On paper they look great. Same on their website but I need to take a tour. What should I be looking for and asking about? The coordinator there is currently holding a spot for us but we haven't made a final decision yet.
I started searching before I knew DD1 had autism. But even then, I knew certain things -- like Waldorf and Montessori -- were not good choices. Waldorf, because I didn't like their educational philosophy; Montessori because I knew a focus on self-guided interests wasn't going to be to her benefit.
I chose a group of schools (by lucky coincidence, the preschools affiliated with our local school district) based on their curriculum and thinking it was a good fit for DD1 -- Tools of the Mind. Interestingly, it has a lot of the same child-psych underpinnings as RDI, which is our core therapy for DD1. But I didn't find that out until later.
Then it was just a matter of touring a few of them (there were several very nearby options), checking out the facilities, thinking about location, talking with the teachers and administrators, and seeing who gave me good vibes and was responsive. The actual classroom choice/service level, ultimately, was influenced by our IEP team at the time and their recommendation after we got a dx, but I would've ended up in the same preschool system just from knowing DD1 and what would suit her best.
I don't know if that helps at all. You can tell a lot about attitudes toward SN from the classroom observation and teacher reactions to questions about how they support kids with SN in the classroom, IMO.
thanks so much auntie!
the school we're going with is part of the HeartShare program that works with children and adults with autism and other developmental delays. they have 'early start' schools for kids aged 3-5. each school also offers universal Pre-K for the kids in the district.
I've done a walk through when the kids weren't there when Chris went for his OT evaluation. the organization does evals irrespective of whether the child will be attending one of their schools but I got a really good feeling from everyone we met with. like you said, private schools are a business but it didn't feel like I was being pressured into 'your child must come here'. In fact they provided literature on 2 other schools (like you said, the same three school names kept coming up).
the school - looks like a school - I'll explain. when we chose his center for therapy we went to visit three schools and 2 looked like what you would think a nursery school should look like and one seemed very clinical but had the best reputation. we ended up going with the clinical one and haven't been disappointed. we still get "oh wow, you're so lucky!" when ppl in the know find out that this is where he goes for therapy. that being said, DH and I felt that for pre-school Chris should be able to enjoy a more school-like setting, you know - holiday decorations, a playground, etc.
when I did my first walk through the coordinator said to me, when I started "aww"ing at some of the "art" on the walls (mostly just scribbles and such), "yes this is a pre-school - there just happen to be some very special children who come here". she knew where Chris was going now and knew just how clinical the place was (no decorations, no playground) but not in a bad way.
this place felt like any other pre-school and the playground is brand new. I feel guilty that with both of us working Chris rarely gets to go to a playground so his playground skills are sorely lacking. the coordinator said that weather permitting, the kids get to go out once a day and where necessary are assisted until they're at home with the setting.
if you know what to look for, you see the little things here and there that make it sped. I don't know what you call them but his center has them - chairs that look like arm chairs almost but that keep him contained. they have those in addition to regular desk chairs. but they have tons of other stuff - a music room, a kitchen, a PT room, an OT room - they do gardening and organize field trips but as the coordinator explained to me "we're not babysitting your child. everything is teaching them, they just may not realize it".
I still want to go see when classes are in session but my 'dry run' has me all but sold. I'm scared but so excited to see my little guy go to school. I even have a backpack for him already. :-)