Choosing the Best School {Special Needs Edition}

It’s no secret that the Baton Rouge school system is…well….complicated. Parents of “typical” kids often struggle with the decision about whether to send their kids to public, private, magnet, charter, or home school. When your kid has special needs, there is a whole other layer of complexity added to this already complex space. And if you are anything like me, you sometimes doubt whether or not you know what the actual “right” decision is. This year since the kiddo is turning 4, our big “are we making the best decision?” dilemma has been preschool.

I have a saying about our lives raising a special needs kid and maybe all parents feel this way: I feel like our lives are like an old bucket that is full of holes- we are constantly duct-taping back together, trying desperately to hold water, and one day the duct-tape will fall apart and we’ll need to do it all again. What I mean is there seems to constantly be some new issue in our lives that we need to make a decision about and rarely do I feel confident that we’ve actually made the best decision. So we evaluate the situation, make a plan and we go with it- hoping it sticks. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t, and even when we are able to successfully “plug one hole” another leak seems to burst through. We’ve duct-taped together medical testing, sleeping arrangements, therapy schedules, and financial obligations for special things our child needs to make it through the day. Now we can add preschool to that list.

jo reading 2

In our process of picking a preschool, we felt like we had three options on the table: leave him at the child care center he is currently at, enroll him in public preschool in a special ed classroom, or attempt to get into a special therapeutic preschool. All the options had their pros and cons and even though we’ve made the decision already, I still have this nagging feeling of whether we’ve done the “right” thing. If there is such a thing. So here is how we worked through our options.

Option 1: Keep Him in his Current Setting

At first pass this seems like a really good option- it’s familiar and it’s easy. He is already comfortable in the environment which is really important for a kid with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). The teachers are fabulous and treat him and us with the utmost respect. He is starting to make friends-his very first friends. It’s easy for us to get to, it fits into our budget and our schedules, and we generally just don’t like change. It’s also really great for him to be around neurotypical kids so he can see what his peers are doing and be challenged to rise to their developmental level. BUT! None of the staff really has any experience in working with kids with autism and generally they allow him to do whatever he wants rather than try to stretch him and risk upsetting him. It’s good in the sense that he’s mostly happy there because he gets to do whatever he wants, but it’s bad because that’s not how the world works. He has to continue growing and stretching and he needs to have his boundaries pushed.

Option 2: Public Preschool in a Special Ed Classroom

During our last IEP (Individualized Education Program) we sat with his therapists and the school system administrators and made a plan for what it would look like to send him to a public preschool in the fall. The ultimate plan we all could agree on was that he would do best in a special needs class with some time spent everyday in a typical class with the help of an aide. It’s free, it’s convenient, he’d continue working with some of the therapists he works with now. There’s nothing particularly wrong with this plan except for the fact that it’s the East Baton Rouge Parish public school system. I’ll just leave it at that and you can infer whatever you want.

Option 3: Private Therapeutic Preschool

The place where our kiddo already goes for speech and occupational therapy also offers a therapeutic preschool. It’s a 5 day/week program that has the curriculum of a preschool in the context of therapy. Therapeutic exercises are part of everything, and children are encouraged develop new skills while also being challenged to improve their existing ones. Every child has an individualized plan, the staff is well versed in autism and works primarily with kids who have autism, and our son is already familiar with the environment and the staff. I know what you’re thinking- why wouldn’t you choose this? Why are you even considering other options? Well, the preschool can be difficult to get into (25 kids applied this year and only 10-12 were accepted), it’s expensive, and it doesn’t really work with our work schedules. When we found out that Jo had been accepted, it left us to examine our finances and our schedule and see if there was any way we could make it work.

jo reading

Ultimately we went with Option 3- the therapeutic preschool. It doesn’t make much sense for me or my husband in terms of our finances and our day to day lives, but it’s what’s best for our kid and that’s really what matters. There are times as parents that we should and get to put our needs first, but this wasn’t one of those times for us. I am not excited about pinching pennies, I still have anxiety as I look to our educational future, and I worry that we are just avoiding the inevitable entry into the public school system. But I am praying that the duct-tape holds, at least until the next school year. 

Do you have a special needs child who is entering a new school program this year? Tell us about it!

Mandy was born and raised in Shreveport and married her best friend, Dustin, in 2008. When they moved to Baton Rouge in 2010 for graduate school, they had no idea how much this city would change their lives. After meeting some incredibly inspiring people, they decided to become foster parents in 2011 and adopted their bundle of energy, Joseph, in 2014. Mandy works part time as the Safe Families for Children Coordinator, a program that aims to support and stabilize families who are experiencing a crisis. She spends the rest of her time managing Joseph's therapies for autism and living out the gift and honor of being a mom. When she has a few minutes of spare time, Mandy loves to bake, draw, hit the pavement for a run, or even better- NAP!


  1. We have 2 with SPD. The oldest has ADHD as well. We had to move him from public to private in 2 nd grade. He is not on the level of special needs classes and we have taught him how to work around some of his triggers, like pep rallies, other kids emotions, lights, noise, hugging, etc. He does ok, but the school where he is is not special just smaller. My 4 year old starts pre-k there and i am hoping he does well. His neuro said he has some autistic behaviors but she could not diagnose it. So I am hoping he does well. He has always struggled with Understanding Other kids. We cannot afford two in private school but I did not want them secluded in a special ed class. So we will private school poor for a couple more years. I know your son will do great.

    • Thanks for your comment mama. I am hopeful for this year! It’s so tough to imagine my little man secluded in special ed even if it’s what’s best for him. I’m having a hard time envisioning him in that space. I’m grateful we still have a couple of years to figure things out! Sounds like your older son is doing well overall- it’s great that he can self-regulate when he comes into contact with his triggers. We’re working hard on self-regulation and every day gets a bit better. I love your term “private school poor”. I can so relate to that! ha ha! Good luck to y’all this year!

  2. Like you mentioned that there are three options for where to put your child if he or she has special needs. After reading, I think that the best option for my son would be to put him in a therapeutic preschool because they would teach him how to better pronounciate his words and how to learn new skills. That way he would develop as quickly as possible.

  3. May I just say that if you can get your child into Southdowns Pre-k they have an amazing program for all children. Especially autism, SPD. Carla Theriot is by far one of the most gifted teachers and I have found none other like her. Just bc it’s EBR doesn’t mean there aren’t a few diamonds in the rough!!! Go tour Southdowns Prek and Kindergarten. It is top notch, they are very experienced, welcoming, supportive and loving. The only complaint I have is that it doesn’t go up to through the 12th grade!!!

  4. I have owed with the 3rd point, yes I believe in preschooling all children may not be at equal to the level of grabbing as soon the caregiver suggests. Every individual child should be assigned one particular caregiver to teach his or her perfectly.


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