Which Middle School for Autism Spectrum?

Parent Q&A

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  • Hello, our family is moving to Berkeley in December. Any recommendations on middle schools would be much appreciated. Also, he is high-functioning. 

    My daughter attends The Phillips Academy in Alameda.  https://www.thephillipsacademy.org/     I can't tell you how much we love Phillips --- a real game changer for our daughter.  Springstone in Lafayette https://www.thespringstoneschool.org/ is another school popular with ASD kids.  Both are non-public schools so Berkeley USD would have to approve of an IEP that supported your kid's attendance there and the district would pay the tuition if they felt they could not meet his needs within the district.  I don't think there is a way to private pay tuition in either school but i might be wrong about that.  

    Thank You 

  • Our 2.5-year-old son has significant communication/speech delays, and he is now in the process of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) evaluation.  Our older son (4.5 years) is a developmentally typical kid, and in fact, he loves academically challenging environments.  We would like to settle in a place before our older son starts kindergarten.

    Are there school districts that have great special education programs as well as strong academics?  Are certain districts easier to work with than others?  We would appreciate any district information in the East Bay, from Richmond to Fremont.  Please share any and all experiences. We really appreciate your insight!  We are very overwhelmed.  

    It would be especially helpful to hear from parents whose children are on the autism spectrum, but I would love to hear from parents of children with a range of disabilities as well.

    Thank you in advance.  

    Hi there. I have a daughter with autism and global delays and have been scouring all the online discussion groups and boards on this topic for a few years now. I have direct experience with Walnut Creek, which I don't recommend, but no other Bay Area districts. What I have gathered along the way is that even the best school districts will have a lot of parents who are unhappy with the district depending on their kids needs and specific experience. It's really all about what your kid needs, how well you navigate the system, and the degree to which you are able to access resources like an attorney. That said, if I were looking now, I would suggest San Ramon, Lafayette, and Albany as starting points. I've heard nothing but good things about Albany, but no specifics, SR is supposed to be a "destination district" for special needs, but they are huge and if you have a disagreement, might be difficult to deal with. Lafayette is smaller, but I've been told that they have a wonderful team there and I know a number of parents who moved there for the special ed program. It sounds like you are only just starting your journey into the special needs experience. I highly recommend looking into the resources at DREDF. They offer an overview of the IEP process, advice from an advocate for free, and lots of template letters and other resources. https://dredf.org/special-education/. Good luck to you and, believe me, it's all going to be okay!

    My soon to be 4th grade dtr is also high functioning on the spectrum. Our school district WCCUSD has a GREAT full inclusion program for high functioning autism at Michelle Obama (formerly Wilson) elementary in Richmond. Our daughter has been attending since K and has thrived in her mainstream class with occasional pull outs for social lessons etc. The community is warm and accepting and the principal Ms Velez is engaged and accessible. Our daughter is bright and has had no issues with being bored with academics and is often challenged at her level. Feel free to contact me if you want to talk more.

  • I'm starting to think my child might have mild autism. They're 10, and we've known about some sensory sensitivities for a while now (and been dealing with them through occupational therapy and other strategies), but onrushing puberty and the transition to middle school seem to have brought some underlying issues to the fore lately. 

    We're transitioning from a private school to a public school in Oakland. I am unsure how to proceed in getting an evaluation, and what that will mean school-wise. I'm also looking for a therapist for my kid to help with school issues in general -- I think they could use some extra support and a non-family member to connect with in terms of learning to regulate emotions, handle school social relations, and  manage the demands of schoolwork. All advice welcome.

    You should attend DREDF's monthly orientation/overview to the special education process. www.dredf.org  Highly recommend it as a first step!

    There are a number of avenues you could consider. Most services come through either the school district, medical insurance, or regional center and each of those entities has the ability to provide some form of evaluation. An actual diagnosis usually comes through a psychologist or neurologist. I think a good place to start is with your pediatrician. They can discuss the specifics of your concerns and provide referrals. I would think in terms of what services you think might be helpful. If your child is struggling in school, you can request an evaluation through your school district, although some districts are known to push back. If you think your child needs support at school I agree with the recommendation to contact DREDF to get advice on how to proceed. They are a wonderful resource. If you think they need more private services you might seek an evaluation with a psychologist. My daughter was originally diagnosed with autism by a psychologist at Regional Center. The route to Regional Center was essentially: pediatrician to local nonprofit (which did a free screening) to Regional Center.  Later she was evaluated by a neurologist. It can be a bureaucratic process, but I highly recommend seeking a diagnosis, even for mild or high functioning autism. There are so many services that a diagnosis will provide access to.

  • I have an almost 13 year old "high functioning" autistic kid who has been at special education placements for social, emotional and behavioral issues since mid-3rd grade. It has been suggested that he would benefit from intellectually challenging work at some other placement, but no other placement we know of that meets all his needs seems to exist. He is very bright, funny, interested in people and making friends, but is delayed in his social and emotional development. He has difficulty regulating his emotions and can become violent when triggered. (Feeling "stupid" worrying that someone else will think he's "stupid," being a beginner at something, competition, kids being mean and insulting him, feeling overwhelmed are all triggers.) However, he is very good at self reflection and talking about the issues when he has calmed down later. He really makes an effort.

    On the one hand, in his current placement, there are other kids with similar challenges plus kids with more difficult challenges (varying degrees of physical, emotional and cognitive) and he has learned to accept lots of different ways of being and communicating and is very gracious and open. He has one on one support at all times and a team to help when he runs or when he lashes out or gets distraught. But there is no one else who really fits his profile and he doesn't have anyone who can be his buddy there. Last year he connected with younger kids and was able to move through some stages he never really got to, but he is maturing and feels a bit lost in his current classroom with 5 other kids of mixed older ages who are less social. He hasn't had much experience with "neurotypical" kids his age and I don't know how that would go and I am curious and hopeful, but I know kids can be mean and devastating, yet I also know they have the capacity to be kind and accepting.

    Does anyone know of a school in or near Oakland (this would be paid for by the district, so no private schools, we need his IEP to be followed. Can be a Non Public School) that can provide contact with same age kids while still supporting him very closely for the challenges he has,  while stimulating him intellectually----not just throwing harder work at him, but helping him get interested in things he likes and can do that are challenging and interesting. (His I.Q. is 143)  The recommendation by the person who evaluated him (who is from LA and doesn't know the areas offerings) is for such a placement, but he isn't in one like that because we have never found one. Ideas welcome. BPN has always been amazingly helpful, and I thank you.

    Hi--Have you explored The Phillips Academy in Alameda. I highly recommend this community for paying attention to the needs of all students and families. Good luck to you. Helen

    Would you be able to do independent study? My 7th grade son goes to Berkeley Independent Study. He had a 504 in elementary school for ADHD. BIS is small but has middle school art and garden class (all grades) with other students. You go to 2 meetings a week with a math teacher and general Ed teacher. They frequently customize assignments to match interests. He does band at Longfellow. Does Oakland have that? Or Hickman charter school does independent study. We had friends who lived in Richmond but got a transfer to go to BIS. Good luck!

    We are not so hot on Phillips Academy, our son had a bad experience (restraint and seclusion) with Children's Learning Center when he was there in 3rd grade and some of the same staff are at Phillips now.

  • Hello foks, We are looking for a private school for my high functioning autistic 13 year old with behavioral issues. He attended Floyd Marchus School in Concord for 2 years and we finally decided not to enroll for a 3rd year. We didnt feel that the school was the right fit for him and not really fond of the seedy location and hard to get to location. Desperate mommy of a teen

    Depending on what you mean by behavioral issues, you might look at Orion Academy in Moraga. It is college prep for HFA and NLD and they really know this population. Feel free to contact me with any questions, and best of luck.

     In addition to Orion, there's also Springstone in Lafayette.  My son went there from 6th through 12th grade and benefited tremendously.  They serve basically the same population as Orion.  You can contact me with any questions about Springstone.

    Check out Springstone in Lafayette

    Check  out the Phillips Academy in Alameda. This is a  non-public school paid for by your school district.  All students have an IEP. It is a  very family friendly environment with strong therapeutic support. Call Dr. Esther  Cohen at 510 864 3503.