School is an important part of a child’s life. Most students spend the entire day in class and develop lifetime interests, friends, and social skills based on their experiences on campus. Finding the right school can be nerve-racking for parents, especially if your child has special needs like ADHD, Asperger’s syndrome, autism, or a learning disorder. Although the law guarantees a free public education to every child, mainstream schools often aren’t equipped to meet the unique needs of these children.
If you’re looking for alternatives to public school, you probably have a lot of questions. With dozens of choices, from private schools to residential centers to therapeutic wilderness programs, what’s the best option for your child? Where should you begin?
First, think about your child’s interests, capabilities, and motivation level. Spend some time online researching different types of programs, like wilderness camps which last a few weeks to a couple months and academic programs which last from a few months to over a year. Talk to your child about programs that seem like a match. While investigating potential programs, keep in mind the following questions:
Programs that focus on children with ADD, ADHD, Asperger’s syndrome, high-functioning autism, or other learning and behavioral difficulties are specifically tailored to support children with these needs. Schools that concentrate on a targeted population of students will generally accept students with similar capabilities and needs. This way, the school can limit bad influences, preventing students from copying or mirroring kids with particularly intense behavioral problems.
Specialized programs understand that students with Asperger’s, autism, or related needs frequently have sensory integration issues that impact their ability to learn. For example, buzzing fluorescent lights or other distractions in the learning environment can cause these students to completely tune out. As such, specialized schools work hard to create an atmosphere conducive to learning. Because these students learn particularly well by doing, schools that promote an experiential learning environment with an emphasis on learning trips and activities will be an ideal place for your child.
Social skills are a major challenge for students with Asperger’s and related disorders. Because these students don’t fit the typical mold, they may be bullied at school or feel like social outcasts, which can lead to low self-confidence and acting out. These social pressures can cause even an intellectually gifted child to fall behind in academics. Finding a school with a positive and encouraging social environment should be a top priority. Programs that accept a limited number of students will be best at maintaining a positive peer culture. Small learning groups allow students to navigate a minimal number of social relationships at one time so they don’t become overwhelmed.
In schools geared toward students with special needs, all of the activities, classes, trips, and social outings have been designed to help students hone the skills they need to succeed. These programs often are just like traditional schools, but with the added benefit of highly trained counselors and staff, specialized support and structure, and the chance for your child to meet, befriend, and find mutual support among other kids who are dealing with similar issues.
At Talisman Academy, a semester-long academic program for adolescents ages 13-17, students follow a daily schedule and clear, consistent structure that are appropriate for children with Asperger’s, high-functioning autism, nonverbal learning disorder, and related needs. The program emphasizes confidence-building, social skill practice, and independent living skills. In addition to social skills classes, experiential adventure activities and trips give students a chance to work on communication and social cues in a hands-on environment. As students successfully take on more responsibilities, they are rewarded through a privilege-based level system that encourages social skills and accountability.
The academic program at Talisman Academy capitalizes on the strengths and unique abilities of each child by understanding their way of learning about the world. If a child is a visual learner or needs more structure, instructors modify their approach to help each student excel. The staff receives three times more training than in traditional schools, and occupational therapists are on hand to help students manage daily activities. With an 8:2 student-teacher ratio, instructors create individualized learning plans and ensure that classes move at the right pace for each child. For more information about Talisman Academy and other programs geared toward children with Asperger’s, high-functioning autism, or nonverbal learning disorder, visit www.talismancamps.com.
2075 N. Rugby Road
Hendersonville, NC 28791
Toll free: 888-458-8226