Which Elementary School for Autism Spectrum?

Parent Q&A

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  • best BUSD schools for autistic child

    (4 replies)

    We have a rising kindergartener who is autistic. Has anyone with an autistic child had a particularly wonderful (or not good) experience at specific schools within BUSD? Our closest school is Sylvia Mendez, but we are open to any.

    Thank you!

    BUSD doesn’t really work that way. You’re in a zone based on where you live. You will rank the schools in your zone based on preference, and then the district assigns you a school. You don’t necessarily get your #1 choice. That being said, the elementary schools are all very good because of this system. I can’t speak to which school is better for an autistic child, but you can tour the schools in your zone to get a better sense. 


    As Sylvia Mendez is the only Two Way Immersion school in the district you would have to apply and get accepted into the program.  Your school selection would be based on your zone, and you rank them in order of preference.  If SM is your closest school I would imagine that you are in the Southwest Zone.  You can look it up on the BUSD website.  Sign up for school tours and get a feel of the different schools, meet with the principal and SPED teams.  As each child is a unique individual your experience would be different from anybody else, you get out of it what you put into it.  You are your child's best advocate don't be afraid to speak up and ask for what you want/need for your child. That being said all schools in BUSD are good schools.  

    hey, thanks for your replies. a clarification: i am aware of all this. however the fact is you are not limited to your zone, you just get preference within your zone. you can actually request any school within the district. you are just less likely to get that choice, but you can still request it. so this is why i am asking parents with autistic children for specific feedback on their school, no matter which one it is. of course i extra appreciate info on my zone's schools (Emerson, John Muir, and Malcolm X). I am aware that Silvia Mendez is open to the whole district so i won't get preference for it even though it's close, but it's my first choice because of proximity. However, if families with autistic kids have had bad experiences there, that would be different.

    I’ve been a parent in BUSD since 2009 with one more year to go. They really prioritize the zones, which is why they have them. You can put whatever you want, but be aware they are really rigid. It’s hard to get your first choice in your zone let alone outside of it. I only have experience with Ruth Acty, King, and BHS, but the district will put you where there is room, not where you want to go. My advice is to stick with your zone. They will claim that all the schools have support services. 

  • A version of this question was asked in a recent Q&A, but my circumstances are a bit different, so apologies for the novel you are about to read: 

    My son, who just turned 4, was diagnosed with autism (along with sensory processing disorder, childhood apraxia of speech, and general dyspraxia) when he was 2.5. The diagnosis came from a neurologist at Cortica, and while I don’t dispute any of it, I was slightly disturbed by the minimalism of the assessment, most of which derived from parental self-reporting (the in-person part of the assessment was ~45 minutes). Also, at the time my son was almost entirely nonverbal, but he underwent a truly wild language explosion just after 3. He is now *extremely* verbal and communicative in a way that is most often understandable to us and strangers, and he generally makes use of proper grammar and syntax, even in relatively complex formulations.

    That said, my son is clearly neurodivergent. For instance, he has been obsessed with letters since he was 1.5 and taught himself to read and write before the age of 3 (no joke). Yet he refuses potty training (will hold it for >12 hours) and is still very happily in diapers. I have absolutely no concerns about his “academic” skills, but he definitely needs support in the social-emotional and self-help arenas.

    Just before his language explosion, he was assessed by OUSD and given an IEP that included placement in a special-ed preschool. By this point we had enrolled him in a private preschool in which he was thriving, and so we declined the offer. We are now working to get him reassessed by OUSD, given his significant transformation over the past year. Currently the only treatment he receives is morning ABA therapy five days a week at his preschool. (As an aside, I still am not convinced that this kind of one-on-one “therapy” is beneficial to him, as I believe it sets him apart and potentially slows his development by allowing him to continually ask for help, even for tasks I know he can perform.)

    Next year, however, we are hoping to enroll him in a public TK program. I have recently heard horror stories about schools failing to incorporate legally mandated student supports and instead regularly sending young kids home early for supposedly “disruptive” behavior. I have sympathy for the plight of underfunded public schools/educators, but…I am starting to have some concerns about selecting/getting into a school that will meet my son’s needs. Like I said, I’m not especially concerned about academics at this point, but rather the functionality of social-emotional supports and commitment to student well-being.

    We are zoned for Laurel Elementary and also live extremely close to Melrose Leadership Academy, which I have always been interested in. Recently, however, I’ve heard about parents not thrilled with MLA’s approach to IEP-mandated services. So I’m curious about two things: 1) I’d love to hear from parents who have experience with special-ed services in either of these schools—what your experience has been and if you’d recommend either school; and 2) if anyone has specific recommendations for other OUSD schools that have well-developed special-ed programs and work to incorporate neurodivergent kids into the classroom community with kindness and respect. 

    Thank you!

    Hi there,

    I would be happy to chat with you about my experience with OUSD and I also encourage you to join some local Facebook groups to connect with other parents of children with IEPs. 

    No answers from me but we're actually in a very similar position, so I'd be interested in hearing about anything you learn. 

    ASD 3yo in a private preschool and we're looking to move to public TK. We're in Oakland, zoned for Hillcrest. We're also curious about other districts (Piedmont, Orinda, Lafayette or others) and whether it'd be worth pursuing a transfer or even moving.

    Hi, my son is in kindergarten at Melrose and has an IEP. Also diagnosed with autism, at age 4. Overall we've been happy with the school. Happy to chat more about our experience, phone may be easier, please feel free to message me directly. 

    While I do not have specific and current recommendations on the schools you are considering, we were once in your position and I feel compelled to share a few anecdotes and things that we found helpful.

    Our neurodivergent son is now in his mid-30s, a successful professional, well-regarded in his work group, and has a master's degree. 

    But he could not string a sentence together in first grade.   Then, like you say, there was a "language explosion", fortified by phono-linguistic reading tutoring.

    After our son was kicked out of a private kindergarten, we took him to UCSF for a four-day workup.  The takeaways:  1. He's college material. and 2. Your most important job is to protect him from being bullied at school.

    This advice was totally worth the then-astronomical price of $4000.

    By then I had compiled a big spreadsheet of all the different diagnoses he had been assigned by different experts with different backgrounds.  I learned that this was a common parlor game among special education moms. It induced a healthy skepticism.

    As you evaluate school programs, the thing to look for is adequate playground supervision. If the scene can rapidly become "Lord of the Flies", you don't want your kiddo exposed to that.  The long-suffering teachers, may they be praised, can't be responsible for playground supervision. But SOMEONE needs to be there - the proverbial adult in the room.

    Other things I learned along the way:

    If the school calls you and says, "Come pick him up, he misbehaved," you can say "I can't leave work now".  I lost a good job before I was clued in to this by a friend who taught special education in Piedmont.

    If your kid does not make friends in school that is OK, but find another way for them to make friends.  For us it was Boy Scouts, where bullying will not be  tolerated, And a wonderful teacher at Hillcrest Middle School named Jill brokered a friendship between our son and another boy, through a social skills-building group called "Homework Club". They remain best friends 20 years later.

    In 8th grade, our son could not stay on task long enough to write an essay. A wonderful resource teacher asked him what reward would motivate him to stay on task.  He told her, 'ten minutes of idle time per hour'.  Then he negotiated saving up his minutes to allow him an entire afternoon to himself where he could hang around in the school  library,  Thus this teacher's use of behavior modification techniques allowed him to write essays. Later he was  accepted to UC Davis.

    In California by law we have Special Education Local Plan Areas (SELPAs). Oakland is its own SELPA.  Each SELPA has a Community Advisory Committee for Special Education (CAC). I was once co-chair of ours. Participation is a good way to meet the top administrators and other parents.  Some of those I met when our son was in school remain my friends today.

    With a concerned and involved parent like yourself, I am sure that your kiddo will navigate his early education well and be successful later in life,

    No advice but you are not alone in this challenge… including questioning the ABA. 

  • My son turns 5 this October. He begins kindergarten in August 2024. He will continue with ABA one more year until he transitions into elementary school. A neurodevelopmental psychologist assessed our son and wrote a report, which includes that he requires a full-time one-on-one aide. Our son is nonverbal and is not potty trained. He also does not understand how to use utensils or does not feed himself. He cannot sit still and needs to constantly move his body to self-regulate. He was classified as moderate to severe. We are debating between the Lafayette School District and San Ramon Valley Unified School District (SRVUSD). We were told by a couple of families that they were unable to get SRVUSD to assign a one-on-one aide. This was despite their child needing one. This was not for an intensive case, but a case similar to ours. I am very worried about our son. We want to make sure he receives the right support and accommodations. Could someone please provide information on whether the Lafayette School District is resistant to providing a one-on-one aide? Additionally, I would appreciate any additional details about SRVUSD and any guidance on how to navigate these situations successfully. Thank you in advance for your assistance.

    I’m a general education teacher. I don’t have experience in either of the school districts mentioned. However, I feel that ALL school districts are resistant to providing one-on-one aides because they are expensive and the district must abide by the “least restrictive environment” law. If at all possible, hire a parent advocate to help you with navigating the IEP process. I hope your son gets what he needs!

    Initially I did not reply to your question because our son who is on the spectrum has been out of school for quite awhile - he is now 34 and very successful in his career.

    But I must say - it was a one-on-one aide who got our son over the hump, from being a major time-suck for teachers in elementary school to being on track to succeed in life.

    Here's our story:

    In eighth grade, our son could not stay on task, and could not write more than one or two consecutive sentences.  I was very frightened for him.

    This was the period of time when the OUSD superintendent was Dennis Chaconas, and the head of special educaton was Vivian Lura. The former could not balance the checkbook, and the latter figured out that it was cost effective to give parents what they demanded, in terms of services for their special needs children, instead of going to court. (Neither was on the job very long."

    But while the good times lasted, enter Katie, a credentialed special ed teacher from Florida who was awaiting her California certification.  She figured out what would motivate our son to stay on task: one afternoon per week in the library. She used behavior modification scaled up to the needs of an intelligent thirteen-year-old.

    The academic success that followed set the stage for our son earling good high school grades, being accepted to UC Davis, and a being hired in good internship with a public agency.  Now he has a steady civil service job and an MA in public administration.

    Maybe our son is an outlier, but it was the one-on-one aide who made the difference.

    Vivian Lura, and the director of special ed who followed her, the late Phyllis Harris, realized that one-on-one aides should be classified as "para-professionals" and paid accordingly. Before that they were classified with janitors.

    The right person can make a major difference in a child's life.

    I would urge you to push for the right person to be with your child during the critical years when they are capable of being inspired and motivated.

    OUSD "overlooked" and missed the 3 mentions of a one-on-one aide in our IEE, which meant they also "neglected" to tell us that the IEE recommendation means bupkes and a second OUSD internal evaluation is required to approve an aide. This was on the day before school ended and would have meant our child would not receive an aide were one approved until January. Another parent described the results of those evaluations as predetermined "nos".

  • Hey Parents,

    My wonderful, smart, funny kid has been struggling at her school placement from the very beginning. Two years ago we got a diagnosis for Autism Spectrum Disorder. She's very bright and loves learning, but the environment overwhelms her and the school no longer believes they can meet her needs.

    Can anyone recommend a reasonably close non-public *elementary* or k-8 school that could challenge her and keep her on a college track? 

    My son attends The Berkeley School and they specialize in providing support for neurodivergent students. 

  • hi all

    we currently attend a private school in oakland. our kid has adhd and is currently being tested for mild ASD. mainly social struggles. thrives in project based learning and we are concerned he will fall through the cracks of pubic schools. am i incorrect? are there charter schools for this? are there private school that specialize in this? he excels in math/tech, struggles with language comprehension and social skills. we are open to sending him anywhere in the east bay or even marin county.


    You didn't say the age of your child, but my daughter has a very similar profile and we've found a High School that meets her needs fairly well- Latitude High (a public charter school). It is a project based learning school with a block schedule, small groups of kids that stay in the same pod over the 4 years, and a wonderful special education department that supports her IEP. If your child is younger, I would encourage you to look at the reel2e.org site in general, they have a list of schools that may serve 2e learners (reel2e.org/post/2e-private-school-panel-2022). Feel free to reach out as well and good luck in your search!

    Hi, my daughter is autistic and we're getting her evaluated for ADHD as well.  She also has social challenges and communication challenges as well.  We live in the east bay in Pleasant Hill/ Walnut Creek area and she definitely did not have a place in our school district.  

    I looked everywhere for a school in the east bay and found Big MInds; they have a Pleasanton and Pinole Campus (we attend Pleasanton.)  I cannot recommend this school enough.  It's a private school just for 2E learners that goes from 1st-8th grade. My daughter loves it, my husband and I love it.  

    Here's the website - good luck with your search!


    My kid has ADHD and excels in math/reading but struggles with social skills/impulse control. Public school was not a good fit and we opted for a private school. Check out Core Academy in Concord. This is our 2nd year there and the teachers have been great with dealing with my child's needs. We know several families who commute from Oakland. The school offers a shuttle service that picks up and drops off in downtown Walnut Creek. 

    Check out Tilden Prep.  They have campuses in Albany and Walnut Creek, and an affiliate in Marin.  It's not exactly project-based learning, but classes are taught 1:1 so it's very flexible and the pacing is individualized, and the whole social aspect of school is kind of optional.  The school has a mastery-based system in which kids basically can't fail; if they don't earn at least a B grade in a class, they keep working on that material until they do. What a concept, no more "you got a D/F, on to the next unit" but "here's what you need to learn, we'll keep teaching it and testing it in different ways until you succeed"!  It's expensive, especially if your kid takes a long time to get through a "semester" class (you more or less pay by the class hour, rather than a set amount of tuition per semester or per year); it was worth it for my 2E son whose freshman year in public high school was a disaster.  They offer a solid range of classes, including honors and AP, and have both full time students and part timers who are taking just a class or two to supplement their schedule at another school. (My other kid took French III at Tilden after taking I and II at, and while still primarily enrolled in, public HS, long story, but we were very glad to have the option.)

    Hi - I’m a mom of a 2e boy who is on the spectrum. Your situation sounds similar to ours. We enrolled our son at Big Minds Unschool when he was in 2nd grade and he will be graduating this year! We are forever thankful for this wonderful school which allowed him to develop his strengths and tackle his challenges in an environment free from bullying and negativity. The school has locations in Pinole and Pleasanton. There are numerous students from Berkeley and Oakland who are enrolled at the Pinole site. You can learn more at bigmindsunschool.org. 

    I would look at Big Minds Unschool.  They have a small campus in Pinole and another one in Pleasonton.  The founder, Melanie Hayes, is great!  She looked over my kid's assessment and gave me some great insights that I didn't get over at Summit Center, the clinic that specializes in gifted kids.  The school is based on the Sudbury model where the curriculum is student driven with support and guidance from the teacher.  It's small and designed specifically for the needs of 2E kids.  If you're not familiar with that term, 2e are kids who have advanced-level strengths and some kind of learning difference, like ASD, ADHD, or dyslexia.  When I toured it, I liked it a lot, and loved Dr. Hayes, but we ultimately decided my son was going to need more remediation than what the school could do.  So that's important to know--although a lot of private schools won't be able serve some LD kids.  But I know other kids who did great there.

  • Best Special Ed School Districts

    (1 reply)

    Which school districts in the Bay Area have good special education programs? Which ones to avoid? My son is 7.5 with HF autism and is currently in an inclusion program in OUSD. We’re looking to move out of Oakland, but need to consider the quality of special education services offered in other districts. Would love to hear your experience!

    Hit or miss (we have experience with AUSD & WCCUSD), depends on if your child has a champion on staff who is inclined to move mountains for them. As a general rule of thumb, the wealthier districts may be less resourced for special ed as a way of discouraging students who need services (who affect test scores). If you are happy with the level of service with your son is getting, I'd stay put until that changes.

  • Hello!

    If anyone has a girl with Aspergers (mine is in 1st grade and 2e) who has found a school that allows her to make (and keep) friends please can you reach out to me? Our daughter has zero outward signs of autism, except in areas where she is constantly rejected by friends. She's VERY social, kind, overall lovely disposition but has become quite defeated here. We are trying to decide on schools and my biggest concern is that she finds friends and isn't excluded. Below are some schools we are exploring:

    Burkard, Aurora, Crestmont, Berkwood Hedge, Star Academy, Core Academy, Saklan

    Any knowledge of the above or other schools where your daughter has thrived would be a huge help, we've been trying to get answers for a long time now. 

    Thanks so much!

    Hello, I just wanted to add that you may want to explore Walden Center & School in Berkeley. It's a very small, arts-oriented school that values individuality. It's worth a look!

  • Hi All, my 2 year old son was recently diagnosed with ASD and as we are starting to think about moving (we just had another child and are quickly outgrowing our first home) wanted to see if anyone had any insight/ recommendations on which school districts in the east or north bay seem to have the best support for ASD and special Ed programs to help direct our search? TIA!

    I think you will find families who love and hate their district in every district.  So much of it depends on your child's specific needs, your school within that district and a host of other things. Having said that, we are in Lafayette and have been extremely impressed so far with the support and proactive approach the district has taken.  Feel free to reach out directly if you want to talk more.

    Piedmont is hands down the best district for Special Needs.  However, lacks diversity and is very expensive. 

  • Dear Parents, 

    Would be grateful to hear if anyone has a *very* high functioning kid on the spectrum who is at a private elementary school where she is thriving. 

    Thanks so much for your help! 

    I suggest you visit The Academy. It is a very small, academic school. I think it's worth visiting to see if it's a good fit.


    I would recommend Montessori Family School in El Cerrito. My daughter attended there for 11 years and while she was never diagnosed on the spectrum, there are lots of quirky smart kids who thrive in a peaceful environment that supports students learning at their own pace. Feel free to message me if you have additional questions.


  • 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!

    I have two kids on the spectrum in WCCUSD. My personal opinion is that the special education staff at each school is what really counts (in particular the full-inclusion specialist, assuming your friend’s child will be in a full-inclusion classroom). It’s been my experience that the districts are all about the same but the quality and dedication of the full-inclusion specialists and the aides varies widely from school to school (and wealthier schools are not necessarily better).

    Easier said than done to get info about particular schools before enrollment. I’d recommend joining some of the Facebook or other groups referenced on BPN many times, and ask parents at the schools she’s interested in about their experiences.

    Also, if the child will start ABA, ask the director of her child’s ABA program. A good ABA director will have made many school visits and has probably noticed high-quality school programs.

    I have heard good things about Moraga as far as Special Ed goes.

  • 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!

  • 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....

Archived Q&A and Reviews



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.
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