Evaluating School Options

By Eve Kessler, Esq.


With so many school options to choose from, figuring out the best fit for your child with LD or ADHD can be challenging • Use these guidelines to help determine the best option for your child and your family

Students with ADHD and learning differences often thrive with small classes, individualized attention, one-on-one tutoring, and a curriculum that incorporates their interests and strengths, explains Kathy Kuhl, a former teacher who specializes in coaching families with ADHD and learning challenges.

With an abundance of school alternatives, the choices can be daunting: the most common options include neighborhood public schools, magnet schools, public charter schools, private schools, parochial schools, private schools specifically for students with special needs, boarding schools, online private or charter schools, and homeschooling.

Finding the Right Fit

Selecting a suitable educational setting, involves understanding the needs of your child and your family, exploring the possibilities, and being knowledgeable about the ins and outs of each choice. Kuhl offers these guidelines, along with practical tips, to help you navigate the decision-making process:

1. Know your child’s learning style:

  • List their strengths, interests, talents, and challenges, and summarize how they learn best.
  • Read their IEP or Section 504 Plan and take note of what they need to be successful. Search IEP banks for additional ideas, and review recommendations from their diagnostic tests and evaluations.
  • List instructional modals that are most effective (eg., interest-led, Montessori method, structured approach), settings that work best; modifications, accommodations, and remediations that are most successful, and supports that promote their emotional and mental health.

2. Get input from others. Ask regular and “specials” teachers, therapists, aides/paraprofessionals and tutors to share strategies and routines that are effective, and explain how much support your child needs for executive functioning; what works best when their behavior is challenging or they begin to dysregulate/meltdown; what helps in the lunchroom, on the bus, in the locker room, and on the playground; and if new academic or behavioral challenges have appeared since the pandemic.

3. Consider your family’s expectations and needs. Think about your family’s values, educational philosophy, and priorities (sports, nature, the arts, religion, cultural heritage, etc.)—all of which may play a part in your school selection.

4. Know your family’s limitations:

  • Can you afford private or parochial school and tutoring services; if not, is your child a candidate for financial aid or scholarships? Can you afford to homeschool? While homeschooling curriculum and group classes are less expensive than private/parochial schools, consider loss of income as part of the mix.
  • Do you have the time to establish and implement a homeschooling program? Homeschooling takes an overall plan and time to facilitate, outsource, coordinate, and supervise. Stay-at-home parents or parents who work different hours from each other may be better able to organize the homeschooling pieces than a single parent. While public schools may be most convenient, they may be time and labor intensive when it comes to advocating for and implementing an IEP with appropriate supports and services.
  • Location and transportation. For private schools, charter schools and homeschool classes outside the home, consider whether transportation is provided or if carpooling is available. If not, is the commute feasible for you and for your child or does it involve too much driving or bus time? If the school isn’t local, consider the impact distance will have on your child’s ability to participate in extracurricular activities (sports, clubs, theatre, etc.) and to have a successful social life. Also figure in how the time spent transporting your child may affect time with siblings and your family’s time together.
Questions to Ask

When considering private or parochial schools:

  • What professional development and teacher training is available for all staff? Is it mandatory?
  • How familiar is staff with ADHD, executive function challenges, or your child’s specific academic or social concerns?
  • What type and amount of work is expected?
  • Are students taught to “learn how to learn” (or merely to memorize facts)?
  • Are students taught academic skills such as note-taking or essay writing (or are they expected to know that information upon entering)?

When considering online schools:

  • How did my child do with virtual classes during the pandemic? How would online school be different now?
  • Is my child self-motivated enough to work as productively online as in person?
  • Will my child reach out to online teachers for help when needed?
  • What remediation and accommodations are available?
  • How do they teach non-linear thinkers and out-of-the-box learners?

This article is based on an ADDitude webinar, A Parent’s Guide to the Best School Options for Students with ADHD and LD, by Kathy Kuhl, a former teacher specializing in coaching families with ADHD and learning challenges. Eve Kessler, Esq., a former criminal appellate attorney, is Executive Director of SPED*NET, and a Contributing Editor of Smart Kids.

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