Special School or Mainstream for my Autistic Child?

Choosing a school for any child is a difficult task, but when a child has special educational needs of any kind, making the right decision becomes even more difficult. 

It is important to realize that many factors determine a child’s mainstream educational future.  Above all it is import to understand that a child that cannot speak, write, cut, colour or read cannot mainstream.  Furthermore most Remedial Schools in South Africa offer the same curriculum as mainstream schools. 

The question must always be:  “what is best for the child?”  It will not help the child if you keep them in a mainstream school whilst it is clearly causing them anxiety or distress!  And not addressing the problem in the early year because you are worried about the child’s mainstream educational future is also not going to help the problem go away.

What to take into consideration when deciding on the best route for your child?


Is the child socially and emotionally capable of integrating into a mainstream environment?  Does the child have anxiety?   Anxiety in Autism is in most cases debilitating and blocks the child from all forms of learning.


Where is the child developmentally in comparison to normal developing children?  In other words consider everything from feeding self to speech, communication, writing, motor planning and body concepts, to name but a few.  The internet has lists of development milestones that you can research.  Make sure that your child is within a 3-6 month range on all developmental goals.


The Sensory Profile in Autism is vital to take into consideration.  For instance can your autistic child cope in a classroom of 30 and on a playground with 500 other children?  Does the child have the tools they need to cope with the sensory input they will get?  Because if they don’t learning cannot happen effectively. 

What are key aspects to take into consideration when choosing an Autism School in South Africa?

  • Reputable Autism Schools in South Africa as well as Special Needs Schools in South Africa should offer programs that address the very specific challenges children on the Autism Spectrum face daily;
  • A good Autism School will provide support that is normally not provided in general educational programs;
  • Tailored learning should be offered because no two Autistic children as the same.  In other words look for centres that offer a wide range of approaches and services.
  • Resources, facilities and curriculum are of utmost importance as well as the schools ability to provide for the specific learning needs of the child. 
  • Choose a Special Needs School that does regular assessments.  But also make sure that the assessments that are completed cover the full spectrum of the child’s development.
  • Classroom size is another consideration.  Because most mainstream school have 25-35 learners in a class and 1 teacher.  The autism classroom should be adapted to the needs of the children.  Low teacher to child ratio’s are essential.  Smaller groups are furthermore essential because of sensory input.
  • A good Autism school will be fully equipped to deal with the behavioural challenges of the autistic child. 
  • Language, communication and speech services offered.
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Ilse Kilian-Ross

Ilse Kilian-Ross is the owner of Amazing K, a registered ECD and Partial Care Facility in Johannesburg. Amazing K is a private adhd school, autism school and therapy centre for children from age 2 - 6 years where learners receive the best of both the schooling and therapy world. The autism school offers Individualized Education Programs, Speech- and Augmentive Alternative Communication (AAC) therapy as well as a full and adapted Academic Curriculum.