Preschool and school options

Not all schools are the same. Some may serve your child better than others. It's worth learning about the options!

Make sure to ask a preschool or elementary school how they work with kids who have special needs!

What are my options?

There are many different kinds of preschools and elementary schools. Choose one based on your child's needs and your goals for their education.

  • Public Schools - These are funded by the state, are free to all families and are required to provide special education services to students who qualify.
  • Head Start - A free preschool program for children age 0-5 from low-income families.

  • Charter Schools -These schools are different from regular public schools and usually have their own rules to follow when it comes to special education. This can be both a good thing and a challenge. If they get money from the state or federal government, they must comply with IDEA.

  • Private Schools and preschools - These schools are not free; you need to pay for them on your own. They also are not required to provide special education services to students with disabilities.

  • Special Education Schools - There are 3 specialized schools in Louisiana for students with significant disabilities. They are residential: the students live at the school.

  • Home Schooling or Home Study - If you follow certain guidelines, you can teach your child at home and they can get credit for the grade levels and diploma. This is not usually a good choice for children with special learning needs, unless you have training as a special education teacher.

If you're looking at public and charter schools, the Louisiana School Finder is a good place to start (click to open it in a new screen). You can search for schools near you and see how well they serve kids in different groups, like those with disabilities. 

Click on the boxes below to read more about each option:

Head Start is a federal program that offers free pre-school to children from birth to age 5.

This can be a good option if you qualify.


Will my child qualify? 

  • Usually a family has to be at or below the federal poverty level in order to qualify for Head Start.

  • If your family gets state or federal benefits like TANF or SSI, there is a good chance you'll qualify.

What you can do to get started:

  • Call Head Start at 1-866-763-6481.

  • See this link to Louisiana Head Start information (It will open in a new window or tab on your computer.) There is an income chart to see if you qualify, and a locator tool to help you find your local programs.

Source: HeadStart

Most children don't enter the school system until kindergarten at age 5. But if your child has special needs, they may qualify for services at age 3.

Some towns have a special education pre-school.

What you can do:

  • Call your local school department and ask about special education for your child

  • Call your local human services office (They are called districts or authorities) These are part of Louisiana's OCDD.

  • The EMERGE Center in Baton Rouge has special preschool and kindergarten classes for children with special needs. You can call them at(225) 343-4232, or go to their website to learn more: The Emerge Center.

  • Call Families Helping Families and ask for suggestions: Click here to find your local center.


Private pre-schools are another option.

There are many different types.

What you can do: 

  • Ask people you know for suggestions

  • Call Families Helping Families and ask for suggestions: Click here to find your local center.

  • Ask about cost - they may be expensive

  • Make sure they are open to students with special learning needs

The Home Study program is the same as "home schooling".

This program allows you to teach your own child at home. You become the teacher and your child becomes your student.

This can be a tempting option because you know your child best. But keep in mind that trained teachers have important knowledge, skills and experience that make them highly qualified to teach children. Especially if they are trained in special education.

Also, if you home school your child, you will not get the free services offered by the public school system. This means you would have find the therapies they need and pay for them yourself. You do still have a right to ask for an evaluation and have the school district pay for it.

Image of an exclamation markIf you do decide to have your child with autism participate in a Home Study program, they will not qualify for services under IDEA.

This means that you will have to take charge and know what services your child needs, and then give them to your child.         


Click here to read more on the Dept. of Education website. Click the link at the bottom of the page to download Guidelines and Instructions.

Source: LA DOE

Charter Schools are an alternative to public education, and often times have a separate set of rules to follow when it comes to educating your child. 

This can give the school more freedom to teach different subjects, activities, and lessons.

Charter Schools also get their funding from different sources other than taxes, which can change what resources are available to your child. If a Charter School gets federal or state funds, they have to follow their responsibilities under IDEA. This means they must provide all children with an education that accommodates their disability.

There are many Charter Schools in Louisiana, and each may have their own application process. To get started, contact your local Charter School.

Sources: LA DOE

Resources to learn more: 


Sources: LA DOE, Scholastic


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