Episode 26: My Opinion about How to Choose the Right School for Your Child with Special Needs

I get asked this question by parents who come to my private speech therapy clinic  all the time. “How do I choose the right school for my child?”. These parents usually have children who are delayed in either their academic, language or overall communications skills.

One thing I have observed, is that there are no “ideal schools” for children who have special needs in Kenya. The few schools that cater for children with special needs are often under-resourced. Another thing is that parents who take their children to these special needs schools express the concern over the “unwanted” behaviours that their children pick at these schools. These reasons among others make parents of children with special needs prefer mainstream over special needs schools.

Ho to choose the right school for your child with special needs

There are both advantages and disadvantages to either options. And as much as their are more advantages to taking your child to a mainstream school, their are disadvantages to mainstream schools. One major disadvantage of mainstream schools, particularly the ones that I have encountered in Kenya, and in Nairobi to be specific, is that they don’t cater for children with varied needs. These schools mostly just cater to the needs of the typically developing child.

What usually ends up happening when you take a child with special learning needs to a mainstream school is that you could potentially end up wasting their time. I have encountered children who have been to school for about 16 years but they cannot communicate, read or count. Despite having a learning need, such a child most often has potential that has not been tapped. 

The advise that I give parents who decide to take their child to a mainstream school is to consider the following 3 factors.

1. Curriculum

I believe that a school Curriculum should cater to the learning needs of all children and not to only the needs of the typically developing child. That was my experience with 8-4-4 Curriculum (now Competency Based Curriculum (CBC) in Kenya. As much as I was a good performer, I felt like the Curriculum did not cater enough for my learning needs.  And I am positive that I am not the only one who felt this way towards the 8-4-4 curriculum.

8-4-4 I felt was such a difficult Curriculum and with all the issues that I see CBC also experiencing, we may have to give it some time before we know for sure whether it can serve the needs of children with special learning needs.

One particular Curriculum that I feel is better suited to catering for learning needs of children with special needs is the Accelerated Christian Education (ACE). 

Lorna Muthamia-Ochido takes parents through the 3 factors they need to consider when choosing a school for your child with special needs
Image by ludi from Pixabay

ACE Curriculum schools are American and Christian but I have seen Muslims also go to these schools.  

The reason why I recommend these schools to parents of children with special learning needs especially is because this Curriculum allows every child to learn at their own pace. Please note that these schools also cater to the learning needs of typically developing children.

With ACE, if you have a 6 year old who is not reading or is struggling in any other way, they will be in class with other 6 year olds but they will just tackle material that is suited to the level that they are in.

The way the ACE Curriculum establishes a child’s learning level is by having them do an assessment in reading, numeracy and any other subject and then have this child work off textbooks called Paces. And then depending on how quickly or how slowly they work through a subject, this child is nurtured to catch up with his/her peers. 

This kind of flexible learning is what I believe makes the ACE Curriculum a Curriculum that serves the needs of children with learning needs and children who are not on the same level with their age/grade matched peers. 

I advise parents to look out for ACE schools. Many of these schools can be found in Nairobi though I am not sure about the other parts of Kenya. 

How to choose the right school for your child with special needs

2. The classroom size

I home-school my children. One class usually has about 5 children who are all at different levels and 2-3 teachers in this class. And I find that even with the 2-3 teachers catering to these 5 children, the teachers still get overwhelmed from preparing materials that cater to each child’s learning needs.

Please visit my personal blog to read about my journey to home-schooling my children

Imagine the overwhelm of a teacher in a mainstream school who has to serve the learning needs of 20 plus children in his/her classroom. Such a school or teacher will not  be in a position to give your child individualised learning as much as they would like to have you believe as more often that not, this teacher’s capacity will be too stretched.

3. Shadow teacher

You as a parent can see and negotiate with a school on whether they can allow you to have a shadow teacher come in.

Please visit this post to learn about who a shadow teacher is and the importance of a shadow teacher. 

A shadow teacher is a teacher that can come in and and assist your child that is differently able to be able to access the school’s Curriculum better or at least be in a better position to be to accommodated in the same classroom as their age/grade matched peers despite their special learning needs. 

Final word

These are the 3 factors that I would advise parents to focus on when they are trying to find a school for their child/children with special needs. 

My advise to parents is not to choose a school based on that school’s performance in the national exams as that would not solve their child’s learning needs.  

More than just considering the 3 mentioned factors, you as a parent can also ask questions to assess whether the school will be a good fit for your child. These questions should be geared towards finding out:

  • What the school does to cater for needs of children with special learning needs,
  • If the school has a learning support department
  • Whether that department is equipped with teachers that have the skill-set to be able to remediate your child’s learning needs. 
  • Whether these teachers are compassionate and passionate
  • Whether they encourage integration of students in the classrooms because what happens sometimes is that a mainstream school can isolate and have a separate unit for children that have special needs. 

I hope that what I have shared has shed light into this sensitive and important topic for parents of children with special learning needs who feel as though their child/children have the potential to perform well in a mainstream school if they had just a little more support.

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You may find these blogposts useful:

  1. How to give your child instructions to build language
  2. The type of book that will get your child to talk more
  3. What is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
  4. How to increase your child’s attention skills
  5. What are the facts and myths about dyslexia?
  6. What to do if your child is struggling with reading

Please check out the various blog categories for more useful topics and articles.

Wishing you the best with optimising your child’s learning outcomes!

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Hi, I'm your teacher

Lorna Muthamia-Ochido

I run a family-centred speech-language therapy clinic, the largest in East and Central Africa. I’ve helped 15,000+ children optimise their communication outcomes (in other words, I make children smarter ☺).

Get your child talking in no time.

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