How to Choose a Special Education School

Finding the Right Support for Children with Special Needs

Special Needs Schools
Special Needs Schools. George Doyle/Getty Images

More than ever before, there is a greater awareness of the different ways in which children learn. From auditory learning and project-based learning, to flipped classrooms and Harkness methods, differentiated learning has become a norm for many schools. Some traditional private schools and boarding schools even offer academic support to help students who can be successful in the mainstream classroom but just need a little extra attention to better understand how they learn and how they can best be successful.

However, there are still a number of students for whom learning in a traditional classroom setting can be a challenge. As such, many schools are recognizing that some children, even those who are very bright, may need different settings than the traditional school in which to learn. Fortunately, special needs schools have cropped up around the country to educate children with developmental, behavioral, psychological, and cognitive needs that are not met in the general-education classroom. These types of needs include, but aren't limited to, the following types of diagnoses or conditions:

  • dyslexia, or developmental reading disorder
  • language-based disorders or speech disorders
  • ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
  • autism and autistic spectrum disorders, including high-functioning autism or Asperger's Syndrome

If your child has been diagnosed with one of these disorders, you may need to educate him or her outside of the traditional school system.

Here are some tips to finding the right school:

Make sure the diagnosis is right.

Have your child evaluated by a qualified professional to ensure that he or she is diagnosed correctly and that you understand all factors that can affect your child's ability to succeed, including emotional, cognitive, developmental, and more.

Your doctor or school psychologist can recommend a person to evaluate your child, and you may be able to have the evaluation conducted by the local school system or covered by the school board.

Use your local school system.

If your child's needs are minimal, and slight accommodations, like extended-time for testing, sometimes, your local school can offer your child services that may allow him or her to stay in the general-education classroom. Staying in the general-education classroom is referred to as "mainstreaming." Your child will be surrounded by typical peers and may be eligible to receive services such as physical therapy, occupational therapy, counseling, a paraprofessional, and a resource room. But, he or she can remain in the traditional private school setting. One school that offers this type of program is Cheshire Academy, which has a fee-based service known as Roxbury Academic Support, in which students work one-on-one or in small groups with education professionals. These Roxbury sessions are designed to not be just your typical tutoring session, but rather help students understand how they learn and develop skills for success, such as time management, critical thinking, and organizational skills.


Visit special education schools and make sure they are the right fit.

When you visit a special needs school, make sure it is set up to help your child with his or her specific concerns and issues. The other children should be like your child, and the staff should be trained in helping children like yours. The school should have a means by which it communicates with parents regularly about their child's progress. Investigate the school in the same way you would any other school by talking with the teachers, visiting classes, and speaking with other parents. School websites and testimonials from other families can also help you make the decision if the school is the best fit for your child. Check out another article about how to advocate for your special-needs child if you would like some additional information.


Find local parents' groups.

You may also wish to look into local organizations, such as Resources for Children with Special Needs in New York, which offer workshops for parents that help them understand how to choose a school for their special-needs children. Look for organizations in your community that help parents evaluate and understand how to choose the right schools for their children. Your school's health center, guidance office, or academic office may have recommendations for you. 

Related articles

  • Choose the Right Special Education Placement for Your Child
  • Preparing the School for Your Child with Special Needs


Article edited by Stacy Jagodowski • @stacyjago