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Boarding Schools for Learning Disabilities: 3 Proven Approaches

[Editor’s Note: this blog discusses private educational options, and does not include public schools and their approach. That is an entirely different landscape, and if you want to learn about Special Education Law, visit]


According to the National Institute of Health (NIH) the definition of a learning disabilitis are “disorders that affect the ability to understand or use spoken or written language, do mathematical calculations, coordinate movements, or direct attention. Although learning disabilities occur in very young children, the disorders are usually not recognized until the child reaches school age. Research shows that 8 to 10 percent of American children under 18 years of age have some type of learning disability.”

Some people call them learning disabilities, some call them learning differences, and others refer to the specific diagnosis – but all of these terms identify students who learn differently or who may need extra layers of support in order to be succeed academically in high school.

According to NIH, “(disabilities) can be a lifelong condition, with some (children) having overlapping learning disabilities and others having a single problem with little impact.”

The prognosis for people who have disabilities is good – and has greatly improved over the last 30 years, with advances in educational support and services. For families and students who are investigating boarding school opportunities there are wide and far reaching options to buttress your child’s education. For the sake of simplicity, these fall into three primary buckets, when considering an independent day or boarding school.


Learning Center Schools | Learning Support Schools

Although the name of the center could be different at each school, the key to this group of boarding schools is their additional fee associated with specialized educational programming for students with learning disabilities. The fee for the services provided is supplemental to the boarding school tuition, room, and board. There are many amazing Learning Support boarding schools that are scattered throughout the East Coast, Midwest, even a couple on the West Coast. These centers can effectively support and accommodate many students with learning disabilities – even though the school may not be specifically designed to serve students with learning disabilities. Specialized services may include a place to meet with a tutor outside of the class, support or extra organization, or a quiet place to study or take a test. These schools vary in size too, from under 100 students to over 300 students. The size of the student body can create different opportunities for a student who has struggled in other settings, ‘big fish, small pond’ story.


Specialized Boarding Schools for Students with Learning Disabilities 

These are the schools which are explicitly designed, from the ground up, to serve students with learning disabilities and learning differences. This is a huge group of schools, and they are wide reaching in terms of who they serve or how they deliver their services. The key to this type of school is that EVERYONE receives whatever the school specializes in (e.g., language-based tutorials for students with dyslexia, or Social Pragmatics for students on the Autism Spectrum). This means that in addition to academic accommodations there may also be modifications throughout the academic and community curriculums. Admissions teams are likely to be very specific on whom they accept. This may include:

  • Students with a diagnosed language-based learning disability (a neuropsych test), 
  • All the students have a particular diagnosis and identify as a particular gender. 
  • All the students are at least 2 grade levels behind in reading and will be receiving specific reading intervention (e.g., Orton-Gillingham), 
  • 1:1 tutorials may be embedded in the school day for a particular type of learning challenge, or an entire curriculum may be designed for that need. Curriculum could include life skills, study skills, or organization sessions. 
  • A specific IQ range is served to assist with either life or learning needs that may or may not lead to a post-high school living situation, either through the boarding school or in a more comprehensive living community.


Traditional Boarding School

This segment is “all the other boarding schools.” These are the boarding schools that are more like Hogwarts or, at my age, “Dead Poets Society.” These boarding schools may have accommodations or be flexible with test taking. The interesting piece about this bucket is that most schools today know about the spectrum of learning needs and recognize that bright and capable students can also have a learning disability. It is always worth having a conversation with the admissions person, but also important to disclose if a student has specific learning needs. It is also possible that in a traditional boarding school, a child may learn about a learning disability or attention weakness that was not recognized in the previous school, and how a traditional boarding school handles this once a child is in the community can vary greatly.

Understanding which type of boarding school your teen needs, out of the three distinct buckets of boarding schools for students diagnosed with a learning disability can be a challenge. First and foremost, you’ll want to consider which one your teen will thrive in, and which one will work for your family dynamics. 

Students who have been successful in treatment could end up in any of these buckets, and it is not an uncommon situation to have a student whose emotional struggles began with their learning struggles – where once the emotional coping skills are developed then the learning piece is then addressed. Exploring boarding schools for students with learning disabilities can be a great way to help your child have positive academic and social experiences in high school – and beyond.


About the Authors

Jake Weld holds a masters degree in education and has over twenty years of experience in traditional, LD, and therapeutic schools, adolescent and young adult programs, and conventional, wilderness, and residential settings. He has served as the Executive Director of a therapeutic boarding school, the Assistant Headmaster of a specialized LD boarding school, and as the Academic and Program Director of various schools and programs.  He is currently the Director of Admissions and Business Development for Mansfield Hall, a specialized college support program in Burlington, VT, and Madison, WI.

Jenney Wilder, M.S.Ed launched All Kinds of Therapy in 2015, as the only independent online directory for the Family Choice Behavioral Healthcare Industry. With an impressive case of ADHD and her starter career in the 90’s in Silicon Valley, the dream for creating a website with features like side-by-side comparison and an integrated newsletter was born. Jenney stopped counting treatment centers and all types of schools that she has visited when she hit 500 many years ago.  Jenney has a Masters in Special Education from Bank Street College (NY) and a Bachelor of Arts focused on History from Wheaton College (MA).


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