Which School for Autism Spectrum Kids?

Parent Q&A

Best school district for special needs 5 year old Jul 5, 2020 (0 responses below)
10 y.o. needs support, maybe mild autism? Mar 28, 2019 (2 responses below)
Elementary school advice for high-functioning autistic girl Feb 20, 2019 (1 responses below)
Walnut Creek v. Lamorinda for Special Ed Sep 27, 2018 (3 responses below)
Trying to find an Autism community and general advice Nov 28, 2016 (3 responses below)
  • A friend is seeking feedback from other parents about their positive experiences with school districts for a five year old who has been diagnosed  as "on the spectrum".    Would you recommend your local school and if not, what private schools have be valuable for you and your child?  Thanks!

  • Hello Bpn communirty,

    We reside in San Ramon and are seeking for a high school either public or private for our 16 year old with autism spectrum, anxiety and some behavioral disorders. We had tried Seneca & we were not crazy about the school and counselors. He attending Monte Vista High in Danville (they have special needs classes/therapy) but end up being too much for him academic & behavioral wise, perhaps too may student and over stimulation for him. 

    Any suggestions or recommendations will be much appreciated! :)


    I would recommend Spectrum Center in Hayward, a NPS where your district can place him. My recommendation comes from a very positive personal experience of over 3 years with my child who has ADHD, Anxiety Disorder and ASD that came with behavioral needs as well.

    Perhaps you should visit Orion Academy in Moraga.  Orion is a high school which has a program specifically designed for those diagnosed with autism or NLD.  The school has experienced teachers and psychologists who provide specific support with academics, pragmatic language and executive function skills.  (www.orionacademy.org)


    My son with similar issues attends the Marchus School in Concord and it has been amazing.

  • 10 y.o. needs support, maybe mild autism?

    (2 replies)

    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.

  • We are looking for advice on the public elementary school options for my daughter (currently in a regular second grade class in San Mateo) preferably in peninsula and south bay, but open to other areas as well. She is on the autism spectrum (high functioning) and is receiving <1 hour per week of RSP support.  She is very social and can speak well, however scored low in executive functioning and short term memory in her recent evaluation. She is getting distracted in the class a lot recently and is needing multiple re-directions to complete her work. She is at grade level currently, however, her teacher mentioned she may not withstand the pace of curriculum in the next level grades. Her teacher also mentioned she can work well in small group settings and can do well if someone can redirect her during work. So far, she likes to going to school and made friends in school. I have a feeling that school district may suggest her a special day class next year. Other parents are suggesting to find other alternatives instead of spending energy fighting with the school district.  She may be little advanced for a special day class and am worried that she may not take the SDC placement well. I researched some related posts on BPN which have some good recommendations on private schools, but unfortunately cannot afford a private school. Willing to move anywhere within the Bay Area to help my daughter.

    Your advice is greatly appreciated.   

    Thank you!

    My 2nd grade dtr is also high functioning on the spectrum /aspergers. Our school district WCCUSD has a GREAT full inclusion program for high functioning autism at 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. People are often turned off by the thought of richmond, but 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. :) good luck!

  • Walnut Creek v. Lamorinda for Special Ed

    (3 replies)

    Hi, my husband has accepted a job in Walnut Creek and we are entering a whirlwind of moving our autistic 6 year old to the Bay Area from Southern CA.  I'm reviewing schools and would love to hear of any personal experiences with the special education departments in either Walnut Creek or the schools in Lafayette or Moraga. I know the ratings are higher in Lafayette and Moraga but are the schools that much better?  Or, for our needs, would Walnut Creek schools be just as good? Or better?  For context, our daughter is on the autism spectrum, currently in a mild/mod class, and needs moderate support - not someone who is going to be in a mainstream class anytime soon, but has the potential to learn and we would like to see her in a setting that does an effective job of helping her access academic content. She does well with a teacher who is willing to think differently about how to approach her - things like using music or activities other than just sitting at a desk.  Anyone have some inside information? Thank you!


    i have similar situation. I’m wondering if you have found your answer yet. If so, please share them with me. Thanks a bunch! 


    I didn't get an answer, but we are going with Walnut Creek for now. I'll update with how our experience goes once we start school. I did hear privately from a local friend that there had been a shake up in Lafayette at the administration level and that the district's program may not be at its best right now, but that's not something I've confirmed.

    Hi there, there are some parts of Walnut Creek that feed to Lafayette schools, so you can look into the Saranap neighborhood if that interests you. What I do know is that the SEED program in Lafayette is located at Springhill Elementary and is outstanding. My son goes to Burton Valley in Lafayette and there is a boy in his class that is on the spectrum and he has his own aide at all times. I don't know if she is provided by the school district or what but he is with the rest of the kids and usually doing his own thing but he is very much a part of the class and is always included. They do music, science, computer lab, PE, library time, so it is not a "sit at a desk all day" situation. Also, some parts of Walnut Creek are in the Mt. Diablo School district and some are in the Walnut Creek School district. I have friends in both districts and I only hear grumblings and annoyances from the ones in MDSD. Good luck!

  • Hi,

    My 3 year old son was diagnosed by OUSD with Autism.  He is on the more typical side of the spectrum and although the diagnosis is not a huge shock, we are trying to figure out what this will mean for him in school and beyond.  The school district offers us preschool at Emerson CDC in Oakland with six special needs kids and 15 typical kids with the goal to mainstream by the end of the year.  We are not thrilled with it and would like to know what our other options are.  We have not had a medical diagnosis yet.  He is the kind of kid where it is not immediately obvious that he is different and he is very social.   I have some questions and am hoping that someone who has gone through this can help navigate this a little. 

    1. I would love to find a GREAT pediatrician that can really take the time to help us get a medical diagnosis and help us with the ABA options.  Does anyone think this is even worth doing at age three? Our current pediatric group has been extremely unhelpful and we really have been on our own since we started all this at age 2.  

    2. Has anyone been through the Oakland or Berkeley special ed with a very high functioning autistic kid?  Has anyone done the public school preschool option?  We are actually thinking of moving to Berkeley anyway for our older typical kid and would love to know if it would be better.  We are also willing to move to Orinda or Lafayette.  

    3. We would LOVE to find other parents with high functioning Autistic kids or some sort of support.  I dont know anyone with atypical children, and it is feeling pretty lonely.  I also worry about him having friends, he really enjoys playing and interacting with other kids his age. My biggest worry is that his differences will affect his ability to have close friends.  

    4. Are there any private preschools or elementary schools that would be an excellent place for a highly functioning, very intelligent autistic kid?  


    sklevine123 [at] gmail.com

    Hi there,

    I have a 5 year old with autism who was diagnosed at the age of 3. We live in the Dublin- Pleasanton area and he has benefited from going to the DUSD public school preschool a lot, alongwith ABA at his afterschool program (with neurotypical kids involved as well). While I can't comment on the OUSD preschool, we have a had a good experience in the DUSD preschool so I can say that if the preschool is good it can be very helpful for the child.

    As for a parent community- I have found the Peninsula Parents of Special Needs Kids (PPSNK) to be an invaluable online community with tons of practical advice on the entire range of issues from medical to navigating school systems (private and public both) and lots of empathetic discussions. You can check out their website and sign up for their listserv: http://www.ppsnk.org/

    Another good resource is the Family Resources Navigators- and they specifically work in the Oakland area as well. http://familyresourcenavigators.org/

    Finally I found invaluable advice from the Early Support Program for Autism in Stanford University which runs special (mostly free) programs for parents of children on the spectrum. They help you navigate the whole search for an ABA provider, practical advice to help your child, among many other things. http://med.stanford.edu/espa.html

    Good luck!

    I am a parent of two kids with very high-functioning autism, one in private preschool and one in public elementary school. So I feel pretty well-qualified to answer your questions. First off, the diagnosis is a tough time. It's overwhelming emotionally, and then a logistical challenge to try to figure out services and what to do next. It does get easier as you settle into a new reality and a new routine. Now, to answer your questions:

    1. In my opinion, any supportive pediatrician will do fine. Most developmental pediatricians usually only see patients for diagnosis and follow-up related to the ASD. As long as you have a provider who is supportive and good at providing referrals will work well. Unfortunately, much like when you get sick as an adult, you are responsible for getting a diagnosis and getting additional services needed. This is unfortunately a huge pain and takes much time, especially initially when you're setting up services.

    2. You can typically get the medical diagnosis from a psychologist or a developmental pediatrician. I found most Bay Area developmental pediatricians had extremely long waiting lists. You don't mention cost being a factor, so all the advice I recommend in this message is what I think is best, regardless of cost. I recommend getting your diagnosis from Dr. Brynna Siegel at the Autism Center of Northern California (ACNC) in SF. Not cheap, but in my opinion worth the drive and money. And usually not too long a wait. Once you get the medical diagnosis, you can submit it to your insurance company to request ABA services. If they're covered by your insurance, I recommend BIA. In my opinion, they're the best ABA provider, hands-down.

    3. Regarding switching school districts now--it's hard to predict the future and know what your 3-year-old's needs will be by the time they get to elementary school. Especially after a few years of ABA, you will hopefully be amazed by their progress. My general advice is to do what's best for you and your older child and not make any decisions based on the younger child now. The quality of services is often extremely variable in a district, and you often don't know what a program is like until you start at a specific school. A district can have a great reputation, but the quality of services at the school is really what counts.

    4. Regarding preschool, we also didn't like the choice offered by the district. Another factor in the decision is that an ABA aide can typically accompany your child to a private preschool, but this is not usually allowed at preschools offered by the district. It has been ideal to have my son, who is very high-functioning, surrounded by typically-developing peers and learning from them. And having the ABA provider at school helps him immeasurably. Some schools I know of that have allowed aides to accompany very high-functioning kids in the past are Mustard Seed, Chatham School, Growing Light Montessori and Duck's Nest, but I'm sure there are many more. Your ABA provider may also be able to recommend preschools they think would be a good fit for your son.

    I believe there is a meetup group of high-functioning/asperger's families, but I have no specific recommendations regarding support. ACNC has some great, albeit expensive, programs that may be extremely helpful. Best of luck to your family.

    I am not a parent with a child with autism although I am a child development specialist and work with parents of kids with special needs. You should check out Burbank school in Oakland which has a few classes for kids with autism--mostly self-contained. There are options other than Emerson. If it doesn't feel like a good fit, listen to yourself....Please contact the family resource network housed with Bananas. It is staffed by parents of children with special needs and they know a lot about what's available-particularly the director, whose name escapes me for the moment. Also alameda county first five may have some resources but FRN is a good first step for you.

    Stanford has Behavioral and Developmental Pediatricians who see A LOT of young kids with autism. Heidi Feldman, MD is the director there. Absolutely, age three is NOT too early!!! There are lots of opinions about ABA. There are also other techniques which people find helpful if that technique is not to your liking. ABA is mostly what people think about (and about all that insurance will cover)but there are other ways....floor time (Stanley Greenspan) has shown great results with a different stance on what is helpful and normalizing. More family friendly....(in my opinion)

    There are all sorts of support groups out there for parents of kids with special needs. FRN probably knows of these also.

    Good luck....

  • 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

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Questions about Elementary School Questions about High School

Elementary School

Best public elementary school district for autism

March 2015

Hello My family will be moving to the Bay Area in the near future. I will be working at Berkeley and my spouse will be in Palo Alto. We are looking at Danville/San Ramon as a reasonable midway point with affordable housing. We plan to rent and hope to choose the house based on the best public school for my nine year old son with ASD. He is not very verbal and currently in a autism cluster program with a full-time aide he shares with one other ASD student. He is mainstreamed only one hour per day with an aide. We have been discouraged from giving him an IQ test due to his lack of verbal skill and frequent inability to attend to a task. I don't have any labels for him, our developmental pediatrician seems to avoid giving them. He is getting to need assistance his entire life I think.

I thought I could share my son's IEP with a variety of school districts and then do site visits at each of the schools that could accommodate him. Apparently this is not how it works! I haven't used an advocate before but my suspicion is that this is what we will need to do. Any advice on schools to avoid or to consider would be greatly appreciated. Our housing costs are going to double at least and I don't think private is an option for us. Thank you. Leslie

I can't answer your primary question, but wanted to share that I would NOT consider San Ramon/Danville to be a reasonable midpoint between Berkeley and Palo Alto. The commute to Berkeley is fine, but Palo Alto takes 60 minutes under the very best of circumstances, and 75-90 (or more) with traffic. I live 10 minutes north of Danville and you couldn't pay me enough to commute to Palo Alto. You might consider San Leandro, Castro Valley, Hayward. Good luck.

Regarding your question about schools with good programs for ASD kids you might also want to join/post to this group (eastbayautism [at] yahoogroups.com).

There are folks on that list who are very familiar with the districts you mentioned.I am not but suggest this as a resource for you.

Also you might want to check out DREDF in Berkeley (http://dredf.org/) if you are not already familiar with them. They can help connect you to resources/advocates etc in the Bay Area. Good Luck PEC mom

I agree it's so frustrating you can't shop school districts, and that you have to move into a district before you can even get your child assessed by that district! And unfortunately I know nothing about the Danville or San Ramon districts.

I would recommend contacting a special education attorney. Two that I am familiar with are Roberta Savage (530-753-4497) and Jean Adams (510-832-6000). Both have given me extremely helpful advice in the past. I believe they--and most other SE attorneys--will give you a complimentary consultation, and they did not at all push their own services. Both actually suggested I wait to hire an attorney! They may be able to steer you to school districts that they have had positive experiences with. You didn't mention if you're moving from another state, but if you are, a special education attorney consultation couldn't hurt in any case to make sure you start the IEP process for your son off right. Better to get free advice before starting the process than wishing you had done something differently later.

Good luck--I know this is a very arduous part of parenting a special needs child.

Private Elementary School for High-Functioning ASD

July 2014

Our daughter, who has an ASD diagnosis but is extremely high-functioning, will start kindergarten next fall. We're starting to search for the right school for her. Her therapists think a private school will suit her better rather than a public school with an IEP, at least at this point. What we need is a school with small class sizes (or a least a small teacher:student ratio), and really compassionate and skilled faculty that can assist in her social development, which is the only area in which she really struggles. I couldn't really find any advice in the archives tailored to our situation. I'd love advice and recommendations. We're in Berkeley but would travel for the right school. Thanks so much! Needs Advice

Call the Berkeley School and talk to the admissions director, Paula Farmer. It's worth looking at and may meet your needs. We have a very socially awkward child who has done well there. J

I highly recommend that you take a look at St Paul's Episcopal School in Oakland. The team of learning specialists are truly outstanding and work closely with the classroom teachers, outside specialists, and parents to provide differentiated instruction and the right kinds of support. Social-emotional development is an important part of the curriculum for all St. Paul's students. The school has a very strong culture of compassion which makes it a kind place for kids. Like many private schools, St. Paul's does have a small class size. My daughter is a solid and engaged student which social skills challenges and language-based learning differences. She started at St. Paul's in first grade and in now going into 6th. It has been a thrill to see her develop and thrive in school and beyond. Happy to discuss my family's experience with you. Good luck with your search!

Non-Public School for autism spectrum kid

Jan 2014

What is your recent experience with non-public schools in this area? (I understand the school situations can change dramatically as the staff changes.) So far, we are researching Conye Academy at Lincoln, James Baldwin Academy at Seneca, Spectrum Schools in Hayward for 5th grade, and Phillips Academy for 6th. Our child is a highly-verbal extrovert on the autism spectrum (Asperger's) with PTSD, anxiety and sensory processing issues all of which point to and result in emotional dysregulation and outbursts if not in the right environment. Are there other schools we should be checking out? The district says they can only pay for non-public schools, not private (and we can't afford it ourselves). Any guidance is much appreciated. Confused Parent

If you haven't already, speak to an educational advocate at dredf - (800)348-4232. And check out their website: dredf.org.

Get a free consult w/a lawyer. We found a great one on BPN. The school district's primary goal is to keep costs down.

Check out Star Academy in San Rafael. http://www.staracademy.org/

At least half of Star's students are publicly funded and the school has a fleet of vans to transport the kids.

Knowledge is power! Anon

Best districts for elementary aged kids with autism

Oct 2013

We are moving to the Bay Area due to a job relocation to San Francisco. We have two diagnosed 7 year olds (yes twins) both on the Autism spectrum. What school districts should we be looking to move into? Shannon

As a parent to a 9 yr old with ASD I have relocated to Lafayette specifically for the schools. My child has classic autism, late talker... And other ASD symptoms but is more in the high functioning group, not aspergers. Springhill elementary school in Lafayette is a wonderful school that offeres special Ed classes specific to kids abilities with mainstreaming into the General Ed class and a lot of awareness & acceptance for our kids. Yes, it is a bit pricey here in Lafayette & I've accepted to live in a smaller home than if like to but it's one of the best school districts in California. There's no tolerance for bulling which our ASD kids need, acceptance and understanding. I wouldn't send my kid to school Anywhere else! A.

Autistic child in 1st grade class at private school

Sept 2013

I have a 6 year old daughter that recently began first grade at a new, expensive, private school that we love in many respects. The problem is that there is a boy that is clearly autistic or on the spectrum in her class. I think his autism is mild. Her class only has 9 students and this boy was previously in a preschool run by our school's director so the director has known him for a few years and I suspect that is why he made it through the typical private school screening process. The boy is bothering my daughter by talking to her and touching her arm or schoolwork papers/pencils during class. He also constantly interrupts her, the teacher and the other students and talks about completely unrelated topics during class. This really bothers my daughter and she says it hurts her ability to focus. The teacher has already moved the desks around once, I suspect to move the autistic boy away from 2 other boys that were probably encouraging his behavior, and he is now next to my daughter. I intend to ask the teacher to move him away from daughter but am unsure what else to do. I don't think it is a problem for my child to be in class with children that may have some learning/behavioral issues or disabilities since she needs to learn how to relate and form friendships with people that aren't exactly like her. But if that child is impeding my child's ability to learn, then it is a problem. Particularly since I am paying a HUGE amount of money that I can barely afford in order to send my child to a private school because I thought it would give her the best possible learning environment. But since she is in private school, I can certainly pay tuition elsewhere if I don't feel this is the best school for my kid. I could ask to move her to the other first grade classroom but this would bother my daughter since she has already made some friends in the current class. I could just stick it out and send her to another school next year. Could those of you that may have neurotypical children in a class with autistic children give me your opinion on how you would proceed under these conditions?

By the way, I am very aware that parents of autistic children will tell me, rightly, that it is in the best interests of autistic children to mainstream their education with normal kids. I have no doubt that this is a great environment for the autistic boy. I am not sure what is the most politically correct way to ask this question but would like other's opinion to make a decision. I am trying to figure out if this is the best learning environment for my daughter. I greatly appreciate any insight!

I have a nuerotypical 8 year old son. There is a boy in his class who is on the spectrum. For two year, kinder and 1st grade, this child was extremely disruptive in class, super taxing on the teacher, and required a lot of attention. Last year, when my son was in 2nd grade, the teacher placed this little boy at my son's table and asked my son to be a good friend to him. This is the first time that a teacher had taken this approach, as opposed to just trying to contain the kid and minimize the ''harm'' he was doing. What happened was amazing and beautiful. This kid at my son's table was the best thing that could have happened to my son. He learned compassion, what it means to be a good friend, what it means to help another member of his class community. He reinforced his own learning because he began helping this friend with his work - explaining the math concepts to him, double-checking his spelling. The year was an amazing year of growth for both boys. My son grew into a compassionate, caring individual and the little friend has really developed out of a lot of the disruptive behavior. I am telling you this because you are so worried about your kid's classroom learning, but I want to encourage you to think about the reality that this may be an opportunity for her to learn something much more important. I suspect my advice will be quickly disregarded, and honestly, that is why I would never send my child to a private school. There is an explicit sentiment that underscores everything - ''I paid for this, so it should be the way I want it to be''. We all want the best for our kids, but I think that what's best for our kids is to learn how to be good to one another, to look out for one another, and to support one another. This is not antithetical to classroom / hard skills learning. But it is at least equally important. a public school parent

You need to tread very carefully when talking to the teacher and school principal about this issue - in the interests of making your case, please see how you can tone down your words (compared to the BPN post) when discussing this. I'd focus on distractions to your daughter, and not even mention that the boy appears autistic (after all you don't know his diagnosis), unless to say that you are aware of special challenges some kids have with classroom behavior, and you are all for integrated classrooms... but you need to make sure your daughter's learning process is not impeded. You may also bring up that this boy must be distracted too and not learning at his best.

If the problem appears severe enough, a possible solution could be an classroom aide for the boy. I've heard that public schools are required to provide one if the evaluation shows that's needed, not sure if private schools are subject to the same requirements. I'd mention the possible need for an aide - at least that's a constructive solution that would keep the boy in the classroom while removing distraction for other kids.

Finally, I seem to remember my own 1st grade... we had at least a dozen boys pulling the girls' hair, throwing pencils, making crazy faces etc. They weren't all autistic - just boys. However that was a blue-collar neighborhood public school, and I realize you chose private to have a different learning environment. Keep perspective though; even if you don't manage to get exactly what you want from your daughter's school, or if it takes most of this school year to make the change, she will come out ok. Good luck!

Hi there. I've worked with autistic kids for over 10 years. This is a never ending issue in classrooms, especially small classrooms. As you said, it good practice for your daughter to be accepting of others. It's also good for her to be able to have some extra coping skills to deal with distractions, annoyances etc. in the classroom. I'm wondering if he's making her feel uncomfortable (with poor boundaries like touching her arm etc). I think you should definitely talk to the teacher about your concerns. Maybe there should also be a class discussion (maybe with a school behaviorist) about appropriate ways to interact with this child and ways to communicate for him to stop. I'm guessing they have a behavior system in place for him. Try suggesting that maybe this should be his goal. Does he have an aide? This is a tough situation because you don't want to sound insensitive/discriminatory yet you want you child to succeed I the best classroom environment possible. Give your daughter tools to deal with this. Work with the teacher/behaviorist. I've seen a lot of parents not say anything and then be frustrated when that child is in the class. I think it's really important to talk about it, try to come up with a solution. Feel free to contact me if you'd like. Good luck! Holden

First, with all due respect, your child is 6 and in first grade. The main learning in first grade, besides learning to read, is socialization and learning to pay attention with distractions. Kids of all sorts will be in her class throughout the years. Some will be distracting. I would recommend helping teach your child how to communicate clearly her needs to this boy. To politely yet firmly ask him not to touch her or her things and that while she would love to talk, please dont talk to her during work time. Additonally, if you feel it would be disruptive for her to switch classes, how might it be for the other child? This is a great learning experience for your daughter, as you said. Include your daughter and the teacher, and possibly the boy's parents in solving this in a positive manner and you will teach your daughter a grat lesson. Otherwise move her and realize she will make new friends in a matter of days. another parent

Kids are not perfect. Classroom dynamics are seldom perfect. You could easily substitute ''autistic kid'' with ''ADHD kid'' (seldom diagnosed before age 6-7) or ''kid who is acting out because her parents are getting a divorce'' to envision a class where there is disruption. Look on the bright side--there are only 9 kids--the teacher should have plenty of time to figure it out.

Why do you assume that your daughter's classmate only got in to the school because his family knew the director? Do you think that ''autistic'' is the only way to describe him? Perhaps he was admitted to the school because he is bright, or funny, or creative? Private schools ALL say how much they value diversity. Sounds like your school is putting their money where their mouth is by valuing neurodiversity. Good for them.

Perhaps the schools high price tag pays for low class sizes and quality instruction, not keeping the ''riff-raff'' out.

The school year has just begun--how about giving everyone--the boy, your daughter, the teacher--some time to adjust and get to know each other? Mom of riff-raff

My daughter is a neurotypical third grader in public school. In first and second grade, she had two autistic (not Aspergers but classic autism) children in her class. This year, one of those children is in her class again. Not all classes in each grade include autistic children, and I consider her so lucky to have been in classes that did so many times. The opportunity to get used to these kids' differences has been a gift in tolerance and empathy. She has learned to appreciate that they have their own interests and talents, not just deficits, and that they are individuals just as neurotypical kids are. To her, autism is not weird or scary or something to ridicule but rather another one of the ways people can be different. I once overheard her explain it to a friend who found the behavior ''weird,'' and I felt an incredible surge of parental pride.

Now, one difference from the situation you describe is that the autistic kids have a classroom aide and they also spend part of their time in a separate classroom focusing on behavioral learning with the aides. This helps things run smoothly, takes pressure off the classroom teachers, and minimizes the effect of disruption on the other kids. My daughter's classes are much bigger than your child's (+/- 26 kids) but it sounds like the mainstreaming is much easier because of the dedicated aides. I remember in first grade the aide gave a great presentation about autism, and my daughter learned a lot. Overall, it has been a totally positive experience. Now, my son has just started kindergarten and I noticed that one of his new classmates has Downs Syndrome, and I was happy to see it, not for the other child's sake in particular -- I don't even know him -- but for my son's. Familiarity breeds understanding; distance breeds fear and contempt. I'd like my son to be academically accomplished, of course, but even more important to me is that he grow into a tolerant, broad-minded, good-hearted person who can engage with the world in a positive way. Anon

I am the mom of a 6 year old boy on the autism spectrum in private school - a different one than yours, since our class size is larger. All the distracting behavior that you mentioned are ones I would want to know about and hope the teacher would tell me about. All of those - talking off topic, touching other children, talking when the children should be listening - are behaviors that our son learns about in his private social skills group and with his Occupational Therapist after school. I am going to add that to my list of items to be certain to communicate with the teacher about, so thank you for helping me understand your concern.

It seems totally appropriate to me to ask the teacher to move your daughter away from any student who is regularly creating a distraction for her.

I don't think it is appropriate for you to refer to having a boy on the autistic spectrum in our daughter's classroom as a ''problem'' or to suggest that the school's screening process is a problem. They accepted a child they knew well based on their admissions values. They also are likely working with the boy and his family to help him not disrupt the classroom. If you don't trust the school's process to create a learning environment that you want for your daughter, I think you should look for a new school that fits your ideal scenario. Jean

Hi - I have one neurotypical daughter and one autism-spectrum son, so at times I have been in your position and at times I have been the mom of the A.S.boy.

In kindergarten and first grade, my girl was in a 10-child class class at an expensive private school that we could barely afford. There were no A.S. students in the school - they had all been screened out.

Still, my daughter struggled socially in that small pool of kids. From a learning standpoint, ten is a good number for the teacher to be able to stay on top of everyone's academic progress. But if the mix of kids is not right, it can torpedo a little girl's progress. It seems that the way girls learn, the social setting has to work for them. The fact that your girl has friends in the class is a major blessing.

IMHO the school is not managing the A.S. boy correctly. I'd bet that the teacher in your expensive private school is not being paid very well, and has no special education training. Ideally the boy would have an aide who is a charismatic grad student in developmental psychology. That person should sit beside the boy in class and give him subtle but clear signals when he is off task or annoying other kids.

While each A.S. kid is unique, there are some predictable different flavors. The writers of the DSM are in complete chaos about diagnostic labels, but I am going to stick to the classics: high functioning autism, Asperger's Syndrome, Nonverbal Learning Disorder.

In my experience with lots of these kids, the true Aspies tend to be abrasive and don't care whether other people like them or not. It is unlikely that your daughter's classmate is in that category, or he would not have been enrolled.

If he is an NLD person like my son, he may be clueless about social cues and it is a necessary part of his education and social skills building that he be told gently, clearly, and immediately when he is being inappropriate and rewarded when he improves with behaviors like the off-topic conversation, interrupting others, and not keeping his hands to himself.

It is a lot of work for the school or the aide to provide this kind of support, but this is what it takes for these kids to succeed. ''Applied Behavior Analysis'' is the gold standard. I've seen the wonderful results.

The NLD kids I know are very sweet and eager to please, and their feelings are deeply hurt when the seating is rearranged to put them in Siberia.

I strongly suggest that you speak to the school administrator who is mentoring this boy -- in the spirit of brainstorming a way to help him AND your daughter.

The way to NOT approach it would be to organize a lynch mob with the other parents and get the boy kicked out of school. What kind of lesson would this be for your daughter, if that is the way she sees adults treating children who are ''different'' or have clear disabilities? Amelia

This is a difficult and complex situation. For whatever reason, it would appear that the school believes that this child is a good fit for them - one for whom they can provide a good education and who can be successful within their community. On the other hand, you feel that the behavior of this child is impinging upon the education that your child is receiving. It sounds as if the teacher had attempted to remediate the situation by making structural changes but that this failed to be successful, at least for your child. It seems to me that you have 3 choices: 1. You can work with the school to see if other structural changes would be possible (including moving your daughter to another classroom), 2. You can remove your daughter from the school, or 3. You can try to help your daughter to see this challenge as a part of her education. Much of what happens in the early years of learning (beyond children learning the basics of skills and the concept of learning itself) involves the experience of social learning. It is a time when children begin to experience themselves in a world outside the protected circle of their family and to organize and navigate that world. It may well be that this boy presents an opportunity for your daughter to learn empathy, dealing with those who are different, tolerating uncomfortable situations. These are very useful and important skills. As her parent, it is obviously up to you to decide your priorities when it comes to your daughter's education, but we sometimes worry so much about academics that we can fail to see the other aspects of what the school experience can offer. Good luck to you. Amy

One huge thing I would encourage you to do is to sit down with the teacher and ask her to help your daughter know what to do when the boy is doing things that bother her. For example, if he continually plays with her pencils or touches her, he might need a ''fidget'' such as putty, movable toys, etc, to help him focus, and your daughter can learn what to say to him to redirect him with minimal interruption, like ''use your fidget, Johnny.'' The boy can be ''frontloaded'' about what to do when he feels the need to touch something (teacher should pay attention to what's going on at the time-is he unfocused? Bored? Tired? Overstimulated? and be able to provide him with something he needs so that he will not try to get it from his immediate environment, like your daughter or her paper, and explain to him that when he does these things, other kids feel bothered because it's an unexpected behavior, and when it's time to do work, he is expected to be doing his.)I am imagining a scenario in which the children are all sitting doing their work, and the autistic child is needing sensory stimulation or has had too much, or feels unfocused, in which case he will do things to try to meet his needs that might be disruptive. I have an autistic son who was in public school, and while I'd love for him to be with neurotypical kids, we were doing him no favors trying to get him through every day at public school because he really needed that kind of step by step management and teaching about what is expected/unexpected and what other people feel when he does unexpected things and what he can do differently or instead and providing him with sensory breaks as often as he needed them. They have helped his behavior and painstakingly taught him how to take perspective and taught him through sheer patience and repetition that he does have choices at every step and taking breaks (leaving the group when he needs to)does not mean punishment, it is advocating for himself. In other words, they are giving him the skills to interact with others that he may be able to use if he goes back to public school one day as that is always their goal. I totally understand your concern for your daughter and I share it. I hope this rambling thing makes sense or is helpful in some way. understood

My child (who attended private school K-8) complained throughout about other kids distracting him. Eventually my son was diagnosed with ADHD. Being easily distracted by what other people are doing is one of the main symptoms. Not to make you overly worried, but you might want to keep in mind that it's possible that your daughter has ADHD? It's under-diagnosed in girls because they tend to be compliant and don't display the same kind of hyperactivity that boys do. Especially if she is bright. Some kids also complain as a way to relieve stress, particularly if they are anxious about their own performance. It feels empowering to them. This was part of my son's personality too.

From my experience, your daughter could easily be saying the kinds of things you listed about a first-grader who is neurotypical -- "he's constantly talking to me during class, he's touching my arm, my pencils, my homework, he interrupts everyone all the time, he talks about unrelated topics." All of that behavior -- and a lot worse -- was exhibited by "normal" kids at my son's (very expensive) private school not only in first grade, but well beyond. In fact, I deal with adult versions of it in my workplace, come to think of it.

I don't want to sound harsh, but to me it sounds like it might be more your daughter's problem than anything else. Which isn't to say you should do nothing, but I think you might want to shift your focus on how to equip her to deal with the kinds of distractions you are describing, rather than attempt to create an environment for her where those distractions don't happen. Even if you homeschool her, she might find that you are annoying (my son sure does)! Good luck ------------------------------------------ If you really think it is good for your daughter to get to know and learn to deal with all types of children, you know the answer to your own question. Your daughter stays in the class and learns to deal with it. Tell the teacher you want help creating the best learning experience for your child and then trust the teacher to do so.

I highly doubt that your daughter is so focused on her learning environment but rather I think it is you that is so upset (since you are spending SOOOO much money on this prestigious school.)I have been around the block and have raised two children to adulthood so I feel very strongly about saying this---you need to let go a bit. You will not be able to control your daughter's environment forever. It is best that you learn this now. Even if you choose to home school her, she is still going to go over to friends' houses and be exposed to all sorts of things and ALL of these things will help prepare her for life. please don't be another helicopter parent---I fear the next generation of children will be totally fragile, self important adults...

I've thought about your post every day since I read it. I've wanted to reply kindly and thoughtfully and constructively. You did ask for insight, so I'm going to help you see this a bit differently by giving you insight into children on the Autism spectrum.

When you posted your note, it was probably the first week of school. The students are still settling in and learning new routines and expectations. All children are trying to feel settled in the classroom and make new friends in class and during playtime. All children have the impulse to be included, be a part of the excitement and play with someone. Lots of children feel nervous, anxious, confused and a little excited to be in a new social setting. It's normal. Kids on the spectrum feel this too.

For now, rather than looking at this as a boy trying to bother and annoy your daughter, look at it this way. In his own way - because he's still learning how to make friends and isn't getting it right yet - he's trying to figure out how to say hello, get a smile or get an interaction. He might not know yet how to say, 'what's your name, do you want to play on the playground later?' But he may have the same impulse to be included in what's going on around him. Rather than poking he needs to learn, or his teacher needs to facilitate him saying, 'Hi Clair'. The other child has the opportunity to give him guidance with words - 'I don't like it when you touch my paper, it distracts me'. He may not know; he's just experimenting with ways to interact. If your daughter gives him kind and concrete feedback, he'll better understand and she'll learn how to express herself in a really positive way. Hopefully the teacher will reward them both for interacting well (though that we can't control).

I'd try not to characterize him in your mind as a 'problem' or as a barrier to your daughter's learning. You'll have a hard time seeing the positives or teaching your daughter to be patient with one of her classmates. Try to imagine that he is a lovely child who misses social cues and doesn't notice your daughter scowling at him. He might need confusing, new classroom situations explained a bit more. He wants to make a friend and be part of the fun, but this doesn't come easily and some times he gets it wrong. Sometimes people think he's trying to bother them when he's really trying to say 'hi' in his own way. It's a lot of changes to navigate for a 6-year old - for both your daughter and this little boy. She may be able to teach him a thing or two, but that's not her job, of course.

The world is an imperfect, confusing place. Having kindness, patience and an open heart to see the potential in each other is perhaps the biggest challenge that we ALL face. Perhaps your daughter will have the chance to begin that life-long lesson today, but she'll need your guidance to see his potential. With kindness and with hope, A Mother

I wonder if you could switch the way you are framing this concern. Perhaps you can ask the following questions instead: ''What supports does this teacher and this classroom need to accommodate all students in it? What can I as a parent do to help advocate for the resources this teacher needs to effectively address the behavior and learning needs of every member of the class?'' The fact that you refer to the ''autistic child'' with thinly veiled disdain is certainly going to make it difficult for anyone in the business of caring for children to really hear your question rather than to write you off as a callous, self-interested parent who has no interest in the wider community of students at your child's school. Your child is watching your reaction and learning from the way you approach this situation, so please model decency and respect. parent of neurotypical kids who values diversity

One more thing I would like to suggest - invite this boy and his parents for a playdate. Not only would you have a chance to get to know many, many other sides of his personality, but you would also get an opportunity to observe the biggest experts (aka his parents) handling and managing any social challenges he may have during interactions with your daughter. I suspect not only will these parents be more than happy to show you the best approach to redirecting their kid, but this little act of kindness may go a long way - I imagine playdates and birthday party invitations may not be abundant in this boy's life. Big fan of empathy

Schools For Children With Aspergers Syndrome

June 2010

Hi, does anyone know of any schools in the Bay Area for children wtih Aspergers Syndrome? Thank You. anon

Orion Academy in Moraga. Here's there website http://www.orionacademy.org/index.shtml My best to you and your child. Nancy T. Chin Academic Coach

Check out Stanbridge Academy in San Mateo , SF Waldorf and Bay School in SF. Last two schools are mainstream but do accept kids who don't have behavioral issues and are willing to work hard. Good luck BTDT maria

I have an aspie son who just completed 4th grade and in my experience there is a lack of placements for children with Asperger Syndrome in my area - Oakland and surrounding cities. There are Springstone (middle and HS) and Orion (HS) in Lafayette and Moraga. Raskob says they don't take kids with AS but it sure seems like they have quite a few and I think the same would be true of Bay Hill HS. Some aspie students do well in the public school inclusion programs. laura

Move ASD 3rd grader from public school to a specialized school?

March 2009

I am looking for advice from families of kids with Aspergers, PDD, etc. who have moved from mainstream schools to private schools that specifically support their kid's special needs (e.g. Springstone, Orion Academy). What convinced you to make the move? What have been the pros/cons? If you were able to get the public schools to help pay for the special school, what did you do to make that happen? Will you go back to mainstreaming?

My child has some characteristics of Aspergers, and has been successful in public school (Berkeley) until 3rd grade. Now he's very negative about school, feels overwhelmed even though he does well grade-wise, expresses high anxiety and little optimism about school. We believe this is due to ASD-related anxiety exacerbated by the school setting.

The well-intentioned but overloaded staff has tried to be helpful, but to little effect. I try to help them, but frankly I'm stumped. I'd sure appreciate hearing from folks who've found themselves in this kind of a situation and either improved the mainstream school situation or made a change. Thank you so much! Mom of awesome ASD kid

I'm considering this for my boy as well - sorry no advice yet, it looks like you're closer to the decision and more informed for now, but I will listen to your replies for sure! We did have a Dr speak highly of Orion Academy for high school, though she also said it was far too soon to know if it would be the right fit for him when the time came. berkeleymom

If your son needs to change schools for social or emotional reasons, you'll need to get an advocate or attorney. BUSD does not understand this disability and will try to keep kids out of special education unless you know your rights and have an advocate. If you go to a meeting of BUSD special ed parents, 99% of them got services for their kids (a range of disabilities) only after bringing an advocate in. Frustrated Mom of ASD kid

I have not moved my child to a private school and hope you get responses from some who have because your issues apply to my situation as well. I have an asperger son in 3rd grade this year (Oakland public school) and find that each year it becomes increasingly difficult for him to have a good school placement. I have looked at other school settings - private and public - and have not found the right school for him. I believe it does not exist in our area but maybe I'm wrong. If you are interested, your are welcome at our parent support group which meets one evening a month in Oakland. You might enjoy speaking with other parents whose children are experiencing similar challenges. Feel free to e-mail me for more info about the support group or to share experiences.

My son is now 18 but he was in the Berkeley public schools until 4th grade. His last two years in Berkeley were a disaster because, even though his team was well-meaning, they didn't know what to do with him. So, with the help of my lawyer (for the second time), we got him into Children's Learning Center (CLC) in Alameda. This was just the right place for him, and by 11th grade, he was able to attend the public high school full-time. He has since graduated and is now going to community college.

The pros of a private school include having a specialized team that knows how to teach your kid, in this case one who has Asperger's. I credit CLC with my kid's success in making it through school and getting a high school diploma. The cons include having to work with the team that's available. My son disliked his teacher at CLC for four years, but we had no choice because he was the only one who taught the advanced classes. I also couldn't volunteer at the private school because of privacy issues and that is something I really missed. As you can tell, I am a big advocate for private schools because my son needed a lot of specialized help. In 4th grade, I saw the general ed teacher overwhelmed by the needs of all her regular students and the special ed team untrained in my son's particular disability. In my son's case, I had to move him and I was fortunate enough to have a lawyer who got his private schooling paid for. Nancy

I feel as though I need to make this post because my experience with my autistic son and BUSD has been quite different from the other posters'. My son is in fifth grade, in the Rosa Parks Elementary School Autism Special Day Class and I can't imagine a better place (private or public) for him to be. He has been in the program since kindergarten and has been blessed with teachers, therapists and aides who understand, appreciate and challenge him. Over the years, he has received occupational, speech and adapted physical ed therapy. He shares an aide with one other child and the teacher-student ratio has steadily remained lower than any private school could maintain. Three years ago, we agreed to place our son in a full-inclusion classroom. When it quickly became apparent that this was the wrong place for him, the school and district immediately responded with a new placement that met his needs perfectly. Since then, he has made terrific academic progress. He is a fierce reader and writer, excels beyond grade level in math and loves his teacher, aides and classmates. He is quite musical and the ASDC program has encouraged him in this in many wonderful ways.

Now, having said all this, I have to add that after some concerns about appropriate aide selection about 3 years ago, we did bring our attorney to one IEP meeting and a BUSD attorney also attended the meeting. The problem was quickly and respectfully solved. It could be possible that having an attorney at even just that one meeting gave us a bit of a ''reputation.'' All I know is that we've had no need of legal representation before or since then.

I know the pain and frustration of seeing your child's needs be misunderstood and unmet. And I know how exhausting and infuriating it is to be a perpetual ''parent from hell.'' My son is my greatest blessing and my greatest challenge. The ASDC program has been one place where I felt tremendously supported in meeting that challenge and where I feel really truly good about getting his needs met. It may not be the right place for every ASD child, but it has been a god-send for mine and I felt like I needed to speak up and say so. Best of luck to you and your family.

ASD 5yo with IEP - will he get an aide?

Jan 2009

I was wondering if there are any state guidelines that are used for criteria in getting a full time aide when my son is mainstreamed next year in first grade. The school district we are in (pleasanton) stated that he will need to meet some criteria in order to qualify for a full time aide when he is fully included in 1st grade. However, I can't seem to find any literature on this. thanks in advance. LF

It's not so much a state law as it is a Federal law: The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) 2004. I can't imagine what criteria you would need other than a diagnosis of ASD. Here are some useful pages that I've used successfully:

http://www.wrightslaw.com/heath/parapro.aide.htm and


Also, having an advocate is extremely useful. Feel free to contact me directly if you have more questions. Good luck! Jill

Full Inclusion Programs for HF Autistic 1st Grader

May 2008

My son is high functioning autistic and will be entering 1st grade in the fall. We are considering a move to Oakland or Berkeley from the South Bay and are looking for good full inclusion programs in either public or private elementary schools (we'd prefer public). Our son currently attends regular, public kindergarten and has a classroom aide for support. We would love to hear about any experiences with and recommendations for full inclusion programs in any school in the area. Your advice, experience and recommendations are much appreciated!

My daughter (12)has been well served by Berkeley, however,not in a full inclusion program. Our daughter, also mildly autistic but extremeley smart and talented goes to a fantastic private school paid for by the district. The inclusion program, even with an aid had flexibility but not enough structure to allow her to acheive academically. In addition the teasing was out of control even with an aid by second grade. Social learning with autism is so important and school is such a great place for it. Good Luck Jill

Transitioning preschooler to the Berkeley School district

Dec 2007

Hi - My son 2 years 7 months old has been diagnosed with ASD, specifically PDD- NOS. He is in a private preschool three mornings a week and thriving there. We have an inhome ABA program and other services being funded thru the regional center right now, but our transition to the berkeley school district is coming up and I wanted to find out from other parents of special needs kids, about staying in private preschool versus transitioning to the public special ed preschools? Also did you continue to receive ABA program, speech, OT after this transition? Any advice? Thanks. J

I work with young children on the austism spectrum (moderate- severe)in the public school system and feel that in general the best way to have your services covered is to go through the school system, with the advice of a parent advocate if you feel more comfortable. While at home therapy can be very functional, your child will probably get more in the way of services through the school district then at a private school where they do not have to provide services. I believe you have the option of paying for private school and then visiting your local school for services, but your child will miss out on the language intensive classroom specifically designed to meet his needs. I do not work in berkeley, so can't specifically respond to their program, but I suggest you arrange a visit to the class your child would be placed in, as well as conversations with relevant teachers and specialists (SLPs and OTs). Basically, be as open as you can be to all options and then make your decision. Oh, and I also recommend if you can afford it to find a slp/child focused educated play facilitator to lead regularly scheduled play groups with a neurotypical child. Good luck on your journey to find the best for your family! anon

Best School District for child with autism

Feb 2007

Wondering which school district would be better for a child with autism and visual impairment...Orinda or Berkeley parent of special needs boy.
parent of four year old boy

I've had good experiences with Berkeley USD so far, but I think it may just be luck and not necessarily because the district is all that great. I've heard FANTASTIC things about Orinda, though, and if you can afford to live there, you definitely should!! Jill

Our experience in Berkeley was not as good as the previous poster's. Your situation will be somewhat different from ours, since our autistic child is so high-functioning that he eluded diagnosis until well into elementary school. We found that classroom teachers and even special ed staff in the elementary and secondary schools had a low level of awareness about his learning disabilities, so he rarely had effective academic support and we faced constant struggles. Outside professionals who helped us said that in their experience the staff in many surrounding districts ''got it'' much better. He had three good years of speech and language services, but there was a lot of luck involved.

This doesn't exactly answer your question, but have you looked into Lafayette? My information is a few years old, but I've heard from parents and providers that the Lafayette district was much better than average for students in special ed and also good in general. Orinda parents I talked with were enthusiastic about their schools for their typically-developing kids but warned me that it was not as good for special needs students. We found it a complex decision, once you factor in other things such as the availability of independent providers, the Regional Center, etc. A lot depends on the individuals who are working in a district at a given time, so things change. wishing you the best

How to find after-school care for autistic child

Oct 2004

Any advice on how to find a person who is good with special- needs kids to engage my 9-year-old son in various activities after school up to 4 days/week? Could include help with homework, have friends over, supervise minor home chores, go to park, kick a soccer ball, go to library or other short outings, etc. Prefer someone with background or training with kids who have autistic-spectrum disorders. My son is high-functioning (PDD- NOS) and in a regular-ed classroom, but he does need extra help negotiating the world. I have posted to the BPN Childcare Digest but feel it is likely I will need additional sources to find this special care- giver. If you can suggest any ideas on where/how to go about this, please let me know. Thanks. Beth

Both Mills and Merritt colleges have education/special-ed programs with enthusiastic and talented students. I'd start by calling their placement offices and asking how to best advertise your position to these students.
Loved Our Grad-Student Babysitter

High School

High School for mild Asperger kid

March 2013

Our 8th grade son with recently diagnosed mild Aspergers is set to attend Oakland Tech this fall, but several teachers have recently expressed concern that it might not be the best fit. Yes, rather late in the year for this!! And now I'm panicked that we need to have an alternative lined up. There is absolutely NO WAY we can afford any private school (we aren't poor enough for financial aid and no way rich enough), so I'm hoping there's a charter school SOMEWHERE in the Bay Area that would work. Any suggestions, recommendations or warnings much appreciated!! Panicked and Stressed

You and your son may want to check out the Alameda Community Learning Center (ACLC) in Alameda, CA. (www.alamedaclc.org) ACLC is a small (300), public (tuition-free) charter middle and high school.

ACLC is a creative, inclusive and dynamic learning community. It provides an innovative, hands-on, research-based curriculum that emphasizes student engagement in a democratic society through leadership, self-direction and personal exploration. Learners participate in unique educational experiences including internships, community projects, and college classes at the nearby College of Alameda.

ACLC has been recognized by U.S. News and World Report as one of the Best High Schools in the United States for the past four years. It is consistently ranked as one of Alameda's top middle and high schools. The ACLC curriculum meets all University of California-approved A - G college prep courses, and over 90% of ACLC graduates are admitted to four year universities. Parent of 12th-grader and 8th-grader

If you are willing to go to San Jose look into Communitas Charter High School. there are openings and it is a small and supportive college prep school. t

I know a student with Asperger's who goes to Flex Academy in San Francisco and it is working out for him after some earlier attempts elsewhere. http://www.k12.com/sfflex/home#.UU-AeByG374 Dusty Sykes

Don't freak out. You say your son is going to Tech in the fall-will he be in the ASIP program there? If not, please make sure you do all the paper work so that he is, you can't ask for him to be in the program if you haven't done the paper work. The ASIP (Asperger's Inclusion Program) at Tech is really supportive. Any kid who needs it has an aid accompany him/her to class and there is a lot of support. I work in the program by the way.

Maybe his teachers were afraid it would be too big and scary but it really isn't. Starting in 10th grade he can be in one of the academies which is an amazing opportunity to get a headstart on a career in either Biotech, Health, Engineering, Fashion Design, and Computers. It is a great opportunity that the Charter schools don't offer.

Full-time alternative school for AS teen

May 2011

Our teen has Aspergers and is having a hard time in the public school system. He has been in the Independent Study program at BHS for a year because the social scene at BHS was too much, but IS is not really meeting his needs. He is becoming isolated and is not making any new friends. We cannot afford placement at CLC or Bayhill, and are ideally looking for a home school/charter school arrangement, or even a private tutor, that will meet his needs and also qualify as full-time high school education. Any advice or ideas are appreciated. -Berkeley mom

We have had a great experience at Trails To Success.....www.trailstosuccess.org shea

Choosing a high school for our daughter

March 2011

We are looking for a high school for our daughter (entering 9th grade in the fall) who is intellegent but also on the autism spectrum-- PDD-NOS or Asperger's. In the right environment, she does relatively well in school, but has low self-esteem and also dyslexia which causes struggles with reading (about one grade level below normal). Thus, a highly competitive, college-track-only school might not be a good fit. We're looking for those who have actual experience with the schools in our hunt, right now: Star Academy, Orion, Orinda Academy, CLC (Alameda), Milennium HS, Bay Hill, others we may not know about. We've seen the past BPN posts on this, looking to update our info, thanks.

My daughter had been diagnosed with Asperger's, was very shy and also had low self-esteem. We sent her to Bentley School and she had a very good experience there. It's a small school and we found it both rigorous and ''touchy-feely'' (for lack of a better word). The teachers were very good, very kind and always ready and willing to help with any problems.

Because the school is so small, my daughter was able to form friendships with students in all the grades, not just hers, which I think provided her with social interactions she wouldn't have had in a bigger school.

My daughter did not have learning disabilities per se, though she had trouble with executive function. Bentley was very helpful in that regard, because they taught organization techniques to the students and there was a lot of one-on-one teacher/student interaction.

We have not had personal experience with Orinda Academy, but two of my friends sent their children there and quickly removed them when they found that the school did not seem to know that their kids were leaving campus during the day and getting into all kinds of trouble.

Good luck with your school search. In hindsight I will say, don't worry about your daughter being in the perfect school. As long as she can get the attention she needs from the teachers and can meet some friendly kids, she will be OK.

If you're looking for a small school environment, good teacher support and communication, confidence building for students and really important school feedback for both students and parents Orinda Academy is a good choice. You should visit and talk with students and faculty. It's a few blocks from BART in Orinda so is good for many students from Oakland/Berkeley who take Bart. We've especially appreciated, as parents, a progress update every 2-3 weeks that each student gets. It's really helped our daughter stay focused and those that are falling behind know quickly. The report is emailed to parents as well. It's been good for building our daughter's confidence in many ways. Thanks... Orinda Academy Parent

High School for SID/High Functioning Autism Teen

Sept 2010

Does ANYONE know of some really good schools for teens with SID and/or high functioning autism, in sf bay area, esp east bay, and near Richmond would be greatest! Need to accept substance abuse background and accredited would be best. Son already 16.5-I'm desperate! THKS!-Amy amy

My son has Asperger's Symdrome and did very well at Children's Learning Center (CLC) in Alameda. He successfully transitioned to Alameda High School and I found them very supportive. If your son needs a specialized school, call CLC at (510)769-7100. If he can handle a regular high school with support, call the Alameda School District Special Ed at (510) 748-4012. Feel free to email me if you have any questions. Nancy

I suggest you look at Saint Joseph Notre Dame in Alameda, a Catholic High School. One of their hallmarks is diversity, which includes students with learning differences such as Aspergers. Your teen need not be Catholic, Christian or even a believer to apply. My son, diagnosed with Aspergers (now High Functioning Autism due to the DSM change) was a self-professed atheist when he enrolled as a Freshman. Our son was welcomed and included by the staff and students from day one. The school is small, with three full time counselors and one part time special needs counselor, and has been very supportive during some bumpy academic and social rides. The tuition is affordable, more so than other private high schools, and worth every penny. There is financial aid available. Our kids also like the school's setting, on a tree lined street in a residential area but with the Alameda Free Library (open until evening) and shops within walking distance.

As a furtherance to socialization, your teen would also have many opportunities to become involved in after school activities in performance arts and sports. My son participates in the Cross Country Team. Our daughter performed in a play and a musical in her Freshman year. The school's website is SJND.org. Google SJND Diversity to find the pdf of their 2008 Annual Report titled ''Embracing Diversity''. Feel free to contact me with questions. Barbara

School for 15-y-o who may have mild Aspergers

April 2010

My 15Y son might have mild asperger, will be tested this month. He is depressed and socially anxious. He is extremely difficulty going to school. In the past, I have tried to enroll him to a private school for independent learners. He responded well for the 1st semester, but lately he even feels anxious and reluctant going to that school. Considering there is not much social activity and help when he is absent,I enroll him to the public school under IEP. There are 8~9 students in that class with 4-6 therapist/teacher. He is not willing to go there either and feel terrified and anxious. We do work with doctors on his issues and he takes meds too. This public school is suggesting home hospital which teachers come to our home. I don't like this idea, since this just make my son feels more isolate at home. But I don't know other approach.

He is very bright, and had good grade all along. But now he doesn't have motivation. All he does is to sleep until noon, watch TV at night, no exercise at all. He does participate family activity even though reluctantly. Someone recommended me therapeutic boarding school. I would like to hear your experience to see whether I should plan for this. Also if you have any idea how I can request school service to deal with school avoidance, please let me know. worried mom

Nancy Chin is very good with children and teens who have asperger. She has done wonders with a child that my son went to elementary and middle school with. This boy who really had few social skills and had trouble fitting in is now a happy, motivated high school student. I highly recommend you call her at 925-299-1069. http://www.stepbystep4success.com/ Nancy-Can-Help

Hello! I work for an educational consulting firm called the Bodin Group. Our expertise is school placement, local and boarding, for young people who need specialized learning or therapeutic enviroments. We also provide assessment and other services. If you would like to learn more, please contact us for a free consultation/information gathering call or meeting.

The same thing happened with my teen daughter. 1) First call Berkeley's Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF) to learn your son's legal rights and develop a strategy for meeting them. 2) Tell the school's guidance counselor or principal, ''My child has an educational disability: an emotional disturbance''. Use those specific terms; the jargon alerts the staff to what is needed. The school will do a psychoeducational evaluation at their expense. 2) Also have an adolescent psychiatrist evaluate him. The MDs at Herrick Hospital's adolescent psych unit in Berkeley recommended Dr. Richard Pollack (925-945-1355). He charged $1400 up front; our insurance reimbursed $800. It would have been worth it even if we had to pay the full price. 3) An emotional disturbance is one of the qualifying conditions for an IEP, an Individual Education Plan, which entitles your child to specific Federal protections and services. Ask the school staff to set it up. 4) Learn about the signs a depressed teen may be considering suicide, and ask your son openly whether he's thinking of hurting himself. If he says yes, keep him within eyesight all the time until you reach help. 5) Learn now how to get emergency medical help if your child had suicidal thinking. In Alameda County, take your child to the ER at Alta Bates in Berkeley. Don't take him to Children's Hospital; a nurse there told me they don't evaluate kids over 12 for psych admission. (I'm not sure this is accurate). You may have to wait several hours to be seen if your child is not acting out acutely and more urgent emergencies (like heart attacks or accidents) need attention first. Take something to read. 6) If the MD judges him at immediate risk for hurting himself or others, he will declare your son a ''5150'', meaning he needs a 72-hour legal hold for evaluation. This will be done on Herrick's adolescent psych unit, the regional teen psych facility, which is outstanding. Your son will go by ambulance for his own safety. You can't ride with him, which sucks, but you can see him again at Herrick. 6) This is a lot of info to absorb. It's scary to have a child this depressed; know that you will be doing the right things to help your son. Best wishes to you and him. Nancy

Gosh, This email could have been written by me. My son is 14.5 years, academically bright, is not doing well in his current school environment, is anxious about going to school, kids pick on him there and he feels ''uncool''. He sleeps late, has a hard time waking up, grades have slipped, and all he wants to do is watch TV or play video games. As per the boarding school - I researched them all - 1) All the schools which are open to Aspergers are on the East Coast. 2) The really awesome one specifically for Aspergers (I forget the name) has an annual tution of $73,000.

However, the 4 local options are: Springstone School in Lafayette, Bay Hill High School in Oakland, Holden High School in Orinda and Orion Academy in Moraga.

You may be aware of all these places, however, please feel free to contact me directly if you have any more questions.

Wishing you the best. I know EXACTLY what you are going through. anon

You can have your son assessed for autism, PDD-NOS at the Regional Center of the East Bay. If he qualifies for services you will have case management and service coordination. Offices are in both Alameda and Contra Costa County. Good luck. Carol

I don't know about boarding schools, but if you're interested in checking out a small private high school for kids with learning differences look at Bayhill HS in Oakland. Our son was struggling in ways similar to yours and the change has been dramatic. He still has his issues and difficulties but the staff has been wonderful in helping him do his best. Also, once you get a diagnosis, call the Regional Center of the East Bay to ask for an evaluation. If they find your son eligible, there are behavior specialists who can come to your home and help with some of the difficult behaviors. Mom of teen with Asperger's Syndrome

Sorry, I don't have advice on particular boarding schools, but I wanted to respond to the post from Bodin associates about their placement and assessment services. A few years ago we paid for their services for my daughter, on the advice of her psychiatrist. I felt they had a very limited perspective on alternatives. Most of the programs they suggested were really designed for teens out of control, not for teens with depression, motivation, and more subtle social interaction problems. When I indicated I did not see the programs they were suggesting as a good fit for my daughter (whom I would have described at the time as depressed, and with nonverbal learning disability issues), the reaction of our consultant was that she guessed we were just not ready to take these steps. She had little to offer that did not involve what seemed to me quite extreme situations that in our assessment could have been a disaster for our daughter. The service was expensive, and may well be worthwhile for out of control kids, but for us it was an expense we could well have saved. Not a Bodin fan

I saw the response about Bodin and wanted to offer one other suggestion. We used McClure, Mallory and Baron to help us find a school for an ADHD (inattentive type) teen. Amanda Mallory helped us find a boarding school that worked for him. While they do offer theraputic placement help, they also have lots of experience finding schools that work for a wide range of student needs. They are in SF. www.mmbedu.com

There are also directories of boarding schools. You can find something that sounds interesting and then research on your own. Some of the families at my child's boarding school found it that way. Schools will provide references. I got names of several current and past parents and called them all. Good luck. anon

We also found consultants (we used McClure, Mallory, and Barron) unhelpful in a similar case. They made very strong recommendations for wilderness followed by schools that felt inappropriate, and against the school my gut told me was right. We felt guilt tripped -- told we were in denial, falling into the same bad habits that supposedly got us where we were, etc., even though the wilderness program director agreed that it wouldn't be a match. The process wasted time and money and confused my son. It seemed oriented towards teens who need to be separated from a detrimental peer group, have problems with substance abuse, etc. and not more complex or subtle profiles, such as my son's anxiety and learning disabilities. We went with our gut feeling, and our son flourished. It was a residential program back east that helps with emotional, social, and learning issues. At home he had failed in two private schools, refused school, and became socially isolated. He had been diagnosed with ''atypical'' Asperger's or high functioning autism, and schools talked of defiance or even megalomania. That was all wrong -- learning disabilities (masked by high IQ) kept him from doing the work until he had effective remediation, and anxiety made him withdraw, which fooled some professionals into thinking he had social skills issues.

When we told him he'd be schooled at home as long as it took to find the right school -- home study wasn't a permanent solution -- he became more cooperative and optimistic than we expected. Being in a supportive, structured residential situation was a big relief to him. Success, academic and social, turned things around. It was a very hard decision to send him away, but our relationship became so much better! But it was very expensive, and it's nearly impossible to get funding through a school district. Another problem with going away, is that we didn't have continued support when he returned -- but he left because we didn't have it here to begin with.

My information is a few years old, but have you looked into Glenholme School in CT or The Learning Clinic in Brooklyn, CT or Brehm School in Carbondale, IL? Those admissions directors are well connected, and you can ask them if there are other schools you should consider. wishing you the best

Student with mild aspergers looking for high school

June 2009

I'm looking for information about Orion Academy and Orinda Academy. My daughter has very mild aspergers, and we are worried about her placement at a high school for typical kids. We want her to have a good social environment during the high school years where she can make friends. Can anyone tell me if Orion Academy students have mild aspergers, or are the students more severely affected? Also, we have been told Orinda Academy would be a good place for her, but I'm worried that the students don't have special needs, and she won't have friends there. Please advise if you have experience with either school. Thanks. aspie mom

Orinda Academy has many students with a variety of special needs, including Asperger's, and caters to them with small classes, lots of individual attention, careful academic monitoring, and efforts to build a supportive, accepting community. The school just doesn't like to position itself as a special needs school. This baffles some of its parents and pleases others. Visit for a day. Summer school starts soon, if it's not already in session. Summer school is a little different from the regular academic year, and gets a somewhat wider spectrum of students, but visiting now will still introduce you to many of the teachers and several of the regular students who are either making up missed work or getting ahead, and the general style of the place. If you like it, your daughter can visit for a day, too, and can shadow a current student. The administration can connect you with some of the Parent Group Board members, to answer specific questions from a parent's point of view. -Happy OA parent of successful LD kid

My son is at Orinda Academy and we couldn't be happier with the school. The philosophy of the school is that the very small classes and quick feedback make it possible to accommodate different learning styles while not in any way compromising a pre-college curriculum.

As for your daughter's mild asberger's, my advice would be to go to the school and ask for an interview with the head of the school, Ron Graydon. He is an extremely principled person who is not going to tell you that the school is right for her unless it is. I feel absolutely sure about this. He is very experienced and wise in terms of not only educational issues, but interpersonal dynamics amongst teens. P

Has your daughter visited either of the schools you're looking into? Our child's visit at Orion and the impressions shared with us told us a lot. I think that many students find a respite from teasing and bullying there and find it easier to make friends, but it's hard to say how an individual will fit in without trying it. The director's book will give you a good idea about the school's approaches and program. If you'd like to chat with us about our experience with Orion, you can contact me at yahoo.com. another parent

There was a post about Orinda Academy in the last 'parents of teens' newsletter (see 'Happy OA parent of successful LD kid') in which the writers said the school has many sudents with a variety of special needs, including Aspergers. I am a member of the parent group board and have run this post by the director of the school, Ron Graydon. Ron mentions that in the entire school there is only 1 student with very mild Aspergers, and that well-meaning posts like this one misrepresent the school's mission and student body. If your daughter is looking for a special needs school that specifically addresses Asperger's students you might consider Orion Academy in Moraga, or Springstone School in Lafayette. For a special needs education (not specifically Aspergers) you might try Sterne School in San Francisco or Star Academy in San Rafael (SA caters for grades 1 through 10). Orinda Academy provides an excellent, inclusive college prep environment for a diverse range of students, and it strives very well to accommodate moderate learning style differences and to provide a positive and supportive culture where all students can work to their potential. It has been hugely successful for our son, who is very bright but has focus issues.

I want to offer a suggestion to the parent looking at Orinda academy for their child with mild AS. I think that it is very important to the administration to protect their school from having a reputation for having LD children and the response from the director reflects that. It is not however in my opinion (as the parent of a child attending Orinda) that it was a typo. Orion is better suited for child with severe LD issues. Orinda could be an excellent choice for milder LD issues. It would depend on the issues your child faces. It is very small and most of the children have some type of concern that brings them to the school. The teachers are caring and available to work out individualized learning plans that can maximize your childC",b"s success. I think it is an excellent option that should be considered. I'm sorry that the administration shies away from acknowledging that. Been there parent

Another school in the Bay Area that serves students with special needs is Bayhill High School across from Lake Merritt in Oakland. The majority of Bayhill's students have learning differences but many students have social skills challenges, including mild Asperger's syndrome. Bayhill High School would be a less restrictive setting than Orion because there is more of a range of social profiles from very socially adept to Aspergers and NLD students. Bayhill has special education teachers, small classes, a multi-sensory approach to instruction, social skills groups and speech and language therapy, as well as a very positive and supportive school climate. If you would like to learn more, contact (510)268-1500. Rachel

As an MD and parent of two teens, one with mild LD, one without; one currently in Berkeley High School, one who went to a competitive private high school and is now a junior at an Ivy League college, I wanted to respond both to the HS for ''mild AS'' question and the private vs public HS, because I think there are some key principles here:

1) knowing your child and what they need for both support and appropriate challenges (and helping them recognize and advocate what they need for themselves)

2) recognizing that our understanding of LD/ADHD/AS/ASD is primitive; that diagnostic labels are imprecise shorthands for complex individuals who have a wide spectrum of specific difficulties and strengths, which also vary from quite mild (and occasionally overdiagnosed) to profoundly challenging.

So our child with LD/AS feels great about doing well academically at Berkeley High School. He has done well in part because of the study skills and routines he learned at his private elementary and middle school; in part, he has been in one of the small school programs and has had excellent responsive teachers--as good as most of those we have had in private schools. BHS has been accepting and even welcoming of his social eccentricities.

We expect we will be utilizing tutoring help in the future, and he has done pragmatic speech groups for social skills work. We looked at Orinda Academy, which I think would have been excellent for him, but he felt he did not need that level of structure--so far, he seems to be correct. But for other teens, Bayhill or Orion may be the environment in which they can thrive and learn.

Our experience of private schools has been positive--but far from ''real world''--of course there are great kids, families, opportunities--but the one overwhelming impression that sticks with me is--too much money and consumerism. Our older son felt underprivileged (FAR from true) when he wasn't spending spring break in Barbados. Of course your family is the primary determinant of culture--but I was troubled by the peer messages... even more true in private colleges--the amount of spending money many kids have is striking. And in retrospect, I'm sure our older son would have done just fine in public high school with good AP classes. learning as we go....

There is another wonderful school in Alameda, Children's Learning Center. C.L.C. has 2 campuses, one for grade school and the other for middle school and high school. C.L.C. provides are a small, warm, school environment with a thoughtful sensitive behavioral system, which encourages/supports students to grow and stretch. The classes are very small. The teacher's are amazing. The staff stays for years and years because it is such a supportive learning environment. There are spot on for academics. They work on supporting and learning social thinking (speech pragmatics, social skills). CLC provides a behavioral piece and services are a bit more intensive as I understand it than Bayhill. So, it is for a child or adolescent that needs a bit more structure and support. CLC has sports teams, cheerleading, and the best talent show. The info is: Children's Learning Center,1910 Central Avenue, Alameda, CA. 94501, phone 510-769-7100. Wishing you the best in your search!!! Parent of teen at C.L.C.

Best high school in Bay Area for mildlly autistic, bright boy

Nov 2008

I am moving back to the Bay Area and need to find the very best high school in the area for my 16 year old son who has mild autism and needs some support. Any suggestions as to which district/high school is best? Thanks so much.

If you're looking for a public high school, my son, who has Asperger's, did very well at Alameda High in the city of Alameda. The Special Ed team was very well organized and extremely supportive. They were also very good at getting in contact with me when there were issues, such as late homework. I highly recommend them. Nancy

School for "Spectrum" Kids

October 2002

We are looking for other parents of children with high functioning autism, Asperger's syndrome or similar non-verbal learning disorders. We are having great trouble finding an appropriate school for our boy. He is 15 and very very bright, but has sensory integration problems and a list of other things that make it impossible for him to survive (let alone thrive) in the public schools. This is a common problem among high functioning kids on the spectrum. Many can't function in the large, noisy, ''full inclusion'' setting for behavioural, language processing, and sensory reasons, but the smaller, ''special day classes'' are geared to students on a cognitively low level and so are equally pointless. There is supposed to be an epidemic of autism out there, and we KNOW there must be other families stuck in similar situations. Where are the good schools for these remarkable young people? They can grow up to make enormous contributions to society, and to make their way in the world. But they need the right educational setting, social skills training, and lots of attention. Can't we get together and form a school, or help the school districts form an appropriate school? At least we could share ideas. Please write to me. Tobie

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