As a mother to a child with autism, I have been very positively impacted by sending my son, Wills, to autism-friendly schools with inclusion programs, and so has our family.
Neal Wrightson, director of Children's Community School, welcomed Wills in kindergarten, saying, "It is not an act of charity to admit a child with a disability. It enriches the entire school."
We've witnessed how schools have evolved over time. They now offer much more teacher-specific autism education and training, present learning materials in ways that enable our kids to effectively process information, and attend to the sensory needs of our kids. It's so encouraging!
Learning can be difficult, especially for those with autism, but this adversity can be overcome with the help of many wonderful autism-friendly schools, programs, and educators.
As you attend open houses for next year's semester, consider the following qualities that I've noted in autism-friendly schools:
Enthusiasm about autism.
Trained, professional educators and staff understand the characteristics of autism and enjoy pursuing strategies to help kids reach their best potential.
Inclusion and socialization of those with special needs promotes understanding and acceptance for all involved. All children in the academic setting acquire new and desired qualities through inclusion, not just the child with special needs.
No two children are the same. Schools with special education programs know that each child learns differently and has individual needs, strengths, and challenges.
Parents and professionals work together toward goals. They have open lines of communication, including collaboratively sharing progress at home and in school.
Knowing that many children with autism need or like to follow a routine, many special educators establish clear timelines for students' activities and transitions.
Visuals can be essential for those with autism to facilitate understanding, learning, and expression. Autism-friendly classrooms often use many visuals for schedules, labeling of items, and for learning words and letters.
Those with autism benefit from positive reinforcement to encourage desired behaviors. In class, reward with praise or prizes or delayed gratification with star or sticker charts provide motivation.
Autism-friendly schools empower children to learn, express themselves, be independent, and lead fulfilling lives.