Back of a school bus

How to choose the right school for your child with autism in NJ is one of the biggest questions parents face. The hopes and dreams we have for our children are heavily dependent on giving them the best possible education. But when it comes to a child with autism, what we mean by the “best” education varies greatly from child to child. 

Therefore, forget about searching for “the best autism schools in NJ”, and instead focus on assessing possible schools based on your child’s specific needs. To help you with this process, we’ve put together this quick guide to choosing autism schools in New Jersey.

First off, know your rights

Choosing the right school for your child with autism can be a tough decision. This is especially the case if it’s the first time anyone in your close family has been in this position. Therefore it’s important to be aware of the support that’s available and the rights that you and your child have. 

Children with autism in NJ (and all other states) have the right to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). What this means in practice is that you have the right to request an evaluation from your local school district’s special education service, who will then work with you and your child to develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP). This is a legal document which must:

  • Provide a detailed explanation of your child’s special education program
  • Summarize your child’s current performance and specific instructional needs
  • Provide measurable goals and objectives
  • Allow your child to make reasonable progress based on their individual circumstances

Consider your choice of schools 

Public schools autism programs

As the above information shows, public schools are required to adapt their lessons in order to support children with autism. However, there are still plenty of pros and cons you need to carefully consider. These environments can be great for inclusion, for children that are functioning well socially and are comfortable being placed in a large institution.

However, for some children, the stimulation and social structures of a mainstream school can be overwhelming. Furthermore, some public schools unfortunately lack the resources to provide all the support that some children may need.    

Charter schools for autism

If you feel that a mainstream education provided by a public school isn’t the best option for your child, then you may consider a charter school for autism. Charter schools receive government funding so are free to attend, but are independently run and usually based around a specific mission.

Therefore, these schools are able to provide a far greater range of support and services for children with ASD, such as ABA therapy and sensory rooms. However, children don’t get the benefit of interacting and building relationships with the broad range of peers that they would at a public school.  

Private schools for autism

Private schools for children with autism and other disabilities are similar to charter schools. However, the big difference is that these schools charge tuition fees. Also, these schools are not bound by the students’ rights discussed in the above section, so do not need to provide IEPs.

The support and services provided by these schools varies, as do their educational philosophies. Therefore, you should thoroughly research each of these schools, to evaluate if they’re a good fit for your child.

What to look for in a school  

Now you know your rights and your choices, you can begin evaluating individual schools for autism in NJ. Here are some of the important factors you need to consider:

  • The distance from your home. Decide the maximum daily travel time that you consider appropriate for your child and calculate what the radius would be. This should be the first filter you apply as you start your search.
  • Read online comments and reviews. Research what other parents have to say about the schools in your area on autism and parenting blogs and forums.
  • Visit each school during a regular school day. Arrange a visit to each school on your shortlist during a regular school day. Get a feel for the environment and culture and speak to the teacher your child might have, as well as the principle.
  • Question the staff on their approach to children with ASD. Ask how they handle specific behavior situations such as bullying, as well as examples of support they’re provided to other students.
  • Take your child with you during each visit. Observe how your child behaves and interactions in each school, to see which environment they respond to the best.
  • Inspect the facilities. Check what facilities each school has for children with special needs, such as a sensory room.

And remember, trust your gut

Ultimately, the school you choose has to feel right for you and your child, so just as when choosing an ABA therapist you have to trust your gut. Therefore, do your research, visit each school, read reviews and speak to other parents, but make your decision based on what feels right. If you follow this process you’ll choose the right autism school in NJ for your child. 

For more autism resources for families in New Jersey, visit our blog directory. Or if you would like to find out more about the ABA services we provide to children with autism, you can get in touch here.

Featured images photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash.

Estee Rothstein BCBA, Executive Director at Golden Care Therapy

Estee Rothstein BCBA, Executive Director at Golden Care Therapy

Estee Rothstein is the Executive Director of Golden Care Therapy. She is a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) with a master’s degree in Education. A proud mom of six, Estee brings her unique parenting perspective to her long career working with children with autism that spans more than 20 years. Outside of running her business, Estee also provides advice and consultancy to other professionals working in the field, and is a frequent speaker and writer on a range of autism topics.