When searching for a school for your special needs child, it is important to get all the right information before making a decision. Understandably, many parents feel underprepared when the task of choosing a school presents itself for the first time. Don’t just rely on tour guides and principals to facilitate your decision making because they rarely can paint the full picture with your child’s specific needs and accommodations in mind. Rather, here are the top 10 things to look for when searching for a school best fit for your special needs child. Before you make a decision, make sure to ask yourself these questions to ensure you’re putting your child in the best environment to thrive.

1. Availability

When you called up the school to schedule your appointment, what was the quality of your call? Was it an automated message taking your call or a real person? If it was the latter, was he or she polite and helpful? Was your call taken right away or your message returned promptly? If you e-mailed, how long did it take for a reply? Did you get an adequate answer to your concern with the first reply?

You need a school you can depend on and turn to, so getting to know the school office and administration is a must to understand how attentive to and aware of your child’s special needs the school will be.

2. Appearance

What did the school look like? Was it clean and looked well taken care of? When you arrived, did you have a nice waiting room to sit in? Were there security guards stationed at the entrance of the building? Did someone greet you?

The appearance of the school is an important factor for your child. If your special needs child experiences a nice, well taken care of school, it will make him/her want to learn and grow.

3. Administration

Did you meet with the Vice Principal or Principal of the school? If not, do you have their contact information? Were you welcome to set up a meeting with them?

A good administration means a good school. If the staff is welcoming and accommodating, you can bet that they will do the same thing for your child.

4. Food

Is there a lunchroom for the students to eat in? Are there options available for special dietary restrictions and allergies? Will other students sit at the same table as your child?

For anyone that has a picky child, food can be a huge factor in choosing a school. A quality food menu and cafeteria can make your child’s experience so much more enjoyable.

5. Medical Presence

Is there a full time school nurse available? How does the school handle medical emergencies or an incident on the playground? How are medications handled?

If your child needs medication or gets sick, you want to know that he/she is in good hands when you send them to school.

6. Behavioral Issues

How does the school handle challenging behavior? What is the policy on bullying at the school? Is this an effective strategy?

If your child has behavioral issues, a school that knows how to effectively handle him/her in the proper manner is imperative. Also, bully prevention is an important factor because children tend to pick on others who are different.

7. Specialists

Is there regular access to a PT, OT, speech therapist, guidance counselor and social worker? Is adaptive PE offered? How will the school communicate with your child if he or she has language difficulties? Is there any assistive technology available? Are there extra curricular activities or electives that your special needs child can be a part of?

Specialists can really help your child get the help that he/she needs in school. If a school has a good specialist staff, it could mean that your child will have a better transition into the new school and have help along the way.

8. Notes to Take While Touring the School:

Is there a music room? Is there an auditorium? An outdoor playspace? A gym? An art room? Are the students in the classrooms engaged in their learning or distracted? Are students’ art projects being hung up on the walls?

Look out for these and whatever is important to you as a parent. This will vary by situation as every parent has a different vision, and no special needs child is the same.

9. Paraprofessionals

If your special needs child is in need of a paraprofessional, what kind of training do the professionals get beforehand? How often will your child get special attention every day? Will your child be accompanied by the paraprofessional at recess and lunch?

A paraprofessional can really help to improve your child’s experience at school. If the school provides them, it is a huge plus.

10. Guidance (Or Lack Thereof)

Make sure to ask the school guidance counselor how many other students have individualized education programs. Do any other students have 1 to 1 paraprofessionals? Do your best to understand classroom settings the school offers (12:1:1, Gifted, ICT, Gen ED, etc.) How much will your special needs child get to commingle with the general school population?

Having a good feel for the school dynamic, and how your child will be guided by administration is critical.

There is a lot to consider in choosing the perfect school for your child. By following these guidelines, we hope to have made that process a little easier.