My last blog was an introduction to my new blog series ‘Education of Neurodivergent Kids’, where I tried to explore the real meaning of education. When we talk about ND kids, imparting quality and functional education to the child becomes very important as this helps him in becoming employable and financially independent in future.
In our society, schools play a very important role in educating the children. All parents want their child to attend the best school available in their city. Parents make all types of adjustments and sacrifices to get their child admitted in the best school with a hope that the school will shape the child’s future and make him successful in life.
When a child is diagnosed to be Neurodivergent, usually at the age of 3 or 4 years, that is the time when parents are also exploring various schools. Obviously, the parents are very vulnerable at that time, all they want is to admit their child in the best available school with the hope that the child will learn in school environment and overcome his challenges and that the school will work all round on their child (education, socialisation, learning form NT kids, etc), guide them to manage his challenges and help in overall progress of their child. However, despite maintaining a special wing, most of the mainstream schools are not able to help ND kids and parents have to often hire a shadow teacher, that adds to their expenses. Despite this, most of the ND kids are not able to adjust in mainstream schools, some of the factors for this may be –
- Irrespective of the diagnosis, ND children are usually labelled as ‘mentally unstable’ , accordingly they have to face the usual social stigma in schools including bullying, isolation, judgements, etc
- Teachers, students and their parents usually feel reluctant to get closer to ND children, not only because due to the social stigma but also due to lack of awareness
- Mainstream schools are usually not fully equipped with special education resources and trained staff for ND kids
- Inclusive schools maintaining special wings employ special educators for academic support of ND children, however the practical problem faced by them is that ND kids are studying at all levels and one or two special educators are not enough to take care of all subjects of ND children at all levels. If the school employs more staff for ND kids, it adds to their expenses which eventually comes to parents who are already overburdened. Alternatively, the school demands shadow teacher instead of hiring more staff, but again this digs a hole in parents’ pockets. So, even if the school wants to support the ND children, there are practical problems they face.
- Parents of ‘normal’ children are usually reluctant towards inclusive set ups as they feel it may have bad influence of their NT child
These are some of the few issues in inclusive mainstream schools. A very small percentage of ND kids are able to adjust in mainstream schools, a large percentage of these children opt out after middle school. So, what is the way out of this problem?
Why don’t we explore ‘special schools’ for our children? Why do we hesitate? Is it social pressure or stigma attached to special schools that despite child’s issues, parents are reluctant to send their child to special school, instead are ready to make any adjustment for mainstream school.
So, what is a ‘Special School’? A special school is a school that caters specifically for children whose needs cannot be met with the support provided by the mainstream schools. A special school works on overall development of a ND child, be it academics, vocational, socialisation, etc.
There is a certain kind of negative perception in our minds regarding special schools because of which parents feel hesitant in opting for special school for their ND child. The biggest reservation is the social taboo associated with special schools. Apart from the social stigma, the feeling of not being able to become part of general school going community gives a sense of being downgraded in society.
However, as a parent, based on my personal experiences, my view is that every school is fine so far as the child is learning, whether special or mainstream school. What matters is overall learning graph of the child. Once the child settles in some vocation, whether he attended a mainstream school or a special school, will no more be important.
Some pros of special schools are as follows-
- Individualised Education plans (IEP) – customised education plan for each child to ensure achieving appropriate academic level
- As compared to mainstream schools, special schools usually have smaller class size thus allowing teachers to give better attention and support to every child
- In contrast to mainstream schools, all teachers and entire support staff are trained to work with ND kids and provide targeted support to these children to overcome their challenges and succeed academically and socially
- Most of the special schools provide onsite therapy services viz OT, speech & language therapy, etc. at nominal charges (sometimes included in school fees only). This helps parents save lot of time, energy and funds.
- As compared to mainstream schools, the special schools are completely accommodating for ND children that helps in increasing their confidence and makes learning process comfortable
- Since ND kids’ share similar experiences, they are able to connect with their peers, which instils a sense of belongingness and happiness in them
- When ND kids receive appropriate customised support, they perform better academically and become more comfortable socially.
Given all these benefits of a special school, the big question is – Shall i to go ahead with special school for my child?
Some important factors to keep in mind while choosing a special school for your child are –
- Most important factor while taking this decision is to evaluate the child’s specific challenges and accordingly decide if he really needs a special school or you feel that the child will be able to settle in a mainstream setup. This is a very crucial decision as this will determine the overall academic journey of child
- Do a thorough survey of all special needs schools in your area and based on available resources, staff qualifications, curriculum followed, strength, student teacher ratio, fees etc, choose a school for your child
- It is very important to visit the shortlisted schools before going ahead with the admission to understand the overall environment of the school
- Special schools may be expensive, hence it is very important to do your financial workings and accordingly proceed.
This is my take on special schools. Hope I have been able to justify my thought process. I request you to give a thought to above pointers and feel free to share your views on WhatsApp number +919910353219 or email email@example.com
Author CA Shivani Lohia
Shivani Lohia is a Chartered Accountant by profession and mother to 8 years old child on the autism spectrum. The cause of autism awareness is very close to her heart and she strongly believes in equal education for all & strongly advocates inclusion. She has been homeschooling her son since he was 5 years old.