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Old Today, 02:58 AM
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I currently live in Farmington and my family will be joining me next month. I've been here for several months and have a generally good lay of the land.

Our elementary school aged daughter has Asperger syndrome, a form of autism. In short, she requires very individualized attention.

I am aware that the following school districts have a good to excellent reputation:

West Hartford

I would appreciate any feedback from parents of children with ASD and their recommendations on school districts in the greater Hartford area.
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Old Today, 10:28 AM
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It depends upon the severity and co-morbid conditions. If she has significant intellectual disability, is non-verbal, has very severe behavioral issues, you probably want to choose a district that does NOT serve these kids within the district's schools, because they usually cannot do it as well as a dedicated program in a dedicated school. Districts that don't have their own services for these severely affected children just go ahead and place them in appropriate schools out of district, such as the River Street school for autism. There are several other possible private programs in the area - Intensive Education Academy in Bishops Corner of West Hartford area, and I think that FOCUS program for autism now offers a program for middle and high school students, but my experience with them was that they did not have enough girls enrolled - mostly if not completely boys - but that may have changed. I have seen a number of severely affected children make great progress while attending River Street, and I've seen moderately affected boys who felt comfortable, happy, welcomed at FOCUS.

I know families whose children were NOT well-served within West Hartford's special ed system, whose parents had to fight tooth and nail, and had to hire expensive lawyers, to get them placed out of district into an appropriate program. This is because WH tries to keep all these kids in district, since it's cheaper than sending them out, even though these kids are better served by out placement. I also know quite a few families with children with high-functioning ASD in West Hartford. These families, too, had a constant battle with the district to obtain appropriate services within district schools. West Hartford used to have a good reputation for special ed, but after having lived here for nearly 20 years, and seen what the reality is, I would definitely NOT recommend West Hartford. You will have a constant battle on your hands. For example, I know a child who was repeatedly tested, at the parents' request, from age of 4 onwards, for dysgraphia (trouble with the physical act of writing). The district's OT specialists over and over said the child was fine. When private testing was finally obtained by the parents, the child tested at below the first percentile (essentially lower than the test could measure), in addition to having many other deficits. The school district simply was NOT going to provide services unless the parents brought a lawsuit. I saw and heard many stories like this, especially with bright kids who had ASD and comorbid conditions.

I know a family with a very bright child with moderate ASD, from Simsbury. The family was in denial, and the school district recognized the child's issues, worked with the parents to bring them around to accepting services, they provided a great deal of social and academic support for the child, who wound up having a very good outcome, largely thanks to the fact that Simsbury school district went out of its way to identify the child's needs, and to counsel the family to accept very generous special ed services. It was the exact opposite of what I saw in West Hartford. I suspect this is because West Hartford, unlike the other three districts that you mention, has a very racially, ethnically, and socioeconomically diverse population, with many children needing special ed services, so I think that they are stingy on special ed, since the district's overall need is so great.

For these reasons, I would avoid WH. If your child is severely handicapped, look for a district that would outplace the child. If your child is moderately affected, I would consider Simsbury. I have less information about Avon and Farmington, cannot give an opinion about them.

Last edited by JayCT; Today at 10:32 AM.. Reason: Wrote out West Hartford
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Old Today, 12:15 PM
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Originally Posted by parentologist View Post
For these reasons, I would avoid WH. If your child is severely handicapped, look for a district that would outplace the child. If your child is moderately affected, I would consider Simsbury. I have less information about Avon and Farmington, cannot give an opinion about them.

West Hartford is challenged because it's so socioeconomically mixed. Even with the high tax rate, they're spending less than the state per-pupil average and have a higher proportion of special needs students than a leafy professional bedroom town with little high density and affordable housing. If you need services, you want to be in a more socioeconomically segregated town where the school department doesn't have the same level of budget constraints. It all comes down to money to fund the services.
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Old Today, 12:48 PM
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Thank you @parentologist for your extremely detailed and insightful post. My daughter is bright, has high functioning ASD and needs a 1 on 1 to help with tantrums and doing non preferred activities. She started early intervention and has been attending a SPED class at an out of state elementary school since she was 3. She also had an ABA skills trainer after schools for a good chunk of her life since she was diagnosed paid in part by our healthcare provider.

Thank you for letting me know about the River School, I will contact them next. I did find Intensive Education Academy on the Great Schools website but with 70 spots, I'm not sure if they could accommodate. They are getting back to me.

@GeoffD, the info about West Hartford. It makes complete sense. My wife was eyeing WH because it would be close to work. We previously lived in a socio-mixed area before and there are a lot of bad habits of those parents (like real unhealthy eating, physical discipline) we want her to stay away from until she understands making choices.

**** Another question*****
What do both working parents do for kids with special needs for after school care? My wife was thinking of having our daughter attend an after school program in a district (Farmington, Simsbury, (axing WH) that offers on-site care and having her rbt skills trainer work with her until pick up. My daughter has had a skills trainer work with her a couple hours in the afternoon weekly. We contacted Prism Applied Behavioral Health.
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Old Today, 01:31 PM
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Just a quick update in case this info is useful to anyone else reading this thread. I spoke with Ann at River Street school. In order for a special needs child to attend these schools, the district the student currently resides has to make the referral. It is up to the school district if they think they can accommodate the child directly, or if they would like to refer and pay for the child to attend River Street School, another CREC school or Intensive Education Academy. It's a gamble, so the best solution for us is to move to Simsbury, place our daughter in the Central Elementary school (9/10 rating) and then work with the school to see if she should stay there, go to a SPED class during the day, then their after school program. OR go to River School in Windsor for a full day which offers up to 10 hours of assistance daily.
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Old Today, 01:39 PM
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Your daughter would probably be best served by Simsbury public schools, from what you've described. You should also look into Farmington and Avon. She is way too high functioning for River Street or Intensive Ed. You see, the diagnosis of autism gets applied to children with a very wide range of IQ and functioning, because if you're diagnosed as autistic, it opens the door to more funding for treatment. So you could have a kid who is non-verbal, has a functional IQ in the single digits, who gets diagnosed as "autistic", in order to get more treatment. And then you can have another kid with a genius range IQ, who has excellent verbal communication skills, but very poor social functioning, who is also diagnosed as autistic. Most special schools are usually for children with much lower levels of functioning, in other words, non-verbal, working on skills like toilet training, basic communication, way behind grade level, unlikely to ever get to grade level. I would NOT recommend Intensive Education Academy or River Street for her.

From what I understand, Simsbury would have her in a regular classroom with a 1:1 aid, or a 1:2 aid if she could manage. For after school care, your best bet would be to find a wonderful kind vivacious high school girl, maybe a senior, or a college student, as a paying afternoon friend, who would pick her up from school or meet her at the bus, and spend the afternoon playing with her, helping her focus on her homework, doing "girly" stuff together. Even better if this girl could pick her up at school and just hang there on the playground, facilitating her playing a little with the other kids on the playground at pickup time. If they could handle her at the aftercare at the school, it might be excellent socialization time for her. Another option would be to find a stay at home mom with a daughter close in age to your daughter, and have a paying facilitated playdate after school every day with this girl. It would need to be a mother who has excellent social skills, is kind and gentle, and good at managing a kid with ASD. This kind of facilitated social skills training with a peer is invaluable for kids with high functioning ASD.

There is a psychologist in Simsbury named Jacqueline Alexander who runs therapy groups for kids with ASD, particularly good for girls, but also coed groups and boys groups.

Last edited by parentologist; Today at 01:53 PM..
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