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How Critical is Academic Achievement When Choosing an Educational Setting for a Neurodivergent Child?

Re-Assessing the Appropriateness of the School Setting, Year After Year

Every year, for almost the last twenty years, I have been invited by the school administrators to reassess the appropriateness of my children’s school placements.  They are all considered neurodivergent and have been diagnosed with things like ADHD, autism, APD (Auditory Processing Disorder), SPD (Sensory Processing Disorder), dyslexia, and Irlen Syndrome.

Comparing Neurodivergent Students to Others is Inequitable

Over the years, I have discovered that most school administrators and teachers become highly concerned if there are significant gaps between the level of academic achievement (grades) of a child with neurodiversity or learning disabilities and those of the rest of the class. In contrast, I believe that for neurodivergent children, this type of comparison is irrelevant and inequitable. In addition, many times standardized testing does not accurately reflect the child’s true level of knowledge, due to restrictions imposed by the educational system regarding accommodations or support in the educational and/or testing environments. Examples of this are things like time limitations during exams, inhibiting the use of assistive communication devices, forbidding mediation, and more.

The Dilemma: Inclusive Classrooms or Specialized Educational Settings

In many cases, if children have low grades, progress at a pace slower than was desired, or are lagging behind the other students, the school will suggest moving them from an inclusive learning environment to a special school or class. I have lost count of the number of times this was suggested to us.

I understand why school administrators are tempted to make such a suggestion, but I have found that in many instances they overlook the possible negative outcomes of such a move. I also believe that as long as children make progress and enjoy learning in their educational environment, it might be worth thinking twice before considering making a change.

What Parents Should Consider Before Leaving an Inclusive Classroom or Changing an Academic Setting

Following is a list of questions I suggest you contemplate before deciding what educational setting would be most beneficial:

  • What is the state of your child’s overall well-being?
  • What is their social standing?
  • Are they making progress in their current educational setting (in comparison to themselves)?
  • Have they been given all of the accommodations and support they need?
  • How will a move to a specialized class affect them emotionally?
  • Will the move to a specialized setting lower their self-esteem?
  • Will it disrupt their circle of friends or social standing?
  • Will the new setting require that they travel to a different city, which can be exhausting and will likely make it difficult for them to meet up with friends for afterschool activities?
  • What are the dynamics in the specialized setting, and how will they affect your child? For example, if your child has issues with sound sensitivity or auditory processing, and in the new setting there is a group of children who tend to be loud, it may be very difficult for them to understand what is going on in class. Or, if your child is extremely quiet, gentle, or fearsome, and the class is comprised of children who have behavioral issues or tend to be aggressive, how will they cope with this?
  • Will your child have the opportunity to make friends and obtain good social standing in the new environment?
  • Is your child interested in moving to a new setting (if they are capable of expressing their opinion on the matter)?
  • Do you think the move to a specialized setting will make a significant difference in your child’s academic performance or sense of well-being? Will it be beneficial? Detrimental?

Decide Upon the Most Important Goals for Your Child

As a general rule, I suggest you try to decide what you consider to be the most important goals for your child within the school setting before you meet with the school administrators. For example, we understood that it was imperative for our son on the spectrum to observe how children in a typical classroom interact with each other, to facilitate the development of his social skills. In light of this, we decided that staying in an inclusive classroom was the most appropriate environment for him, even though his academic performance might have improved more significantly in a special class.

Parents Have the Ultimate Responsibility to Decide What is Best for their Child

There were many instances when we found that our goals for our child were different than those of school administrators. As a general rule, school administrators base their recommendations regarding placement on children’s academic performance, and how it compares with their peers. They also considered budgetary restrictions and the demands of the department of education. Parents, in contrast to them, are only obligated to keep the best interests of their child in mind.

When these types of conflicts occur, I suggest you follow your instincts and demand that your child is placed in the setting that you deem to be most suitable for them. You,  as parents, have the ultimate right (and responsibility) to decide what is best for your child, and the school administrators should respect your decision, even if it differs from theirs.


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Jacki Edry

Jacki Edry

Jacki Edry is a graduate of Hampshire College and has an extensive background in education, writing, and marketing. She has been exploring the world of autism and neurodiversity for over thirty-five years. 

2 Responses

  1. Thank you for posting this enlightening article.
    These questions can offer a scaffold for many parents who are looking for support when making critical educational decisions. An important read for many parents.

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