Raising a child with a psychological disorder is an arduous journey that stresses the family system as a whole. Parents of children with a disorder, such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, Developmental Disorders, Intellectual Disorders, Anxiety, Depression and Bipolar Disorder, experience higher rates of emotional difficulties than parents with nondisabled children.
One of the most difficult challenges these parents face is the decision to have their child educated in a therapeutic school. As a school psychologist, I have worked with countless parents who have grappled with the magnitude of such a decision. While the process of determining the best educational placement for children with psychological disorders is challenging, there are vast resources available to make an informed decision to support their child’s academic, social and emotional needs.
It is important to elucidate that not all therapeutic schools are the same. They vary in size, therapeutic orientation, academic vigor, and resources to support the child’s individual needs. Therapeutic schools can be essentially categorized as follows:
Public day schools: These schools are managed, funded and monitored by the state for students with disabilities who could not be educated in their home school. Out-of-state students may be accepted, usually with a higher tuition.
Private day schools: Schools falling into this a category are managed by a private educational entity, in some instances for profit. They are typically excluded from full state monitoring and curriculum requirements. However, they must demonstrate a certain minimum standard acceptable to the state. Tuitions for private therapeutic day schools are typically higher than public therapeutic schools and typically provide transportation for a supplemental fee.
Residential schools: These schools are either state-run or private schools that provide education, psychological services and room and board. Residential schools are reserved for students who exhibit severe psychological needs that necessitate placement of the child outside their home. Students placed in residential schools often display concerns regarding substance use, have dual diagnoses, exhibit significant self-harm risk or are placed by the state due to child welfare concerns.
Hospital programs: Such programs are considered short-term placements providing acute psychiatric care with “bedside instruction.” Such hospital programs for children are not considered long-term academic placement, rather they serve to stabilize the child and provide recommendations for long-term educational placements, either day or residential schools.
These types of therapeutic schools can be subdivided by the type of child they are able to effectively educate: