When is a Residential School the Right Move?
When is a Residential School the Right Move?
Parenting is tough. And parenting a child with special needs is even tougher – especially when the time comes for that child to enter school and begin to engage with the larger community. In addition to academics and social skills, it is essential to teach children with special needs the most basic life skills and self-care and provide them with diverse leisure activities and vocational training opportunities if they are to discover and fulfill their greatest possible potential.
In most cases, these needs can be met through integration in public schools. Some children thrive there and relish the opportunities to interact with their non-disabled peers. But, in some cases, the need for access to care, instruction, and consistency of interventions during all waking hours can indicate that a residential school may be appropriate. And sometimes, it can even save families from disintegrating under the pressure of providing for needs when resources are simply not at hand.
Clearly, the decision to select a residential school should be made by the team who knows the most about a particular child’s needs: his or her parents, school officials, and other agency staff as appropriate. If you are wondering whether a residential school is a viable option for your child, be sure to talk things over carefully with your child’s team and consider the following advantages and challenges.
A continuum of consistency
A residential school setting and its staff are uniquely qualified to give your child access to educational opportunities and the chance to practice skills he or she has learned 24 hours a day. The professional staff and faculty provide support and reinforcement during all waking hours of your child’s day. This gives him or her a powerful level of consistency that is difficult to duplicate at home, and beyond the scope of a regular 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. school day. The same prompts and cues are used whether your child is in class, in the cafeteria, engaging in leisure activities, or in the residence. Some schools also offer training to parents so that they may continue these prompts and cues at home during vacations and breaks. Round-the-clock nursing care, where available and appropriate, is a vital aspect of a residential school’s continuum of care as well.
A chance to practice safely – and learn flexibility
Opportunities to safely practice skills in controlled environments in a residential school flow into chances to practice in natural environments both before and after school hours, such as recognizing the symbol for the ladies’ room in a restaurant while on a dinner outing with the class. Again, the professional staff and faculty are standing by to support and reinforce skills learned at school and help your child see how they apply in the larger surrounding community.
A peer group of his or her own
A residential school setting provides children with special needs with peer group interaction opportunities both during and after school. It also allows more time for leisure with peers both during and after school, giving each child many opportunities to learn critical socialization skills as well as how to effectively manage leisure time—an often-overlooked ability that is vital to his or her quality of life.
Learning for a lifetime
Developmental disabilities and other special needs can affect all aspects of a child’s life, far beyond the classroom. Self-care, self-esteem, interpersonal relationships, vocational skills, and many other critical life-skills are areas that must be addressed. A residential school’s programs are designed to educate the whole child – academically, socially, vocationally and more – so that he or she can live life as fully as possible.
Growing up away from family, friends, and home
Like any residential school setting, your child will pass many milestones and reach many benchmarks while living away from you. Since good communication with faculty and staff is vital in a residential setting, you’ll certainly hear about your child’s successes and setbacks. But, it’s not the same as being there, in person, when the tears are flowing or the skills are mastered. While many families find that a residential school experience actually enriches and enhances the relationships between each family member, the fact is that your child simply won’t be in his or her home community as often.
Less integration with non-disabled peers
Having a peer group of his or her own naturally means less time spent around non-disabled peers. For some children, integration with non-disabled peers can be demoralizing, while for others, it is not only appropriate, but recommended. Be sure to take a close look at how the makeup of his or her peer group will affect your child’s ability to discover and explore his or her full potential.
Keep in mind that your own child’s unique needs, abilities, and disabilities may dictate additional advantages and challenges. You and your team know your child best. Good luck with your journey, and remember that you don’t have to have all the answers all the time – you just have to be willing to ask the questions when the time is right.
About Author: Sister Jeannette Murray is the Executive Director of the Benedictine School, Maryland’s Eastern Shore. She is also Parenting Special Needs’ “Everyday Hero” for the month of January 2010. Click on link above to read more about Sister Jeanette Murray.
Visit The Benedictine School http://www.benschool.org
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