Most parents feel a certain sense of wonder and trepidation when their child reaches the age when they begin school. The wonder comes from not understanding how fast time has flow and now watching as your child, who seems so small, start a new phase in their life. The trepidation comes from worry. We won’t be there, in school, making sure that our precious kiddos are happy and doing well and protecting them from anyone who would be mean to them. As a parent of a child on the autism spectrum, transitioning into school bring even more to be concerned about.

Transitions are inherently difficult. Why? Because they are all about change and change brings on the fear of the unknown. As a parent of a child on the autism spectrum, we have to make choices and often times we feel that we don’t know what the right or best choice is for our child. The fear of failure is real. All we want to do is make the right decision so that our kids on the spectrum get the services and education they need which will increase their skills. But we also don’t know what we don’t know and sometimes have to make a decision with very little information. It’s scary because there are no redo’s and that’s a lot of pressure.

When planning for your child to transition into a school, whether it is public or private, there are a number of things to consider and action that you can take to make the process easier and get the information you need to be able to make the most informed decision you can for your child and your family.

Questions to think about:

  1. What’s important to you and your family? Do you want your child in your home school so that they get to know the kids in the neighborhood? Or is it more important to have a more specialized setting and emphasis on evidenced based programming? Knowing what is important to you will help identify and eliminate some choices. Keep in mind that school is also about community and you want to find a school where you feel comfortable.
  2. What are your child’s strengths and needs? Do they need a more self contained program? Is it important to you for their teacher to be a special educator, who has a background in special education? Do they need a smaller classroom environment and can be included in the general education setting? Identifying strengths and needs will further hone your school search process because you will be looking for a place that will meet your child’s needs.
  3. What is important about the educational programming? Are you interested in a more traditional learning environment or do you want to make sure the school understands and implements evidence based therapies in the curriculum? Are you looking to stay on a diploma track or have you already made the decision to go the certificate track? Knowing what you want out of an educational setting before you start looking is important because you again will be able to ask the right questions and identify more quickly what will meet your child’s needs.

The Shafer Center has developed a questionnaire to be used when looking at different schools and programs. Click here for the link.

Once you have answered these beginning questions, you are ready for the next step which is talking and visiting different schools. When you do go to different schools, here are a few suggestions:

  • Visit schools a few times during the school year – this can give you a sense of what they kids are doing in the beginning of the year and where they are skill wise at the end of the year
  • Ask the principal questions about the special education program and what their philosophy is – you are trying to see if they value the program. It has been my experience that if the principal is not on board with having a special education program in their school then the program will not be a good one.
  • Ask to meet with the team that would be working with your child

As you make your choice about the school you want your child to attend, it is important to remember that there is no perfect school. Keep your top priorities in mind and make the best decision with the information you have.


  • It’s a marathon not a sprint. Our kids are in school for somewhere between 12-15 years and there will be great times and there will be challenging times. And you will be able to manage both.
  • If it’s not working, you have options. You can call an IEP meeting at anytime and you can make a case to change schools. Do not feel like you are stuck.
  • Remember that your priorities for your child will change and shift as they grow and develop. Keep re-evaluating what your child’s needs are and making sure that your current school program can meet them.

The most important thing to remember is that you are doing great. Give yourself a break because you are making the right decisions for your child.