Family Profile: A Child with Special Needs Thrives in a Private School
This is part of our Family Profile series that features NH families that utilize educational opportunities for their children. This story comes from Sasha Levin, a New Hampshire father of a child with special needs. Sasha shared his son’s experience in a NH-based Facebook group for families with special needs children in response to discussions about the Education Savings Accounts bill, Senate Bill 193. The original post was a copy of an article from an organization that opposes the bill. In this discussion several administrators and others were aggressive to group members who expressed support of empowering parents with educational options. This group often gives testimony at the State House, although it is unclear how their leadership and positions on issues and legislation are determined.
Within two days of sharing his son’s experience, Sasha was blocked from posting or commenting in the group, presumably because the administrators disagree with his opinion regarding educational options for children with special needs and SB 193. His story is shared with permission.
At the age of 2, my son was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder by the Boston Children’s Hospital staff who recommended a weekly minimum of 25 hours of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy. We started providing him with this therapy at home and he has started showing tremendous progress under this treatment.
As we got closer to the age of 3, we began the process to enroll my son into our public school. He was determined eligible under IDEA for Special Education and an Individual Education Plan was offered by the school staff.
The plan offered my son a total of 5 weekly hours of school, and made no guarantee for any ABA treatment at all. When we questioned whether this offer even meets a minimum required by IDEA we were told that this is the plan offered for all students and there’s not much else they can do about it.
We were not willing to provide our son this level of help, especially at such a critical stage of early intervention, so we looked into private schools in our area that could accommodate him. While many parents think that “private school” means “evil” admission boards, academic minimums that can lead to expulsion or tuition fees that can lead to bankruptcy, in practice we found most schools more than accommodating with friendly staff and teachers who just wanted to help my son and a tuition that is more than reasonable.
We ended up signing him to a private school located about 10 minutes from our home, where he attends a general education classroom with “regular” peers. He was assigned a 1:1 ABA therapist who provides him with 18 hours of therapy over 3 full school days (and the rest of the hours are provided at home).
In school, my son is thriving! He is making an amazing academic and social progress, he has a “regular” best friend, and the staff that originally diagnosed him is amazed at how he has changed for the better since starting school.
Instead of dreaded IEP meetings where it’s a battle for every inch with the school district, the meetings between the school staff and ABA provider are productive, each side suggests and implements ideas to further help my son, and instead of wasting time on “arming” myself for battle I can invest that time in coming up with more ideas to help my son.
Looking at SB193, I see it as a great tool that would help other parents like us. While one would think that private schools are well oiled machines that attempt to take our money and provide the minimum they can get away with, I found the reality is quite the opposite; private school principals and teachers are proud of their work, are happy to discuss different aspects of their school, and are a lot more flexible with what they can offer than public schools.
Yes, when we signed up to a private school we gave away our rights under IDEA, but we simply replaced the guarantees provided under IDEA with guarantees provided under contract with the private school. I do not feel that we somehow lost essential rights by stepping out of the public-school system.
The “standard” recommendation for 2 to 3 year-old children diagnosed with ASD is a minimum of 20-25 weekly hours of therapy. Given that our public school didn’t even come close to offering that, I can only imagine how many families similar to ours will benefit from SB 193 and getting the option to seek better treatment for their children in the private system.
by Sasha Levin
Read more about Education Savings Accounts here. If you wish to contact the House Finance Committee about the impact the ESA bill, SB 193, will have on your family, their email is HouseFinanceCommittee@leg.state.nh.us. The committee has a public hearing on SB 193 scheduled for Tuesday, January 16th at 1:30pm in room 201 of the Legislative Office Building (LOB).