One of the most challenging aspects of helping a teen with autism is finding a suitable educational fit. Finding the right program for a teen with Asperger's syndrome or high-functioning autism is especially difficult because most programs cater to children who are more severely impacted. Start with your local school district. If they don't have the right program, consider other options, such as private schools or residential centers.
Public school districts vary in their understanding and support of the needs of children with autism. By law, most districts now offer basic classroom support for teens on an individualized education program or 504 plan. Some have specialized programs within a traditional school, while a few have freestanding schools for children with autism. Some school districts have begun contracting with private groups to provide educational services to children and teens. Land Park Academy, in Sacramento, California, for example, is a non-public school that provides support to area school districts. The Kennedy Krieger Institute, in Baltimore, Maryland, also offers partnership programs with local school districts.
The vast majority of schools that specialize in serving teens with autism are private schools. These schools have a low student to teacher ratio and usually offer applied behavioral analysis, speech therapy, occupational therapy and other services. Schools often have a waiting list and the price of tuition is steep -- typically double the price of traditional private school tuition. However, most schools offer financial aid and scholarships, and in some cases, the state, your local school district or even your insurance company will pick up part or all of the tab. The Temple Grandin School in Boulder, Colorado, is a small private school that specializes in serving teens with Asperger's syndrome. The Monarch School in Houston, Texas, serves students from kindergarten through 12th grade and also offers a post-graduate program for vocational training.
If you're having trouble finding an affordable, high-quality school, check with local universities, hospitals or research centers. Many of these organizations have private schools designed for children and teens with autism. These schools are often teaching and research schools that offer cutting-edge curriculum and therapy techniques. A few examples include the Princeton Early Childhood Development Institute in Princeton, New Jersey, and the May Center for Child Development Schools in Randolph, Massachusetts. The May Center is part of the May Institute, an award-winning, non-profit group devoted to research and training in many areas of neurological science.
Some schools for teens with autism cater to special interests, such as art and dance, or offer transitional career training opportunities. The Spectrum Charter School Inc. in Monroeville, Pennsylvania, offers classroom lessons as well as real-life partnerships with local businesses to prepare teens with autism for the real world. Camphill Special School, located in Glenmoore, Pennsylvania, uses the Waldorf approach to educate the mind, body and heart. The school offers therapeutic support and traditional academics, as well as visual, dramatic and performing arts programs.
Most private schools for children with autism offer services for kindergarten through 12th grade. Some programs work on a year-round calendar, while others keep a traditional nine-month schedule. Boarding schools are another option if you're looking for more intensive support. These programs are usually geared for teens and young adults and offer social skills training and life skills in addition to academic subjects. Talisman Academy, located in Hendersonville, North Carolina, offers residential programs for students age 12 to 24. Montcalm School for Boys and Girls in Albany, Michigan, accepts students age 12 to 21.