The 50 Best Private Special Needs Schools in the United States
Every student has individual learning abilities. While in many cases, one of the goals of a comprehensive education is inclusion of all students of a particular age or grade level into the same classroom, at times some students’ needs are better served in a more focused setting. From early intervention through high school, teachers and parents may decide that a student would benefit from a learning experience that combines smaller classrooms and purposeful activities with trained faculty who are educated to understand a student’s particular abilities. Our website acknowledges that it is not always productive, or accurate, to combine a range of learning styles and needs under a single category. A child with a hearing loss does not have the same needs as a student who has been diagnosed with autism. In the future, we would like to compile separate lists to evaluate the myriad schools that exist for specific needs. But, with the acknowledgment of the imperfect terms, the editors hope to begin with this list entitled 50 Best Private Special Needs Schools in the United States. The umbrella term is used basically to designate any student who has difficulty with success in an academic environment, whether because of the need for a physical accommodation, a cognitive challenge, or an emotional obstacle. Schools for students with special needs address academic, physical, social, and/or emotional issues. In this list, specific services provided by each ranked school are outlined. The editors considered both boarding and day schools for this list, and when a ranked boarding school offers day school options, it is noted.
Selections were made based on the following:
1. The school has a rich curriculum based on variety of offerings/tools to service its students.
2. The school has a low student-teacher ratio, which is important to schools that serve all types of learning abilities, but when students struggle in more than one area, the student’s learning experience is enhanced by specialized attention from a trained teacher. Many of the schools chosen have a faculty of whom over 50% possess Master’s degrees or above.
3. The school has won awards for teaching, excellence, or architecture.
4. The school offers unique programs which transcend the basic academic curricula, like animal therapy, links to colleges, online learning options, sports, or art.
N.B. The language in this article takes its cue from the individual school’s designation. For example, if a school refers to its students as having special needs, learning disabilities (LD), learning (dis) abilities, or learning differences, our editors followed suit in that school’s write up.
The editors have attempted to create as geographically diverse a selection as possible while representing the schools which best fall under the methodology.
All stated tuition prices are subject to change; stated pricing may be approximate, and does not include additional fees such as entry or incidental fees, costs for books, meals, technology, or medical care.
1. The Devereux Glenholme School, Washington, CT
The Glenholme School is a therapeutic boarding school for young people with Asperger’s, attention deficit disorder, depression, anxiety, and other social and emotional learning differences. Its goal is to meet its students’ individual needs and prepare them for college and post-graduation employment through customized tutoring, speech therapy, occupational therapy, and individual and family positive behavior therapy. Glenholme students enjoy the school’s acclaimed equestrian and theatre arts programs and have the opportunity to take part in school-wide community service.
Profile: co-ed therapeutic boarding school for ages 10-21
Student-Faculty Ratio: 4:1
2. Little Keswick School, Keswick, VA
Boys come to Little Keswick School with moderately severe emotional and social challenges, as well as academic learning disabilities. Through focused assessment and creation of individualized learning plans, the school prepares students to successfully navigate social situations and future academic endeavors. Trained teachers and clinical specialists work with each student to set academic and behavioral goals, and the school provides individual, group, and family therapy to reinforce positive management of emotions and behavior. In addition to instruction in academic subjects, students have the opportunity to participate in art, woodworking, sports, and the equestrian program.
Profile: all-boys therapeutic boarding school for ages 9-15
Student-Faculty Ratio: 7:1
Awards: Partlow Insurance Best Practice Award (2011)
3. Brehm Preparatory School, Carbondale, IL
Brehm self-describes as a boarding school which holistically addresses the academic, social, and emotional needs of students with complex learning disabilities and learning differences. The 90-student school employs 150 faculty/staff who work with each student on a multi-tiered schedule, in which beginning students benefit from intensive, one-on-one instruction and then progress, as their needs and desires dictate, to more general classes of 8 or 9 students taught at grade level. Brehm employs five full-time speech language pathologists and its program is known for significant offerings in educational technology, including digitized textbooks and Kurzweil literary software.
Profile: co-ed boarding school for grades 6-12 with day school options
Student-Faculty Ratio: 5.7:1
Awards: named a Blue Ribbon School of Excellence by the U.S. Department of Education
Tuition: $66,900/year boarding; $41,400/year day
4. Triad Academy at Summit School, Winston-Salem, NC
Triad Academy, a division of Summit School, provides the extra attention required by students with dyslexia and language-based learning differences. As a school, Summit’s goal is to inspire its students to think creatively, reason systematically, and work collaboratively. By making available specially trained teachers and individualized classes, Triad Academy permits students to learn the techniques and gain the help they need in order to succeed in a traditional classroom environment. Students at Triad concentrate on developing their unique talents in all subjects, and daily partake in two hours of language development, with step-by-step reinforcement of knowledge gained in all subjects. With this knowledge firmly in place, students may then transition to a different division of Summit School, aware of how their learning styles work, and knowing that the teachers and methods they gained at Triad Academy are still here to support them.
Profile: co-ed day school for grades 1-9
Student-Faculty Ratio: 3:1 (remediation classes); 8:1 (content classes)
Awards: nominated for Best Private School by Triad Moms on Main (blog) (2011); one of Ask.com’s Top Eleven Private Learning Disabilities School in the United States and Canada
5. The Vanguard School, Lake Wales, FL
After The Vanguard School was directly hit by three hurricanes in 2004, the entire campus was renovated or rebuilt, and the school, started in 1960, re-opened with new dormitories, classrooms, administrative buildings, clinic, and a Visual and Performing Arts Center. With both boarding and day school options, Vanguard serves students aged 10 through high school, and also offers a unique post-graduate program to help students prepare for the transition between high school and either college, vocational school, or the working world. The school serves students whose struggles with Asperger’s Syndrome, dyslexia, dyscalculia, or an attention deficit affect academic progress, but it does not provide therapy to students with significant behavioral needs. Vanguard is known particularly for its competitive sports teams—students have the opportunity to play myriad sports with area schools—and for its emphasis on life preparation. Graduating students are awarded either an academic diploma if they plan to go on to college, or a practical arts diploma if their goal is to pursue a vocation or career.
Profile: co-ed full-time boarding school for ages 10 through post-high school with weekly boarding options and day options
Student-Faculty Ratio: 8:1
Tuition: $44,000/year boarding school; $22,500/year day school
6. The Hill Center, Durham, NC
The Hill Center helps students with learning differences and attention deficit disorders understand and accommodate their educational needs. Each student attends the Hill Center for part of his/her school day, and returns to his/her own private or public school for the rest of the day, allowing him/her to effectively transition to traditional school full time after individualized instruction is completed (usually in 3-4 years). The Hill Center provides specialists who acknowledge academic difficulties, such as spelling and math comprehension, and social struggles, such as immature behavior and trouble standing still, who teach students to understand their learning differences. While graduates of The Hill Center learn the skills to successfully integrate in a mainstream school, they have not suppressed their personalities or unique ways. Rather, they leave with a keen understanding of their own learning styles and the tools they will need to succeed in a world that doesn’t always embrace learning differences. After participating in The Hill Center’s individualized, multi-sensory instruction, students gain the self-confidence, motivation, and knowledge they will need to successfully negotiate their future education.
Profile: co-ed day school for grades K-12
Student-Faculty Ratio: 4:1
Awards: Social Impact Exchange National Business Plan Competition (2013)
Tuition: $17,300/year (3 hours daily instruction)
7. New Leaf Academy, Bend, OR
New Leaf Academy offers therapeutic services for pre-adolescent and adolescent girls who grapple with behavioral issues which prevent them from succeeding academically and adjusting socially. The school is designed to help girls learn to make healthy choices; from making friends and following school rules to eating well and studying, New Leaf Academy attends to each student’s needs and aims to assist in the personal growth required for each girl to become a successful, positive woman. Nestled in the heart of mountainous Bend, the program features equine studies, team sports, dance classes, and various electives including artistic expression, modern history, and gardening.
Profile: all-girls therapeutic boarding school for ages 10-15
Student-Faculty Ratio: 6:1
Tuition: $87,000/year (includes summer program)
8. Ann Arbor Academy, Ann Arbor, MI
Ann Arbor Academy’s middle and high school programs work with students of average to above-average intelligence whose learning needs—autism, language-based disabilities, or attention disorders—require particular attention to certain academic subjects or personal management. While the school serves the needs of students within a particular age range, it does not assume that one’s age or grade corresponds to one’s skill set. Rather than unceremoniously distributing grades, Ann Arbor Academy analyzes students’ performance based on individual progress, and each student’s strengths and weaknesses are assessed, worked on, and discussed with parents/guardians throughout the school year. Among its many offerings, the school supports an “experiential learning” trip to Europe for upper level students, and emphasizes self-advocacy and personal organization techniques for all learners.
Profile: co-ed day school for grades 4-12
Student-Faculty Ratio: 5:1
9. Oakland School, Keswick, VA
Located in Keswick, Virginia, notable for its pre-Revolutionary past, Oakland School is both established and cutting-edge. The historic grounds provide a peaceful setting for students with learning differences and communication needs to focus on academic subjects and personal progress. As a supportive educational community, Oakland School addresses its students’ needs by creating small classes which focus on reading and math skills, including its unique Upward Lift program, an intense summer school for reading education. In addition to its superior academic curriculum, the school emphasizes the importance of character development and encourages its students to demonstrate traits such as respect, trustworthiness, and citizenship. After participating in a rich curriculum supplemented by art education, literature appreciation, and life skills modeling, students leave Oakland School ready to transition into their next educational step.
Profile: co-ed boarding school with day school options for ages 6-14
Student-Faculty Ratio: 5:1
Tuition: $46,500/year (boarding); $27,500/year (day)
10. Chartwell School, Seaside, CA
Situated in California’s spectacular Monterey Bay, Chartwell School accepts students from elementary and middle school, and also offers The New High School Project, a separate high school program. Due to difficulty with reading, writing, memorization, and other academic tasks, students at Chartwell generally require the benefit of smaller classes with specially trained faculty who help teach alternative learning methods and preparation for transition to future education or employment. As evidenced by its copious architectural and environmental awards, Chartwell School is designed to minimize the use of electricity and provide natural light as a stimulant for classroom learning. The school makes the most of its surroundings by offering an academic curriculum which incorporates gardening, art appreciation, and even water sports.
Profile: co-ed day school for ages 5-18
Student-Faculty Ratio: 5:1
Awards (selected): Top 10 Buildings in the World Award by American Institute of Architects (2009); Livable Buildings Award by Center for the Built Environment at U.C. Berkeley (2009); LEED platinum by the U.S. Green Building Council (2007); Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award, California CPA (2007)
Tuition: $21,480/year grades K-3; $31,880/year grades 4-8
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