What Are Specialized High Schools? 3 Different Types and Their Benefits

By: Barbara Leventhal | Last Updated: February 1, 2022

If your high school student has special educational needs because of a diagnosed learning difference, autism, ADHD, emotional issues, or other disabilities that make learning in a typical public school classroom setting challenging, there are options to consider. More and more, the number and variety of private specialized schools are growing, offering wider opportunities for children to learn in an environment that is more tailored to their needs.

So, what are specialized schools exactly? In this article, we’ll introduce you to three main types of specialized high schools to help you determine if exploring this educational path is appropriate for your child. You can also find more helpful information in our Guide to Specialized Schools: From Learning Challenges to Accelerated Learning which details the different kinds of specialized schools, the benefits they offer, and how to know if your child needs a specialized school.

what are specialized high schoolsWhat is a Specialized High School?

A specialized high school is dedicated to and built around educating students with special learning needs. They serve a wide spectrum of students, from gifted students with dyslexia to those with more profound disabilities. Some specialized schools may cater to a wide variety of learning differences while others may focus on a more specific condition or disorder.

The specialized school fills a gap for those students who are not thriving in a school that pulls them out for a brief period to give them individualized attention. As an alternative, students at a specialized school are immersed in a full-time program that considers and accommodates their differences throughout each day. These specialized schools are typically staffed with trained special education professionals and are physically designed and adapted to support the students. They may offer resources, materials, and teaching systems that uniquely help special-needs students achieve more success in the classroom.

Types of Specialized High Schools

When considering specialized high schools, it’s helpful to note that there are three main categories that these schools typically fall into – general, condition specific, or therapy specific. What you choose depends on your student’s and your family’s particular needs. Of course, there are numerous factors that come into play, such as costs, location, and availability.

A good first step when you’re exploring specialized schools is understanding these main types and which one might best fit your child’s needs:

General Special Needs Schools

These schools are going to welcome a broad range of students with different learning differences or disabilities. Browsing the school’s website will usually help you find what conditions are accepted at the school and what you can expect as far as individualized planning and attention for your student’s particular situation. It’s also imperative to visit schools to get a sense of how comfortable your student will feel there.

Some of the benefits of this type of school include:

  • Students feel socially accepted around other special-needs peers.
  • Staff are trained to interact with a variety of students and accommodate teaching styles as needed.
  • They may have professionals that specialize in the area your student needs help with.
  • There may be a broader range of programs available for topics such as social skills or reading that your child can take advantage of, as well as clubs and sports for this special population.

different learning stylesCondition Specific High Schools

Whether your student has dyslexia, ADHD, or autism, or deals with anxiety or mental health issues, there is likely a school somewhere that caters only to that specific condition. These types of schools are best for those families and students who want to be in an environment that is completely aimed at helping people with a specific condition achieve confidence and success. These are great schools for students who thrive with certain teaching techniques and in settings with “like-minded” peers.

Benefits of condition-specific schools include:

  • Teachers are highly trained and have experience working with a specific condition. They may hold special certifications, such as being an Orton Gillingham or Wilson reading specialist for dyslexia.
  • Students gain self-esteem by connecting with others who have similar interests and who understand what they are experiencing.
  • Occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech therapy are often provided as part of the school day.
  • Because the school specializes in the condition, they likely have top-notch resources and strategies and stay up to date on new research.

Therapy Specific High Schools

Odds are by the time your student is ready for high school, you’ve already experimented with numerous therapies and methods and know what works best for them. If you are tied to a certain therapeutic philosophy, there could be a school that also aligns with that approach. For instance, there are schools that follow unique approaches for autism, such ABA or SCERTS, or schools that focus on the Orton Gillingham approach for dyslexic students.

Benefits include:

  • These schools tend to be very small, so your child will likely receive personalized attention
  • Since you’re already familiar with and in favor of the approach the school uses, there will likely be a good comfort level for you and your student

benefits of specialized schoolsOverall Benefits of Specialized High Schools

Choosing to send your student to a specialized school is a personal decision involving a multitude of factors, but in some cases, it can make a difference in helping your child get the most of their education. Specialized schools can provide:

  • Accommodations and Support: Students are supported to learn in their own unique ways and may be given accommodations, adaptations, tools, and modifications that help them succeed and gain confidence for their future endeavors. Students also receive full-time support, as every teacher is a specialist and understands how this population of students learns best
  • Tailored Instruction: Classes and teaching plans are developed and designed to meet your child’s individual needs.
  • Trained Staff: Teachers at specialized schools are trained in special education and often have been certified in specific areas.
  • Resources: The services you may have had to seek externally may be available at the school, such as tutoring, speech-language therapy, occupational therapy, counseling, added reading instruction, etc.
  • Sense of Fitting In: Again, being among other students who face similar challenges can boost a child’s sense of identity and allow them to feel like a welcomed member of a community.
  • More Personal Attention: Specialized schools typically are smaller with a low teacher-to-student ratio, which means your child will likely get more personalized attention.

Today, there are more educational opportunities than ever for students of all types and abilities, providing the right mix of support and guided independence necessary for students to find their place at school and in the world.

If you would like more guidance about choosing a specialized school, please contact us to arrange a meeting with our specialized school expert.


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