to the questions and keep a file on each program you research. When it comes time to make decisions, these lists will be helpful as you determine the best program.
Here’s to new adventures!
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Disclaimer: There are exceptions to every rule. Children and adults with disabilities are people with their own individual needs and desires. The ideas and advice given in this blog are for your consideration only and should not be taken as legal, medical or educational advice, as every single situation is different.