My son, who has Autism, is almost 13 years old. That means over the years I have toured MANY schools as possibilities for him. Most I have walked out of crying, some I have walked out of saying "OK, I don t hate it," and a few I have walked out of saying " This could work". I always made sure to take really good notes and go in with my list of questions ready to be answered. That is how I came up with what I feel are the most important things to look for when touring a school for your special needs child.
1. SAFETY--This is definitely a priority to me! Will I feel like he is going to be safe there? How large is the building and what type of security do they have at ALL doors? Is there a security guard on duty at ALL times? Are guests buzzed in and out and is there a written log kept of who enters the building? Are there cameras at ALL doors? These are questions we as parents have every right to have answered.
2. STUDENTS--As you tour the classrooms (which you should absolutely be allowed to do) look at the children. Are they engaged in activities? Academics? A social component? What are they doing? Are they working in groups or 1:1? Do you see children that look like they may interact with your child on some level? Ask if they have the same classification as your child. You want to make sure a school is not just putting random kids in a classroom together to fill up a room. You want there to be some type of reasoning as to why these children were put together.
3. CLASSROOMS/FACILITY--How large or small ore the classrooms? Will the size work for your child? What is the student to adult ratio in the room? Do they have the supplies needed to properly teach? How are the rooms decorated, is there too much or too little stimulation for your child's needs? Will they be distracted? Since many special needs children have 12 month IEP's you will want to make sure there is air conditioning---that works---and WILL be used. Are the floors clean? This will be very important if your child puts things in their mouth.
Related service rooms, the gym and the lunch room also fall under this category. Be sure to check them all out. You will want the related service rooms to be a place where your child will be able to stay focused during a therapy session. You will want lots of padding in the gym and as for the lunch room....well, fingers crossed it looks clean.
4. STAFF--Have they been answering all of your questions? Have they shown you EVERYTHING you have asked to see? There should be nothing to hide. What type of interactions have you seen between the staff and the students? Do these seem like people you can picture working with your child and regularly communicating with you? And how will that communication take place, email, phone calls, a notebook? And how often?
5. TEACHING METHOD--You will find that some schools have a specific teaching method that they use. Those schools will tell you exactly what it is and how it works. Other schools will. To be able to give you a definitive answer for this question. Over the years I have heard things like "we teach however necessary" or "it depends on the child" or "we have a few different ways." It is going to be up to you to know what you are looking for for your child and to decide what answer you feel comfortable with. Different things definitely work for different children, I just want this to be a question on your list!
A school should also have a full time nurse and an adaptive physical education teacher for special needs children.
These are some of the things that I have come up with over my many years of touring both public and private school programs for my son. I not found a perfect school so it is still always really important to ask all questions and make a pros and cons list. Once you figure out which things are most important for your child, you will be able to make the best decision that you possibly can!