Thursday, August 11, 2011

5 signs of a good school for kids with special needs

I got an exciting email today from Max's school that got me thinking about the signs of a good school for kids with special needs. I'm no expert, and I don't play one on TV, but I have learned a few things in the years Max has been in the education system. He's only been in schools for kids with special powers; inclusion hasn't been the right thing for him, so far, although I have considered it. Some signs your child is in a good school:

1. The school offers great resources for kids and parents. Max's school does fun programs for kids—an outdoor fair, movie night, a Valentine's dance. They have really helpful stuff for parents, too, and I'm not just talking about spa night. In recent months, there's been a roundtable to discuss pediatric nutrition, a talk by an excellent financial planner, and a presentation by a rep from the Special Olympics. Today, I found out that Max's school is going to be hosting a Specialized Equipment Co-op in September where parents can donate or exchange equipment. HOW AWESOME IS THAT?! In case any of you want to suggest that your school do this, too, here's the very simple process:
• Bring your equipment for exchange or donation to the school
• Exchange or donate with other families who come to the co-op
• For very large or heavy items, bring a photo and a written description to share
• Not able to attend? The Parent Guild will maintain a list of available items
• If your equipment is not acquired by another family, you may leave a photograph and description, but you must take your equipment home on exchange day

2. The school is innovative. Max wouldn't have been on his iPad as soon as he was if his speech therapist at school wasn't familiar with the technology. His school offers yoga and music therapy. It's also partnered with a local hospital to offer aquatic therapy; this is a direct contrast to the opposite-of-progressive school we pulled him out of a few years ago, where I was once told the principal "didn't believe" in aquatic therapy. If I called Max's school tomorrow and told them I'd created a new therapy program that solely involved twirling and eating spaghetti, they'd be all "Sounds promising! Tell us about it!"

3. The principal, administrators and teachers are open to suggestion. A couple of years ago, I suggested to Max's teacher at the time that she send home sheets that described what she was working on in the class, and which supplemental activities parents could do at home. We called it Learning Link, and now teachers around the school use it. (I have a template of the sheet; if any of you want it, leave a comment and I'll zap it to you.)

4. The school is fine with you dropping in, uninvited, at any time. Obviously, this doesn't speak to the quality of the education, but it does indicate a school thinks it does a great job and has nothing to hide.

5. The teachers go above and beyond. Max's physical therapist at school was instrumental in helping us through the serial casting. His speech therapist has taken Max's iPad home to help program it. They email every week, at my request, to tell me what Max has been up to, what progress he's made, and how much he's talked about chocolate ice-cream.

What sort of stuff has made you aware that your child's school is great—or made you aware that a school wasn't great?



  1. Thanks for sharing. Carsyn isn't in school yet but I will keep these for when he does start.

  2. We are starting at a new school this year. I could write a novel all about what a school does wrong around the past 3 years of school experiences we have had.

    One of the main things for me ties into your number 2. Makeknzie is very involved and the lack if knowledge from the school staff around technology to aid her has been more then frustrating!

    Another issue we have had is simple knowledge about Makenzie's disability. I feel like I am reinventing the wheel constantly and like I know more then the staff does about strategies to help Makenzie learn and participate with her peers.

    Last year I pulled Makenzie out of school for many reasons but the main issue that was the straw that broke the camels back was when they told me I had to make an appointment to visit the classroom. So not working for this mamma bear!

    I am hoping this year will go better!!!!!

  3. Could you send me a copy of the template for Learning Links? It might be something we can use for our special needs early childhood classes!


  4. I'm so glad you're happy with Max's school... I love my son's school, too!

  5. 1. Everyone knows my daughter and encourages her.
    2. If visiting an older class for applause is what motivates her to do something, it's all good.
    3. I'm Facebook friends with many of her teachers.
    4. When Kate accomplishes something new &/or challenging, the faculty and staff are so proud and have been known to shout with joy.
    5. In IEP meetings, they cry talking about how much they love her. And I have no doubt they mean it!

    I'd love the form you made! My email is -- great topic and great post.

  6. My daughter's first year at a public school was last year. Prior to that she went to a private school that did jack diddly squat to help her. We moved her to a local public school, and:

    1)The week before school I went to the teacher and told her that she was hard of hearing and asked for preferred seating. The teacher was warm, open, and said, "Absolutely."

    1) The second week of school the speech therapist called and said, "I noticed on your enrollment forms that she wears a hearing aid. Would you like us to help out with that? Assessments, etc?

    2) We accepted, and The Village Of School Professionals all came out to help her in any way she needed. She had a 504 in place by December.

    3) The principal learned her name within the first month. In a school with more than 500 kids, yay, principal.

    4) The staff that knew her asked about her, learned my son's name even though he's not even in school yet, and were always there to help us with whatever we needed.

  7. Everyone in the building knows my son's name.

    My son smiles from ear to ear anytime I ask about anyone he works with at school. Anytime I mention school he is thrilled that he gets to go.

    Staff follows up with me asking important questions about what the doctors are saying now.


    Your school sounds amazing! Aqua therapy? Yoga?! Wow, double wow!

    and Spa Night? I'm feeling a whole new post on that. I need to hear about this one!

  8. Thanks to a wonderful Advocate - my son's school (public) now requires any staff that will come in contact with him to be knowledgeable in what Asperger's is and how to help him! He is now 13 and we are on the homestretch. You have amazing ideas and wonderful advice!

  9. I love my sons school. He attends the same public elementary school my other children attend. His special needs teacher literally LOVES him. She comes to his birthday parties, any thing he is involved in she is there crying and cheering him on. She deals with my insanity when the worries boil to the surface. She read all the children a book that was age appropriate to help them understand his differences in Kindergarten and all his peers have always accepted him fully, everywhere we go kids come up and say hi. Today she texted to ask his favorite show because he was trying very hard to explain it to everyone but because of his speech she couldn't understand. She never just writes him off...she texted me and pulled his little brother into class so he could get across what he wanted to say.The end of the year she hold an award ceremony and gives the kids medals and awards for their strengths and she always breaks down in tears as she describes the moment she met my son! I wouldn't change my sons school for anything.

  10. Awesome! I would love to see what the Learning Link looks like. My email is . Thanks so much!

  11. I'd love to get a copy of your Learning Link, please. mmbrolin at gmail dot com. Thank you for your amazing blog. As a Special Ed teacher it gives me a lot of insight into how my parents may be feeling. :-)

  12. 1) My son looks forward to school and asks to see his favorite aide there all. the. time.
    2) The director of his school has spent time looking for resources to help me help M.
    3) And, she totally listened to me cry earlier this week and gave me a hug.
    4) The aides get really excited whenever M learns something new, and I get a full report at the end of each day, both what he's done well and what his challenges have been. I know they want him to succeed!

  13. could I have a copy please?

  14. I would love a copy of the learning link. Thanks

  15. I would love a copy of the Learning Links sheet. My son receives OT once a week at daycare and, more often than not, I have no idea what they're doing with him because the therapist isn't there when we pick him up.

  16. I would like to see the Learning Link . . . Thanks!

  17. My daughter's school has a notebook that goes back and forth daily between home and school but I would love to see your Learning Links. Might be able to streamline some info.

  18. E has always been mainstreamed, but she has been in public school for 4 years (she will be in 1st grade this fall). Our school experience has been absolutely wonderful, all of it.

    1. The teachers/aides/therapists take the time to listen to me and hear my concerns. They also make sure to integrate E in the classroom (seating, playground, etc).

    2. The principal introduced herself to me at our first IEP. Everyone knows Elena!

    3. The PE staff is innovative, and her aide got her a gait trainer so she could play running games.

    4. HER PEERS are incredible. So far, no one has blinked regarding Elena's motor issues. Also, rather than tease, the upperclass students help, or say hi, or hug, or invite E to eat lunch with them.

    5. I have stopped by--I tend to announce, but occasionally I don't--and I don't need to.

    6. I have a notebook that goes in her bag so E's aide, her teachers, and myself can all communicate. It has been WONDERFUL.

  19. I would love a copy of your Learning Links. Thanks for keeping up this wonderful blog. As a mom of four kids ,two with different special needs I love to read about all the wonderful ideas.
    My email is kristinasorenson @ hotmail dot com.

  20. Great post, so glad Max is in such an excellent school! I'd love a copy of that form as well. Thanks!

  21. I would like to see a copy of the Learning Link sheets...Thanks!

  22. Would love to see what your learning link looks like. Thanks!

  23. Sorry... Please send the Learning Link to:

  24. Wonderful post. My son just spent a year at a HORRIBLE CPSE preschool (completely devastating) - and I think it would be really helpful to turn this into "What to look for when touring/ applying to a special needs school." Sometimes I feel you just get lucky (my daughter goes to an awesome CPSE school, for example) - and you don't really know what you're in for until you are there. But a post about what to ask/ look for would be helpful in the future!

  25. My son was in a Brooklyn public school for special needs this year, and will be again next year though a different one (switched because I found one much closer to us that has a great music program and an actual OT/PT room).

    His last school wasn't bad--the people there all knew him, they all cared about him. But it was very new--a lot of new graduates, so in particular I struggled with the lack of experience. The new school Teo will be attending next month has very low staff turnover, so everyone has been at this game for quite a while and are not easily fazed. (That said, there's something for being new at SPED teaching that's great--being receptive to new ideas, etc.)

  26. Granted, I have a unique and enviable situation of actually working at my son's public high school, but I would think it was great even if I didn't work there.
    1. Teachers seek me out to tell me cute Daniel stories.
    2. The principal (with a special ed background) learned Dan's name his first week on the job. Donchathink he had enough on his plate that week?
    3. The principal hosts a monthly special needs parent group, which he personally attends.
    4. The District Director of Special Ed attends said group.
    5. They paid a tutor to help my son one-on-one with summer reading on a holocaust book.

  27. As a future spec. ed. teacher (I am starting a master's program in 2 weeks!), I would love to have a copy of the Learning Links sheet. Thank you!!

  28. Partly due to what I've learned through the National Inclusive Educational Initiative at the University of New Hampshire Institute on Disability, I have a dream of opening a school in Mexico City, where I currently live, to be a model of inclusive education. Ellen, I will take these suggestions to heart if and when I'm able to see this dream to fruition. By the way, I love love love your blog. Max seems like quite an awesome dude.

  29. I love this article and the comments. Sounds like there are some amazing schools out there. The school I worked at was pretty receptive of students with special needs, but could've been even better. I feel that I always went above and beyond when I was teaching (though my husband sometimes complained :)). The only thing I would add to your list on #4 is just to remember that each student is different and some don't benefit from the open door policy. Some of the students with autism in my classroom were completely thrown off by visitors who would just show up. We didn't have anything to hide, but we needed to prep students ahead of time so that they could enjoy their day without being overly anxious. I was very proud of my classroom and loved visitors, but I had a very strict policy regarding how many people could be in the room and when (a team of 3+ people was very disruptive, so we would have people rotate in and out). I always loved meeting with parents and made sure they were very well-informed about things, but I did protect the time my student's were in my class so that their learning time wasn't overly disrupted.

    1. It's a post NOT a article. Seriously, you should be able to tell the difference between a article and a post... It's shocking that you can't as you seem to be a smart typical person..

  30. I think that you 5 signs of good school are correct not only for kids with special needs but for all children. And, I think Lucky Ones comments are also correct. It is wonderful to read of great education happening with all the bad press these days!

  31. I would love to see the learning links. Thanks. Pamela2037@

  32. Would love to see your learning link. Also wondering how you got Max into a specialized program. My son, age 8, has been struggling for years and they just keep hammering away. There are few alternative schools around here. I keep looking and hoping. I would even consider relocating to find a school that could truly accommodate his needs and learning style, rather than one that just keeps dumbing down his goals every year he doesn't make progress, blames the child for their behaviors, and starts to suggest that maybe he just isn't capable of learning much after all...(boo!)

  33. Oops, forgot to post my email: Thanks!

  34. I emailed a PDF of Learning Link to those of you who've asked, glad to keep doing so for anyone else who wants it.

    I am sorry to hear some of you have had crappy school experiences, I wish you better luck this year. And I am glad to hear about those of you whose kids are in great schools! Good points about other stuff that makes a school great, especially Toddler Approved's point about how an open classroom may not work in certain situations.

    Lucky Ones: The teachers at Max's school know him by name. And that he likes purple, of course. :)

    Clearness, for spa night they had some local manicurists, pedicurists and masseuses come in. I think there was aromatherapy too.

    Melissa, that's a good idea for a post. I will think on an expert who could do it.

    Caitlin: Congrats on starting the master's program!

    Kristin: PROPS to you for even dreaming of that. I hope you can make it happen.

    Jennifer, Max has been in private schools for kids with special needs since he aged out of Early Intervention. He had a whole lot of therapy needs and our district couldn't accommodate him. It was a relatively simple process: Max was assessed by a panel of therapists, who agreed to send him out of district. Then our district special needs coordinator showed us a bunch of schools (as noted above, we ended up switching him after two years). Has your coordinator been of help? You might consider contacting an advocate in your area, it worked for Christi here! You can find one in your area at (Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates). Where do you live? Maybe someone here knows of a school in your area.

  35. I'm so glad Max has an awesome school to go to!

    I would love to see your learning link template. I ask for this all the time, but if it's in writing maybe they'll follow through and maybe it will make it into the IEP.


    Oh, I'm not sure how I get you my email address without publicizing it here?

  36. Becky, email me at lovethatmax[at]gmail[dot]com!

  37. Firstly, I think that exchanging equipment thing is really really cool. When I was younger, by the time I got a piece of equipment that I needed it didn't fit any more, that's how long it took to get to me (6 months). Secondly, I didn't have a very open/accepting school. They told me that I would never go to University and the resource teacher would never check up on me, how I was doing, etc. Some of the T.A.'s were awesome but some of them were rough with me and didn't listen. Just a few experiences of my own with school.

  38. I would love to see your learning links template. I'm a teacher, and I love reading Max's blog.

  39. May I have a copy of the Learning Link template? Great idea!

    Thank you for sharing!

  40. So great to hear about positive outcomes.

    I'm also interested in the Learning Links.

    Also, do you know what apps the speech therapist uses on the iPad?

    Rebecca . Susan . Roth @ gmail . Com

  41. 6. If the teachers are nice and willing to help (includes talking about reptiles)

    1. Noah is still in EI so I haven't had to think about schools yet. However when he finishes EI, I want him in a regular preschool. He only has a gross motor delay, there are no other issues. If he had a severe cognitive or speech delay (read non verbal) I would enroll him at a school that is for kids with additional needs.


Thanks for sharing!

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