How to Choose?

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

Making choices about your child's education is one of the most important and far-reaching, not to mention stressful and complex, tasks a parent faces. For families with children who have autism spectrum disorders, the decision-making process is even more intricate.

With a variety of public and specialized-school options available to children with autism, how do families choose what is best for their situation?

"Central to the decision is the family's primary goal for the child," said Dr. Jacquie Wynn, director of the Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders at Nationwide Children's Hospital. "And then it comes down to preferences on the part of the family."

"Reflect on your child's needs and personality," advised Wynn. "You know your child best."

Wynn suggested making a list of pros and cons of all your options. Then, once the decision has been made, closely monitor your child's education.

"Ask yourself, 'Is my child happy to go to school each day and showing growth? Or is he/she showing a high level of anxiety about school?' " Wynn said. "You'll know if your child is in the right environment."

Columbus Parent talked to two families who have been through this process to find out how they made their decision:

The Public School Option:

The Worthington family chose to send their son, Clay, now a sophomore, to Dublin public schools.

"Our goal was to place Clay in a setting that would be with his peers and would allow him to thrive," explained Clay's mom, Michele Worthington. "He takes many classes with his peers, all of which are staffed with support for him. He also takes some classes in a smaller setting that work on more functional skills, as well as a program that allows him to work outside the school."

"Clay is very happy," added Worthington. "He enjoys going to school each day. He has many friends, attends after-school activities, and is involved in school clubs. Dublin does an amazing job of working as a team to create the best environment for the child."

The Specialized School Option:

The Webb family of Columbus chose to send their son, Vincent, to the Summit Academy, a state-funded school that specializes in working with children with high-functioning autism and related disorders.

"I felt like there was so much my son was capable of learning, yet I knew it wouldn't happen for him in a traditional environment," said Gerle Webb, Vincent's mother. "I knew with one-on-one guidance, he would be much more successful."

The Webbs also liked Summit Academy's community where Vincent, 17, is now a junior.

"My biggest concern was Vincent being teased or harassed," said Mrs. Webb. "These kids are already fighting the odds when it comes to drug and alcohol addiction. I wanted to give him an environment where he would feel comfortable being exactly who he is."

The Bottom Line

The Worthingtons and the Webbs agreed that a high level of involvement is required for success. Michele Worthington summed it up: "Check out all your options and recheck them each year. Keep positive relations with your school and advocate for an education that will provide your child with the best possible outcome for their future."

Need More Information?

Central Ohio has a ton of great resources for families whose children have autism. Be sure to check out The Autism Puzzle insert in this month's issue of Columbus Parent.