Special Needs and Learning Disabilities


Find schools for students age 10-18


Many boarding schools in the United States are dedicated to young people who have difficulty reading or paying attention in class. Other boarding schools enroll a few special needs students in each class and devote special instruction to them.

A select few schools serve students who have special needs that cannot be met by traditional or regular programs. Some are university preparatory; others have a more transitional mission and are preparing their students for a return to the mainstream.

International families oftentimes find it a daunting task to identify the right boarding school for the "special" child. Whether you use a consultant or search on your own, it is vital to find the school that is the "right fit;" one that can address your child's unique learning style.

Learning Disabilities:

Close to 20% of the school age population are diagnosed with a learning difference. Most of these children have a problem using language and are said to have a language based learning disability or dyslexia. Others have a Non-Verbal Learning Disability (NLD) and struggle with organizational difficulties, poor social skills, visual-spatial weaknesses, conceptual reasoning deficits.

Some students with learning disabilities just need small classes, academic support and minor classroom accommodations; others whose issues are severe and more debilitating, need direct and intense, skills-based language remediation.

Curriculums at these schools use multisensory approaches and experiential teaching strategies. All teachers at these schools are trained in using these techniques. 

Some students struggle with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). These students are oftentimes very bright, but disorganized and unfocused.

They usually do well in small, highly structured boarding schools. Students with this profile might do well at St. Thomas More School in Connecticut.

Asking the Right Questions

Before enrolling your son/daughter in one of these programs, it is essential to determine whether the school can meet your child's specific requirements.

You know your child best and the school knows whom it can and cannot serve. Be honest and forthcoming about your son/daughter's learning difference, emotional problems, social deficits, medications, etc. Ask the right questions of the school. This will lead to the right fit and a successful boarding experience for your special needs child.

Special Needs schools

Students with ability who have not yet reached their potential may benefit from programs like the one offered at Saint Thomas More School in Connecticut, which provides a structured environment designed to develop good study habits. Small classes are a key aspect of the school's program. With a typical class size of twelve students, every boy gets the attention he needs. Instructors teach not only subjects such as biology or math, but also study skills such as listening and note-taking, effective time management, concentration and memory techniques, and test-taking.

Sometimes a student may need more help than Saint Thomas More School's regular system of study skills, extra help and evening study hall. For these boys, a weekend program of extra study or daily supervised study may be helpful. A Peer Tutoring Program assigns older students to help others with their homework. The school finds private tutors if necessary, for more intensive help.

Important questions to ask:

  • Is the school accredited and by whom?
  • What kind of training/education does the faculty have?
  • Does the school offer ESL instruction?
  • Does the school have a diverse student body? How well do international students fit in?
  • Where do the students go after leaving the program?
  • What is the application process? Is an on-campus interview required?
  • What specific kinds of academic/psychological testing are needed?

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By Thomas O'Dell
Thomas O’Dell is an educational consultant specializing in boarding school placements for students with special needs. He can be reached at http://www.tomodelledcons.com