Placement Options

How Do I Determine the Right Educational Placement for My Child?

This is an important step in the IEP process that is determined by you and the rest of the IEP team. There should never be a placement decision made without you. Conversely, the educational placement of your child should not be made solely by you. Therefore, it is important that you come to the IEP meeting prepared to discuss educational placement. In order to do this, it is essential that you are knowledgeable about:

  • The educational placements available within your school district
  • The educational placements typically made available to students with autism (you can do this by reaching out to local support groups)
  • Any private, special education schools (“out of district schools”) available in your area

What Are the Different Types of Educational Placements?

Educational placement options include the general education setting, special education placement, self-contained educational placement, and out-of-district placement. It is helpful to understand the types of placements that exist and how they work so that you can better participate in your team’s discussion. The intent of IDEA and its accompanying LRE requirements is that a student should participate in the general education environment as much as is possible without interfering with that student’s ability to access a free appropriate public education (FAPE). Each of the following four types of special education placements has its supporters and critics. However, the most important thing is determining what is best for your child, keeping in mind that it may change over time.

While it is important to be familiar with the following terms, it is essential to remember that discussion regarding educational placement is the final step in the IEP development process, and educational placement is a team decision.

In the general education setting (also known as “inclusion class” or “mainstream placement”), a student is in a regular class with their grade-level peers. In this scenario, the general and special education teacher should work together to develop accommodations and modifications to provide the student with access to the general education curriculum. While in the general education setting, the student may receive instruction from the general or special education teacher or may receive assistance from a paraprofessional if designated in the IEP.

When a general education placement is the best match for a student’s needs, the student participates in a more complex, natural setting that affords almost continuous opportunities for generalization—that is, applying new skills to different people, environments, and settings—which is critical for students with autism. When appropriate, related services such as OT, PT, and SLP may be provided. These services will be determined by the IEP team and documented in the IEP.

Students whose educational needs cannot be adequately met in the general education setting may require specialized attention in a more controlled setting. In such a case, students complete grade-level work in targeted subject areas in a setting frequently called the Resource Room. In the Resource Room, a special education teacher works with a small group of students and utilizes instructional methods that will foster meaningful progress for those students. Related services may be provided in the Resource Room setting or a different room outside of the general education environment. Different students require different amounts of time in the Resource Room, and the IEP will designate what percentage of a student’s school day should be in the Resource Room and what percentage in General Education.

Placement in a self-contained classroom means that the student is removed from the general education population for all academic subjects to work in a small, controlled setting with a special education teacher and paraprofessionals. Students in a self-contained class work at various academic levels with different textbooks and curricula, using a variety of research based teaching strategies and materials. While some students continue to access some general education settings (e.g., lunchroom, recess, and/or special classes like art, music, and library), other students are “100% self-contained,” meaning that they are never, or very rarely, included in the general education setting. Some self-contained educational placements require a student to go to a school outside your neighborhood.

For a student who has autism and whose team has determined partial inclusion in settings that include so-called “specials” and recess, the inclusion must be carefully planned. For example, the lunchroom is one of the most problematic settings in the school for many students with autism due to their primary impairment in social skills. Therefore, occasions when they may be included for social participation need as much planning and support as might be required for inclusion in an academic period of the school day.

While a self-contained educational placement may require a student to go to a school outside your neighborhood, an out-of-district educational placement places a student in a specialized school specifically designed to address targeted areas: specific disability groups, special types of learning needs, special behavioral or emotional needs, and/or some combination of these. When an out-of-district placement is the best match for a student, that student typically has access to highly specialized educational programming in the presence of structure, routine, and consistency. However, similar to a self-contained educational placement, generalization must be carefully considered and access to the “general” population by the school can be limited or nonexistent.

Find the Right School

The following websites can help you find schools based on a variety of criteria:

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