Having decided that the only public placements that we were aware of were not likely to be the right placement for the Monster, barring a program existing of which we had not heard, we decided to do our due diligence and go to see some of the non-public placements that might well be offered for our son. The major issue, in our minds, was the fact that the summer was rapidly coming to an end – several of the private schools that are known for their work with children with Autism go on vacation during August, and there are processes that need to be followed to put a child into such a place.
But the question really was where to look… and we quickly decided to go with the most likely non-public schools that the city would send the Monster to – HASA’s Gateway School and the Shafer Center.
I had never considered a private placement for the Monster previously. A product of the public schools myself, as is my wife, we had cringed at the price-tag associated with a private school, and didn’t know enough about the options for us to even start to discuss what to look for when it came to one that catered to special needs. But… if the public schools couldn’t help our son with the work needed to catch him up to his peers and help him open up to the world, then that seemed to be the only course left to us.
So… having no other options that seemed reasonable before us, we scheduled visits with both schools to take a look and see what they offered.
In both cases, the visit was very similar – we arrived at the facility and had a brief conversation with our host about what the structure and aims of the school were, as well as offering some insight into our own son’s needs and the supports mandated in the draft IEP that was being assembled. Both schools boast very low student-to-teacher ratios and high levels of individual attention. Both allow for parents to observe their children (with appropriate warning) without disrupting the class – Gateway has observation rooms attached to the classrooms, and Shafer has closed-circuit video/audio in every room, connected to a “parents’ room” for viewing. Both are bright, airy, cheerful facilities with a mixture of work areas and standard seating, with well-trained staff who are prepared to address his challenges.
What became quickly apparent was that neither of these schools would be a bad option for the Monster. They each had their strengths, be it Gateway’s emphasis on communication skills (his weak area) or Shafer’s program that integrates ABA into the classroom activities… but nothing that would have had us balking at his being sent to the school. Each one, additionally, was also willing to pre-screen him so that if we did get a non-public placement, it could expedite the process of his being admitted. (This was especially important with regards to Gateway, because they are off during August, and both programs are resuming before Baltimore City Schools start up.)
Armed with information on both programs, and knowledge that our son likely could go to either of those schools if the non-public placement was assigned by the city, we prepared for the IEP meeting(s) (which I have talked about previously…)