3 No-Nonsense Answers to Common Questions on Special Education
Did you know that tigers have striped skin and not just striped fur?
Did you know that reticulated pythons are longer than green anacondas?
Did you know the formula for the volume of spheres is four-thirds times Pi times radius cubed?
Did you know that honey is actually just bee vomit?
There is a common saying within the autism community, "If you've met one child with autism, you've met one child with autism." Facts and insight collected from various students across various grade levels prove the point that we can always learn something from someone else. Like the students at The Westview School, these little nuggets of information are as different and varied as those who shared them.
With enrollment season upon us, the admissions department of The Westview School is busy fielding questions about the benefits of a private special needs education. Families are looking for the best fit for their children. The Westview School is proud to offer children on the autism spectrum a unique, specialized learning environment with outstanding educational and social opportunities. Some of the obvious benefits of a specialized special needs school include small classroom sizes and curriculum and instruction that is adapted based on each student's need. But there is much more that a school like Westview can provide a child that is not so easily quantified.
We asked our in-house experts, Becky Mattis, M.Ed., Admissions Director for The Westview School, and Mimi Le, M.A., LMFT, LPC, one of Westview’s Student and Staff Support Specialists, to weigh in on commonly asked questions prospective families have when deciding on a program like The Westview School. Their no-nonsense answers to the top three prospective family concerns about a private specialized education are supported by frank, heartfelt, and honest feedback from Westview students in elementary and middle school.
QUESTION 1: Will my child develop self-confidence?
One thing a parent of a child with autism learns very early on is that brains can grow. Developmental pediatricians and neurologists will tell parents, early intervention is the key, that a child's potential cannot be determined until they have an opportunity to learn. Children on the autism spectrum who participate in early intervention therapies and specialized schooling from an early age develop a growth mindset. The concept of a growth mindset was originally taught by Stanford Professor, Carol Dweck. She asserts that facing challenges, working hard, and learning from mistakes develops persistence and results in growth in intelligence and abilities. She further theorizes that people who develop a growth mindset at a young age are confident, resilient, and have a passion for learning. At The Westview School, you will frequently hear a teacher encouraging a student who is struggling with something say, "That's okay, you can try again." Instead of becoming frustrated when they make a mistake, we want our students to quickly regroup and try again.
Becky Mattis: Parents worry about self-esteem for their special needs child. The self-esteem impact that kids have when they are in a place that is meeting their needs, and they are learning and being successful is vastly greater than the negative impact that being in a place where their needs are not met, and they are feeling different and singled out.
Mimi Le: There is a vulnerability [at Westview] that you do not get in a neurotypical school setting. The vulnerability is that I am not the best at this. How can I get better? Both peers and teachers work together to help and encourage you. This may still happen in a neurotypical setting, but at Westview, we are very aware of it, and we make it part of each day, and so do our students.
When a student feels like they can excel at something new, they feel supported in their effort, and in turn, the other students in their class help that too. Students want to learn from the kid that is the expert on trains or the best at math. At Westview, there is never the social expectation to fit into the typical school social norms. There is no judgment. This builds confidence in a child when they are around others that support their expertise in something.
We asked Westview students, “What is your favorite thing about The Westview School?”
Jaden, Middle School: The teachers will go completely out of their way, will do anything they can to see their students succeed. They are always so nice and supportive, and I could not have any better teachers.
Thibault, Upper Elementary: I like this place because it provides a safe place. A safe place from bullies. [Westview] gives me a safe place to learn, and it achieves all its goals in doing so with all its students.
Noah, Middle School: I think The Westview School is a great place to be. The teachers, the classrooms, the fun things we get to do.
Cason, Middle School: My favorite things about The Westview School are the people, the academics. Look around [gesturing down the hallway]; this place looks pretty good.
Ruby, Lower Elementary: My teachers and everybody loves me and PE.
Theo, Lower Elementary: I have lots of friends to play with, and I learn things that I never knew before, and just like Ruby said, I like PE.
QUESTION 2: How will my child learn appropriate social skills without typical peer role models?
Becky Mattis: It is a common question for prospective parents, "Why not just put our child in a mainstream school to learn and observe social skills?" If our children could naturally pick up social and classroom skills from their neurotypical peers, they would easily fit into a mainstream setting. At The Westview School, we get excited when our kids pick up other behaviors because we can then use that as a building block for teaching and guiding our students toward a more appropriate social interaction. By virtue of the population, most of our students struggle with social skills, and because of that, we are intentional in working on the development of social skills throughout the day. The child is not being singled out by being pulled away to talk through those social situations. It is a learning experience for the whole class.
Mimi Le: When children on the autism spectrum are with others who are like them, they are more accepting of individuals with differences. When we put students together in a group or a class, we are looking at where are they are going to fit socially, behaviorally, and academically, so that they can learn something from another student. Where one student may be best at a particular thing, another student can learn from them. Everyone is learning from each other in those three different categories, which helps make them more well-rounded. All kids are different, autism or not. There is always something you can learn from someone else. The thought Westview puts in to placing our students helps to build a respect and appreciation for each other that they would not get in a normal neurotypical setting.
We asked Westview students, “What is something that your friends like about you? What makes you a good friend?
Jaden, Middle School: I am very persistent, and I will do what I can even if it must sacrifice quite a lot to get done what I need to do. I think that me knowing a lot makes me special because I get to teach people what I know, and I find teaching very fun.
Thibault, Upper Elementary: I am passionate, and I strive to work hard almost every single day. I am determined.
Theo, Lower Elementary: I like to run around and exercise a lot and play games. I like to play games on the playground besides tag, because my best friend Sid doesn’t like tag. I like it, but I want to play with him.
QUESTION 3: What if my child knows they are different?
We are all different, and differences should be celebrated, and all children should be taught in a way that most benefits them. In October of 2020, a teacher’s online post on why her neurotypical classroom looks like a special education one went viral. Karen Blacher, who has two children on the autism spectrum herself, found that students benefit greatly when classroom strategies are more focused on encouraging students to openly communicate, and expectations are adapted specifically to that child. Students are taught to both self-advocate and self-regulate.
Becky Mattis: We recognize that all kids are different whether they are on the spectrum or not. Each of our Westview children will discover the ways they learn best and how to then advocate for themselves. Self-advocacy is not only a skill they need for school but in life as well. Being accepting of the things that challenge them.
Mimi Le: Our kids become comfortable with who they are. It is okay to be different. Our kids develop an appreciation for themselves and each other. They are learning that their differences can be something they are proud of, and we foster that in the classrooms and through our conversations with parents. Our students will continue to give the world a new perspective on every aspect of life, and this new lens will lead to breakthroughs in the future.
With cultivating confidence in mind, we asked several Westview students, “What makes you special?”
Cason, Middle School: To be honest, I think I am pretty smart and good at gaming. I am probably the smartest in math. My brain works a little differently than everyone else. It can be good or bad in different ways.
Satvik, Middle School: I am a very tall person, and I am a hardworking boy.
Thibault, Upper Elementary: What makes me special is that I am different from everyone else, and it is like a whole different experience. Without these differences, I wouldn't have gone to Westview in the first place, and my sisters love me literally for who I am.
The Westview School’s mission is to provide a unique, specialized learning environment offering outstanding educational and social opportunities for children on the autism spectrum. We believe that children with autism spectrum disorder can grow and learn through a nurturing, positive, and happy environment that enhances their self-esteem. Building confidence, learning social skills and celebrating our differences is something that The Westview School builds into our daily curriculum.
If you think The Westview School could be a fit for your child, join us for our next Informational Session. The event includes discussions with our Admissions Director, Becky Mattis, about the student experience and program deliverables. Current parents will also be present to offer perspective and answer questions.