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  • Writer's pictureVicky Keston

Sharing a Child’s Mild Diagnosis, Neurodiversity or Special Need with Admissions

Admissions season is nerve-wracking for all parents, but for parents of kids with sensory, neurodiversity, or learning needs, there are additional stressors regarding how much to share with prospective schools. The tradeoffs for special needs are complex due to concerns about unconscious bias vs finding the right match where a child will be happy and supported. 

Will Sharing Hurt My Child’s Chances for Admission?

Unlike public schools, general education private schools are not resourced for complex needs and do not receive state funding for special education. As a result, private schools may decline to offer admission to a student whose needs they cannot meet. Delving more deeply, one might ask, which types of needs are too much, and which are reasonable for the school to support? 

In particular, children who need minor accommodations will find the most options. For example, independent private schools typically have half the student-teacher ratio of public schools, which may in itself address the need for more personal attention. In addition, we’ve found many schools that accommodate extra time on testing, larger fonts (or ebooks on devices), priority seating, and gentle reminders. Some schools have learning specialists who can meet with students who require support. Depending on the child's diagnosis, the learning specialist may be sufficient, or a school might feel the student needs more intense services, such as tutoring or a Orton-Gillingham style lessons.

On the other hand, general education private schools are rarely equipped to support students with behavioral challenges or who need substantial services, such as a private aide or special education teacher. During the height of the pandemic, when students were not assessed in person, many students with extra challenges were inadvertently accepted, some of whom were a fit for the school, and some of whom were not. With in-person assessments, the behavioral fit is easier to assess, as even preschoolers are asked for play dates with parents in a different room so that their interpersonal skills can be observed. 

It’s important to remember that the worst case is not an admission decline, but rather a student placed in a school that cannot meet their needs. In this case, finding a new school can be difficult and add to social deficits by introducing a midyear transfer. While we want to avoid unconscious bias, we also want our children to be happy and supported at school. 

If I Do Share, What’s the Best Way?

When working with clients, I recommend waiting to inquire about special needs until the application, where there’s typically a question to provide additional information on this topic. This allows parents to explain their child’s needs in one space, edited and clarified on the page. Best practices include sharing any diagnosis, as well as requested accommodation and services. I recommend adding context, such as how these accommodations have functioned in the current school setting, and offering for the school director or teacher to speak with the admissions staff to answer any questions. 

Your child’s teacher is their best advocate as they know them in the setting that is closest to the schools you are applying to. Many children behave differently at school and at home, so admissions staff weigh teacher feedback heavily. For this reason, I recommend a parent-teacher conference early in admissions season to receive feedback on your child’s behavior and needs.

Lastly, for an outside, unbiased perspective on the child, I recommend providing a letter from the provider who assessed or treats your child. This letter should (similar to the parent essay) discuss the diagnosis and recommended accommodations and services. Typical providers for this letter could be a licensed psychologist, developmental pediatrician, or occupational therapist.

Role of a Consultant 

A consultant can help by reviewing your child’s needs and recommending the best fit schools for them. In addition, your consultant can review communications and help you strategize how to share information about your child so that you are simultaneously being open and yet assuring the school of that fit. For public school students, an IEP Advocate can be extremely helpful with understanding your rights under the law. 

Want more input on schools?

Vicky consults with families to help select, apply to, and communicate with public and private schools in the San Francisco Bay Area. Vicky maintains a principle of non-judgment. VIP and Season packages include a discussion to review school options, applications, essays, and key decisions. Vicky offers a limited number of packages each year to assure her availability. 

Vicky’s own children have attended both public and private schools, and have received both accommodations and curriculum changes; her elder is in high school, and her younger in middle school. New clients can email to learn more about her services, or see her website to learn about her packages.

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