Private Schools for Autism: What to Know

How to Find the Best Private School for Children With Autism

Finding the best school for a child with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) is not always easy. While there are public schools that can meet the needs of some kids with autism, most have significant limitations. Private schools for autism, on the other hand, may have the resources necessary to both nurture a child's strengths and address their challenges.

Thanks to the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), public schools are obligated to accept children with autism. Not all schools, however, are able to provide an appropriate curriculum and classroom modifications for kids who need them.

This article discusses private schools for autism, the various educational options, and the pros and cons of each.

little girl frustrated in school
Jamie Grill / Getty Images

Traditional Private Schools

Private schools that largely serve neurotypical kids usually offer smaller class sizes than do pubic schools, individualized teaching, and some flexibility in terms of curriculum and teaching philosophy. Some, for example, may focus on hands-on learning and child-directed education, which may be better for an autistic child than verbally-based education.

However, unlike public schools, these schools are not obligated to accept kids with disabilities, and not all hire teachers who have been trained to work with children with disabilities. A traditional private school may accept a kindergartner with high-functioning autism and then decide that they can't accommodate them after all.

Private Schools for Children with Disabilities

The majority of private schools for children with disabilities serve children with learning disabilities, such as dyslexia, or executive-functioning issues like attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). In some cases, these schools accept children with high-functioning autism as well.

If you can find a private school for children with disabilities for a child, it may work out very well for them socially as, often, children with disabilities are more tolerant of differences among their peers. What's more, the same supports that make education easier for a child with ADHD may also be appropriate for a child with high-functioning autism.

Furthermore, schools for kids with disabilities are likely to adapt extracurricular activities such as music, theater, and sports to make it possible for studies of all abilities to participate in them.

Private Schools Specializing in Autism

There are also private schools intended specifically for children on the autism spectrum. In addition to academics, these schools build in full-day therapeutic intervention including speech, occupational, and physical therapy.

Private autism-only schools usually serve both high- and low-functioning children, and young people may feel at home in a school for children like them. They may find true friends, supportive and understanding teachers, and opportunities to thrive in new ways.

These schools are often set up based on a specific therapeutic philosophy. For example, some private schools for children with autism spend the majority of the day implementing behavioral interventions, such as applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy. Others focus on relationship development intervention (RDI), while others use teaching approaches such as Floortime or TEACCH.

Children who are more profoundly autistic will find highly-trained specialists with the time, energy, and commitment to providing intensive, caring 1:1 intervention.

A potential downside to a school specifically for children with autism is that it is a world of its own. Because every facet of school is focused on autism, there may be few opportunities to develop real-world coping skills.

Cost of Private Education

Private school is expensive, making the cost a potential obstacle for many families. Typical private schools cost in the vicinity of $20,000 per year and specialized private schools can run $50,000 or more per year. While most schools offer scholarships, the majority of families will have to be able to foot the bill themselves.

If expense is a roadblock for you, it may be possible to have the local school district cover a child's tuition for a disability or autism-specific private school. Funding tuition for just two or three children can set a district back more than $100,000, but be prepared to jump through quite a few hoops.

You’ll need to prove to the school district that there is no public school that can meet the child’s needs, for example. This can take a lot of time, energy, and dedication, but it may be worth it if you feel strongly that a child requires what only a private school for autism can offer.

Finally, keep in mind that because there are comparatively few private schools that cater to children with autism, it is not uncommon to have a long commute back and forth. Private schools typically do not arrange for or cover the costs of school buses, and guardians generally have to pay for bus companies themselves.

Resources

These sites offer detailed information on choosing a school, as well as listings of private schools across the United States that accept children with autism:

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the best school for a person with autism?

    Each person with autism is different, so the best school will depend on the individual. Some do fine in a public school setting, while others are better off in a school that specializes in autism.

  • What state has the best schools for autism?

    There is no one best state for schools for autism. According to Autism Parenting Magazine, the top five states for raising a child with autism are

    Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Maryland.

  • Can mild autism go away?

    No, autism is an innate neurological condition that people are born with. However, research shows in some children who received an early diagnosis of autism were able to learn skills that help them to appear non-autistic as they grow up.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Dept. of Education. Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

  2. National Autism Association. Behind closed doors: What’s happening to students with autism in America’s public schools?

  3. Autism Parenting Magazine. Which States Are Most Supportive for Raising a Child with Autism?

  4. National Institute of Health: NIH Research Matters. Early autism may not last a lifetime.

By Lisa Jo Rudy
Lisa Jo Rudy, MDiv, is a writer, advocate, author, and consultant specializing in the field of autism.