Special school vs staying public for ... - CHADD's ADHD Pare...

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Special school vs staying public for severe ADHD

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Hi, my son with ADHD is heading to 4th grade this fall. We are debating whether to send him to a special school, which supposedly caters to kids like him, who have behavioral / social challenges but not learning disabilities. We are fortunate that we have the choice to send him to a different school and could make it work financially.

His psychiatrist and therapist believe there are pros and cons to going private vs keeping him mainstream in public school. This spring, he did ok for 2 mos of in-person schooling but it was hard. He doesn’t have any real friends who seek his company, but I think his self esteem is ok for now. I just feel it will deteriorate as he becomes more aware of social status, ‘popularity’ etc. Also I think his academics will likely get much tougher as older kids are expected to manage more complicated assignments / follow directions on their own.

He is medicated and has an IEP. The public school means well but they just don’t get it (ie, frequent use of collective punishment/rewards, eg, ‘if everyone can stay quiet in the lunch line you all get 5 extra minutes of recess’).

The private school has ~10 students, 1 teacher and 1 behaviorist per classroom who totally “get it”! Other than financial - what are the downsides of the private option? Would be grateful to hear others’ experiences.

We also have a younger son who will start kinder at the public school in the fall. I worry about how this decision will impact him.

Thanks for reading this long post.

9 Replies

Yes. This is a challanging situation. Please ask about if the private school has teachers that have credentials.

The private school does not have to follow his IEP.

Also consider that the special school will only have peers with special needs. When in a public school they have children without needs. These can be peers for him.

Do you know if this is for 2 years for 4th and 5th? Then he moves to a different middle school?

Good luck with your choice. It would be great to tour to see if you are comfortable with it.

We moved our son with ADHD to a special school for kids like him and it made all the difference. The curriculum is set up for his difficulties sustaining attention, so he's finally learning. And his behaviors aren't annoying to the other kids because they're like him. In fact, he's now one of the more compliant kids in the class, where he used to go to the principal's office often since kindergarten. I knew it was a good fit for him when I visited the school, so I would recommend you start there and maybe talk with some of the other parents. Good luck!

I'm in Hawaii and we dont have that much options for ADHD. My child is going into 6 grade and he struggles to keep friends. I have him in social behavior classes but it doesnt protect them from mean kids in school or feeling. Maybe private could be a good fit for your child.

I would love to have my child in a school like that. I just hate the idea of my child being "in trouble" for something out of his control. There are times I known child doesn't have the ability to "make the right choice," hold still, remain calm...

I believe learning should be fun. School should be a place to have fun while learning.

I don't see any down side. As long as you are preparing your child for a successful adult life. There are lots of jobs that dont require a person to sit at a desk for 7 hours without talking to others...

I have a friend who put her child in such a school and it made a huge difference. We could never afford the tuition.

I looked into a school like that for my daughter when she was your son’s age. Tuition was way too expensive. I would have loved to have put her in that school. She is in a catholic school with no accommodations. The private school was set up really to go for a year or two and then go back to regular school. They had speech and OT if needed. Showed them how to organize their work and time. Best off all there was no busywork homework at night unless necessary. I kid with ADHD is exhausted after keeping it together at school all day they also had support and education for the parents .

I would make sure the teachers are credentialed to teach kids with ADHD.

My son is going into 5th grade and starting a specialized school this fall. After a year of virtual learning I got to really experience how he learns and pushed to make the switch. Public school in a normal year is a day of constantly being pulled out of the room for services, and never completing anything, and I know now that not getting to finishing assignments is really upsetting for him. The private school caters mostly to ADHD and dyslexia, with only 4 to 5 kids per class, and he did two visit days before last year ended, which went well. I'm really looking forward to not being upset and annoyed with the school daily, like I used to be. Also, we received a state disability grant and some aid from the school, that halved the tuition.

I've been a special ed teacher for 18 years and have taught in public and private schools and in day treatment/residential treatment. Specialized schooling can be wonderful and you should trust your instinct on if the place and staff felt like the right fit for your child.

The main downsides are

1. a lack of peers modeling typical or desired behaviors. I'd say this one doesn't much matter if the student doesn't have the ability to follow what the peers are doing though so I'd let that go.

2. Higher academic standards. When there's a mix of abilities, the higher level kids' performance lifts all boats.

3. A group of kids with a variety of behavioral problems tend to teach each other worse behaviors than any one kid brings to a setting on their own.

I wouldn't let this frighten you off though. Because if this is the right fit and the right professionals who truly manage the environment and teach the strategies kids need, it can be the right place and get your kiddo exactly the skills and successful feelings needed which is the MAIN DEVELOPMENTAL TASK OF THIS AGE. They're supposed to achieve a feeling of industry and being actively able to do academic things. That'd be my number #1 priority for a kid this age.

I'd ask both about restorative justice practices (what do they do to right situations when a kid is in trouble/messes up) and what kids they say they do not accept. If they're accepting everyone, that's a red flag.

We made the decision to send our son to a special private school for kindergarten rather than the local public school. We definitely feel his being in a small 5-kid class with 2 teachers and lots of OT, speech and behavioral support worked much better than what would have happened in a 25-kid public school class, even with some hours of special education. He had struggles with virtual learning at the start of the year, and I had to pick him up a few times after in-person (hybrid) started, but once things got rolling he improved, especially after winter break. I think public school would have been a disaster, probably a few suspensions and lots of come-pick-your-kid-up. Might even have needed a paraprofessional.

I do worry about the social aspect and making friends. Last weekend at the pool I could see there was a pack of kids splashing around who were likely in the same public school class. I know our son is missing out on that. Plus he's bounced around a couple of preschools and day cares, and lost a couple of potential friends there as the parents didn't answer my attempts to stay in touch.

At the same time, we have a few friends with kids around his age, so hopefully he'll form a bond or two there. Plus he does see neighborhood kids on the playground, so might pick up a friend or two that way. And the worst case perhaps is he winds up like his dad, who only had one or two friends in elementary/jr. high/high school but made a bunch in college and after.

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