Finding a School that Fits

Updated: Jan 23, 2019

By Barbara Probst.

Like most parents of 2e kids, you’ve probably spent a lot of time and energy making sure your child gets all the “extras” he or she needs at school – whether it’s modification, enrichment, or alternative instruction. At some point, though, you may find yourself thinking, “Wait a minute! Why do I keep working so hard to change the school to fit my child? Why not find a school that already fits my son or daughter, a place where my child belongs, is understood, and doesn’t always feel like an outsider?”

It makes sense to look for an environment where your child can be nourished instead of just “accommodated,” though it’s not always easy. Some of the questions you may face include:

• How can I figure out what kind of school my child needs? • What are my options? What’s out there? • What are the obstacles? • Who can help?

How Can I Figure Out What Kind of School My Child Needs?

What all parents want is a place where their children can thrive – where they’ll be nurtured and helped to develop. For a 2e child whose needs are complex, that means a combination of fostering strengths and addressing weaknesses. You may hear about wonderful programs; but if they don’t take this two-pronged approach, they’re probably not right, no matter how attractive they seem.

Including both exceptionalities can be a challenge. A traditional high-stakes prep school or a program for high achievers (even if your child’s IQ seems to qualify him or her for admission) is unlikely to be a good fit. Similarly, a school that only addresses your child’s difficulties may also be a poor match. Though it’s nice to have a program that can remediate learning disabilities (LDs) or manage AD/HD, be careful of choosing one that focuses primarily on the child’s weaknesses. You need a program in which educators also respect, enjoy, value, and nurture the child’s strengths.

A school will also be a poor fit if its agenda is to “fix” your child, like a car needing repair. Many programs take this approach, even if it isn’t stated explicitly. For a 2e child who’s sensitive and perceptive, this approach may backfire and actually make the situation worse. It may lead to anger or depression, causing your child to reject offers of help out of pride and defensiveness.

The best schools for your 2e child are likely to be places with an unconventional approach, rather than conventional schools with a few extras tagged on. These schools will have the flexibility to adapt to your child’s needs, rather than requiring your child to adapt to the school’s structure (as public schools must, in order to educate large numbers of children, and as elite private schools often do, in order to maintain their reputations).

How, then, can you figure out which school would be a good fit? The first step is to list your child’s core or salient traits, without labeling them as either good or bad. Your child might be a divergent thinker, have an unusually wide or narrow range of interests, need to learn through touch and movement, be emotionally sensitive, need time alone, crave variety, have an artistic flair, tend toward perfectionism, have a slow or fast tempo, and so on. Focus on your child as a whole person, not just on what you think are educational needs.

Next to each trait, jot down activities and elements of the environment that would suit a person like that. For example, a divergent thinker would benefit from the opportunity to putter in a science lab or explore a craft without having to complete projects on a timetable. An intense and driven child, on the other hand, may need the challenge of competition and the chance to set new records. Depending on the kind of person your child is, he might need clear structure or loose structure, an abundance and variety of students or a small setting with few students, frequent changes of activity or time to pursue an interest without interruption, opportunity to compete and excel or de-emphasis on grades and freedom to learn at her own pace. Be as specific as you can.

Then you need to prioritize. Rate each item as either A or B, depending on how essential each is for your child’s well-being. The things you rated A are what you must have in a school. They are your priorities. Other features, the B items, may be less important for your particular child. These are the features it would be nice to have because they support your child’s core traits, but they’re not a priority.

The important thing is that the school’s style shouldn’t contradict your child’s basic nature. For instance, if your child tends to obsess and insist on perfection, a school with lots of rules, inspections, and competition would only increase your child’s anxiety. It’s not for him or her, even if the school’s other features seem right on target. Go back to the list of your child’s traits. Rank your current school according to how well it matches each of your child’s needs. Then ask: does my child need a change?

What Are My Options? What’s Out There?

Once you figure out what your child needs, how do you find it? New programs open up all the time, all over the country, with a spectrum of styles and price tags. However, finding the right match can be difficult.

If you go on the Internet and type in “schools, twice exceptional,” you’ll get lots of great articles but no list. You can try visiting or consulting Peterson’s Private Secondary Schools 2006, a nearly 1,500-page resource guide. However, you’re still likely to spend frustrating and fruitless hours scrolling through schools that turn out to be inappropriate.

One reason for the difficulty is that there’s no name for this kind of school, no category you can search for. The usual categories, like preparatory schools or therapeutic programs, aren’t quite right. Another reason is that descriptions on websites and in brochures can be misleading. Some schools that seem ideal for “quirky” kids who haven’t succeeded in traditional environments are actually populated by youngsters with more serious problems and less academic capability. Some will only take youngsters with formal diagnoses of LD who have no history of disruptive behavior; they might not be willing to accept a child whose record describes him as volatile, ec