Who else has thought that private school for a child with special needs was the best decision? Did you struggle as well? Did you run into any issues with finding any services?
Well let me tell you my story for finding a school for my son here in Orlando, FL. My son Jaeden who is autistic, non-verbal, as well as visually impaired and has other developmental delays, it was a challenge to find him a private school. Jaeden has been the best thing that has come into my life and for any parent with a child with special needs will understand, the patience and compassion you develop with your child It’s truly a blessing. Let me tell you though, don’t UNDERESTIMATE what your child can do and become they are super SMART!!
Now when I moved down here from New York, I thought ok, he will be in a special school just for children with special needs. Well, I thought wrong long story short, they are placed in the public-school environment but in a contained classroom as Jaeden requires a lot of services. I learned that to register him for the school he would attend it had to be within the vicinity of where we lived. It was definitely a new process for me when we moved down here things are a little bit different than where I’m from.
Up North in Long Island, NY when you register your child to a school district they attend that “school districts schools only” well here I learned that it depends where you live in Florida and then you search for the school by your address on the Orange County website. After that you is when you register them “through the school” itself not the county or district. I know I know Florida is so big that everything is different from what you’re used to in New York.
The public school he attended was great, no issues, he was ready to start prior to when he was officially coming down to Florida, he even had the bus driver ready, and she called two weeks prior to his start date about picking him up. Now, where I’m trying to get at with this post is that private school down here is not what I expected it to be. I met a parent at an autism event that his current school was doing at the time, and she mentioned to me about private school and how I could apply for scholarships for him to receive those funds. Immediately I was like wow ok a scholarship that sounds amazing! I applied for the Step-Up for Students with unique abilities scholarship; the link will be below if anyone is interested.
They have 4 different types of applications, scholarship for Private School, for special needs, for victims of bullying as well as struggling readers. So many options for parents to choose from that pertains to their child’s needs. “The Family Empowerment Scholarship for Students with Unique Abilities (FES-UA) is different than other state scholarships in that it allows parents to personalize the education of their children with unique abilities by directing money toward a combination of programs and approved providers. These include schools, therapists, specialists, curriculum, technology – even a college savings account.”
Which is amazing! Right?!?
Ok now my only issue with this scholarship approval was that since Jaeden has a lot of needs, from not being fully independent meaning he will need a 1:1 always, as well as his other services which include OT, speech, and vision therapy. For the funding he was approved for it won’t even be enough for what the private schools don’t provide. The matrix that he was categorized in was not what I expected. Below is the chart, now we are in Orange County right and to me at least to me because of what is on his IEP he should’ve been in the Matrix Level 254 or 255, but no he was approved for the Grades 9-12 in Orange County. Mind you with the private schools a lot only provide OT and speech it is VERY RARE or let me not say RARE it is impossible to find a private school to will provide Vision therapy, of course this is one of the most important therapy he needs.
I won’t sit here and debate as a parent what I feel like my son deserves for him to receive those other funding amounts, now can you fight this with them of course you could but you wouldn’t even know if you would receive more or it could bring your approved amount to being less. So since this is my first time dealing with a scholarship I decided to do more research on how to proceed with this and find other parents who have dealt with this down here. All FES-UA awards are submitted to the Florida Department of Education (DOE) and I don’t have much knowledge on this right now.
Once I found out he was eligible for award but no amount was posted, I began doing my research. One helpful website I used for private schools and services they provided was Florida’s School Choice. https://www.floridaschoolchoice.org/information/privateschooldirectory/
Not only do they provide per county, but you could filter the private schools to non-religious schools, religious and military schools as well as which scholarship you applied for and approved. Which is an easy tool to use for us parents with a child with unique abilities. Now when I say I felt like I called every school in Osceola County to find a great fit for him and for the school to accommodate his needs, as we decided to eventually move that county and leave Orange County end of year. The decision was made to stay in Orange County because the private school we found and FINALLY said they could accommodate him was in Orlando.
I have come to learn a lot about services here in Florida and I knew I would run into some hurdles because of the fact that a lot of services are not provided down here because of funding and organizations; remember no State taxes only Federal so whatever is funded to this state is for other things that doesn’t need to be mentioned here but you get me. Unlike in New York there is State and Federal taxes that services are provided with no issues and are available in a different form.
I’m not going to lie; this process was the most overwhelming part of it ALL! None of the schools would take him because of all the services he needs from his IEP being reviewed. I recommend having a note pad or creating a word document with names of school, dates called, times called, if email was sent, if you spoke to anyone or left any messages for a call back etc. I have attached an example here; this is what I used feel free to create it with your own twist.
This word document I created was a life saver specially when there is so much information that you’ll need to keep track off.
As I continue my story; by saying that I was able to FINALLY find a private school for my son here in Orlando but with all the services he needs it was a little challenging but nothing is ever easy as a parent right?!
The school took him in right away, they mentioned that they worked with agencies for OT, Speech and ABA therapy. Except they didn’t offer any vision therapy so I had to figure out where and who provides vision therapy.
Now just so you know, here in Florida to find vision services it is very very tough! These services are definitely provided in the public schools because as I found out that public schools have to honor those services that a special needs child needs. They can not reject those services, while private schools are different.
But you get my point. I called and researched online to find vision therapy. His insurance recommended a location but they offered vision therapy meaning any vision services needed for glasses, exams etc. not the type of therapy that is needed for visually impaired.
I even called the Division for the Blind here in Orlando and they had no resources but recommended me to a learning center that their clients have used. All the places I called said they didn’t offer vision therapy and the ONLY one I did get luck with was an out of network provider, of course. Which is even worst because any therapy alone is money but with vision being the most expensive.
The place The Division for the Blind recommended was Visual Health Learning Center, here in Orlando. https://visualhealthlearning.com/m/
Unfortunately they were the ones who worked out of network. So at that moment of course I didn’t know what to do. I turned back to contacting my sons insurance and asking how can we have them accept insurance or what can be done on their end.
They proceeded to say that they can have an advocate represent Jaeden and have them work a deal with the insurance. Of course waited days nobody returned my call.
At the end of all this!! A woman who worked at a doctors office I called after being recommended from UCF CARD, she mentioned how sometimes the scholarship will pay for certain services to a provider that is in their system and they work with! Of course this was AMAZING news for me!
I then proceeded to call the Visual Health and learning center and just ask like hey do you work with this scholarship or have you worked with them for vision services And OF COURSE THEY DID!!! Which was a great relief for us.
Appointments were made for evaluations for vision and the other services after I hounded the school of course, not to speak bad about anyone but unless you push and continue to harass on what is the status nothing will be done! Take my advice.
NOW FOR MY TIPS FOR ALL PARENTS WITH A CHILD WITH SPECIAL NEEDS.
First and foremost be sure that this is the best route for your child. Private school may not be for everyone. Each child has different needs.
1. Doing your research before signing up for the scholarships.
Ensure you’ll get the best funds for all of their needs. Specially if they have a lot of specific needs on their IEP. Compare scholarships that other parents have used. Google is your best friend.
2. Picking the best private school
Now as I mentioned I used the Florida choice webpage that has all the information I needed to see what services each school provided. What religion the school was, emails, phone numbers etc.
3. Finding resources for therapy
For many parents with a child with autism it can be difficult knowing which way to start specially in the state of Florida because there isn’t much for our kids honestly speaking. It’s all about research and asking around. My son is registered with the UCF-CARD which is a Center for Autism and Related disabilities. This is a great agency to be registered with for any service! from events to programs to whatever you may need help they have an answer. You could even subscribe to their monthly newsletters for upcoming events.
4. Making sure school is honoring services
Don’t shy away from being direct and stern to his/her new private school. Sometimes as I mentioned being on top of them is what will get you the services your child needs, since private schools don’t receive state fundings for their school they do things however they want unless you fight for it. This is for your child’s needs not for them to take them in just because they have a scholarship.
5. Resources for out of network
Thankfully I was able to find out the scholarship will pay for vision therapy, now what happens if you don’t have any insurance or the provider is out of network. Well first check with the scholarship you approved for and see what providers they work with as well as see what services are covered.
Second if your child has insurance reach out to them and see what they can offer and do on that aspect.
If they do not have insurance in the state of Florida, here is a resource for uninsured or underinsured individuals.
I personally didn’t reach out to them but this was given to me by my sons Autism Disorder Specialist from UCF-CARD.
With that being said I do hope I was able to educate you a little on private schools in Florida, more central Florida private schools and what to expect for your child services. I appreciate any feedback please send me a message on this lifestyle blog!
Blessed Day my friends!!