Even if you have typically developing children, navigating New York City’s schools is not exactly a low-maintenance activity. Will your neighborhood public school be more crowded than a rush hour local? And if you choose private school, and if your child somehow manages to survive the fierce competition and earn an acceptance letter, what large and impressive heirloom will you sell to pay the tuition? (It can’t be your husband.)

Add special needs into the equation, and things get exponentially more difficult. Especially here in Manhattan, where you share psychic and actual real estate with parents who truly believe that if their children don’t start learning Mandarin in kindergarten, their nascent global-competition skills will be compromised. Mandarin? Reality check: When my son was non-verbal at 3 years old, we were concerned he would never develop the ability to speak English.

Thankfully, there are some great organizations that have helped maintain my family’s sanity in the midst of all this school choice chaos. YAI/NYL/Lifestart is one of the gems on our list, and jointly with the JCC, they annually sponsor a Special Needs School Fair coming up on Wednesday, October 29th. If you are the parent of a special-needs child, stop reading this blog right now and add this event to your calendar. And make sure you go! Many, many special-needs-friendly elementary and pre-K schools will be there to answer your questions. It’s also a nice opportunity to share information and catch up with other parents you’ve met in various support groups.

Among the many excellent schools that will be represented, a few have been instrumental in my son’s remarkable progress. The JBFCS Child Development Center (CDC) is a small, extraordinary program that allowed my son to exceed expectations time after time: The Intensity of Mild Autism describes five minutes of my son’s day there. And I can’t say enough good things about PS 178’s ASD Nest program.

These schools worked and are working for my son, but every kid is unique; some who thrive in one setting won’t flourish in others. The good news is that there are a lot of great programs out there; the bad news is it takes a lot of time and energy to find what’s right for your child and your family. So as this school search season begins, keep in mind that sleep is overrated. If anyone figures out how to implement a 27-hour day, please let me know.


This post was originally published on Inisdeschools.org.