Sending an Autistic Child to Public School

Deciding where to send a child to school is a big decision for any parent. It becomes even more complicated when the child has special needs, such as autism.

Alan Hollander
September 13, 2023

Sending an Autistic Child to Public School

Deciding where to send a child to school is a big decision for any parent. It becomes even more complicated when the child has special needs, such as autism.

Children with autism may also display repetitive behaviors or have sensory sensitivities.

While some parents choose to homeschool their autistic child, others opt for public school. In this article, we will explore the benefits and challenges of sending an autistic child to public school and provide tips for making the transition smoother.

Teaching Approaches

There are several teaching approaches that can be used to help an autistic child succeed in public school. One popular approach is Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), which uses positive reinforcement to teach new skills and behaviors.

Another approach is the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), which uses pictures to help children with communication difficulties express their needs and wants.

Collaboration between parents, teachers, and therapists is also crucial for an autistic child's success in public school.

Parents should communicate regularly with their child's teachers and provide them with information about their child's strengths, weaknesses, and learning style.

Teachers should also be trained in working with children who have autism, so they can create a supportive classroom environment that meets the individual needs of each student.

It's important to note that every child with autism is unique, so there is no one-size-fits-all approach to teaching them. A combination of different teaching approaches may be necessary to help an autistic child reach their full potential in public school.

Pros of Public School

One of the main benefits of sending an autistic child to public school is the opportunity to interact with peers. Children with autism may struggle with social skills, and being around other children can help them develop those skills.

Public school also provides access to a wider range of resources and services.

Schools are required to provide accommodations for children with special needs, such as an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or a 504 plan.

These plans outline specific accommodations that will help the child succeed in the classroom. Public schools also offer extracurricular activities, such as sports and clubs, which can help children with autism develop interests and make friends.

Cons of Public School

While public school can offer many benefits, there are also challenges to consider. One of the biggest challenges is the potential for sensory overload. Children with autism may be sensitive to noise, light, or other sensory input.

The chaos of a school environment, with its bright lights and noisy hallways, can be overwhelming for some children with autism.

Another challenge is the lack of individualized attention. Public schools often have large class sizes, and teachers may not have the time or resources to provide one-on-one attention to every student. This can be especially difficult for children with autism who may need extra support or accommodations.

Tips for Making the Transition Smoother

If you decide to send your autistic child to public school, there are several things you can do to make the transition smoother.

First, it's important to communicate with the school staff. Set up a meeting with your child's teacher and any other staff members who will be working with your child. Make sure they understand your child's needs and any accommodations that may be necessary.

You may also want to consider a trial period where your child attends school for a few hours a day or a few days a week to help them adjust gradually.

Another tip is to work with your child's therapist or other support team to develop coping strategies. These may include sensory tools, such as noise-cancelling headphones or fidget toys, that your child can use in the classroom.

You may also want to develop a "safe space" where your child can go if they become overwhelmed or need a break.

Choosing a School with Experience in Educating Children with Autism

When it comes to choosing a school for an autistic child, it is important to select one that has experience in educating children with autism. This can make a huge difference in your child's success and overall experience at school.

Schools that have experience in educating children with autism are more likely to have staff who are trained in working with special needs students and who understand the unique challenges that these students may face.

They may also have specialized programs or resources designed specifically for autistic children.

It's important to ask questions when researching schools. Ask about the school's experience working with autistic children, what kind of training their staff receives, and what accommodations they offer. You may even want to ask if you can speak with other parents who have sent their autistic children to the school in question.

Choosing a school with experience in educating children with autism can provide peace of mind for parents and give autistic children a better chance at success both academically and socially.

Advocating for Your Child's Needs

Advocating for your child with autism is critical to ensure they receive the support and accommodations they need in the public school system. Here are some tips for advocating for your child:

  • Develop a positive relationship with your child's teacher and other school staff. This can help you work together as a team to address any issues that may arise.
  • Stay informed about your child's progress in school. Attend parent-teacher conferences, ask for progress reports, and keep an open line of communication with the school.
  • Understand your child's rights under the law. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires schools to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to children with disabilities, including autism.
  • Be prepared to advocate for your child during IEP or 504 meetings. Come prepared with specific goals and accommodations that you believe will benefit your child.
  • Consider bringing an advocate or support person to meetings if you feel overwhelmed or need additional support.

By advocating for your child's needs within the public school system, you can help ensure they receive a quality education that meets their unique needs as an individual with autism.

Building Positive Relationships with Peers

For children with autism, building positive relationships with their peers can be challenging. However, it's an essential part of their social development and can have a significant impact on their overall well-being.

Here are some tips for helping your child build positive relationships with their peers:

  • Encourage shared interests: Find activities or clubs that align with your child's interests and encourage them to participate. This will give them the opportunity to interact with other children who share similar interests.
  • Teach social skills: Work with your child's therapist or support team to teach them social skills, such as taking turns, sharing, and listening actively. These skills will help them communicate effectively and build positive relationships.
  • Foster empathy: Talk to your child about how others may feel in different situations and encourage them to practice empathy. This will help them understand others' perspectives and build stronger relationships.
  • Practice role-playing: Role-playing can be a useful tool for teaching social skills. You can act out different scenarios with your child, such as introducing themselves or asking someone to play. This will help them feel more comfortable in social situations.
  • Use visual aids: Visual aids, such as picture cards or videos, can help children with autism understand social cues and nonverbal communication. You can use these aids to teach your child how to read facial expressions or body language.

By using these strategies, you can help your child build positive relationships with their peers and develop the social skills they need to succeed in school and beyond.

Best Public Schools For Autistic Children

When it comes to choosing a school for an autistic child, finding the best fit is crucial. While every child with autism has unique needs, some public schools have developed reputations for providing exceptional education and support for autistic children.

One example of such a school is The Ivymount School in Rockville, Maryland. It specializes in serving students with disabilities and has been recognized as one of the top special-needs private schools in the country.

Another example is The Douglass Developmental Disabilities Center at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

This center offers educational programs for children from preschool through high school and focuses on individualized education plans that meet each student's specific needs.

In addition to these schools, there are many other public schools across the country that have developed expertise in educating children with autism. When researching schools, be sure to ask about their experience working with autistic students and what specialized programs or resources they offer to support them.


1. What is an IEP?

An Individualized Education Program (IEP) is a legal document that outlines the educational goals and accommodations for a child with special needs, including autism. The IEP is created by a team of educators, parents, and other professionals who work together to identify the child's strengths and weaknesses and develop a plan to help them succeed in school.

2. Can my child attend a regular classroom?

Yes, many children with autism attend regular classrooms in public schools. However, it's important to ensure that the classroom environment is supportive and includes any necessary accommodations for your child.

3. Will my child receive therapy at school?

Schools are required to provide therapy services if they are outlined in the child's IEP or 504 plan. These services may include speech therapy, occupational therapy, or behavioral therapy.

4. What happens if my child has a meltdown at school?

It's important to have a plan in place for how school staff will handle meltdowns or other challenging behaviors. This may include creating a "safe space" where your child can go to calm down or having specific strategies in place for de-escalating situations.

5. How can I help my child make friends at school?

Encouraging shared interests, teaching social skills, fostering empathy, practicing role-playing, and using visual aids are all effective strategies for helping your child build positive relationships with their peers at school.

By addressing these frequently asked questions and providing helpful tips for parents of autistic children attending public schools, we hope to make the transition smoother and more successful for everyone involved.


Sending an autistic child to public school can be a challenging decision, but it is one that many parents make successfully.

By understanding the benefits and challenges of public school, communicating with school staff, and developing coping strategies, you can help your child succeed in the classroom.

Remember, every child is different, and what works for one may not work for another. But with patience, persistence, and support, you can help your child thrive in a public school setting.