Special needs schools are different from regular schools in that they cater to students with education challenges. They’re designed, staffed, and have the resources to provide support for students who have challenges that interfere with learning.
These schools offer a wide range of approaches and services to support students with special needs. This may include individualized learning, one-on-one support, small classes, resource rooms, and learning aids.
Special education support
There are two main ways schools provide special education support. First, there’s the environment or setting in which the support is delivered. Special needs education can be offered in a dedicated special needs school or class, an integrated class, a withdrawal class, or a regular class with resource support or indirect support.
Second, there’s the form of support that’s offered. Most private special needs schools support students through accommodations, modifications, and remediations. These are normally stipulated in an Independent Education Plan (IEP), which spells out a child’s learning needs, services the school will provide, and how progress will be measured.
- Accommodations: Removing obstacles to learning (e.g., note-taking assistance)
- Modifications: Changing what’s taught or altering standards (e.g., answering fewer of different test questions)
- Remediations: Individualized interventions or treatments to eliminate, reduce, or ameliorate a challenge (e.g., one-on-one work with a psychologist to improve social skills)
Ideally, modifications won’t be needed. Changing what’s taught and lowering expectations can sometimes cause students problems later on, for instance, when they move on to a new school.
Types of special needs supported
Schools vary in what type of special education support they provide. They also vary in terms of which special needs they support. The main types of special needs supported by schools are learning, developmental, behavioural/emotional, and physical disabilities.
- Learning disabilities: Dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, dysphasia/aphasia, auditory processing disorder, visual processing disorder
- Developmental disabilities: Autism, Asperger’s syndrome, Down syndrome, intellectual disability, William’s syndrome, expressive language disorder
- Behavioural and emotional disabilities: Clinical depression, Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD), Clinical anxiety, troubled behaviour/troubled teens, suicidal tendencies, drug and alcohol abuse
- Physical disability: Blindness, deafness, Cystic Fibrosis (CF), Multiple Sclerosis (MS), Cerebral Palsy (CP), muscular dystrophy, dyspraxia, spina bifida, tourette syndrome
Many special education schools provide support for one or more of these types of special needs. Other less common special needs supported by some schools include speech and language disorders and chronic illnesses.
Special education pros and cons
Private schools for special needs are a great option for many kids. They have many benefits. They also, though, raise some concerns. The pros and cons of special education vary based on the type of program, supports offered, approaches used, and more.
- Necessary support: Students get the support they need to get the most out of their education. This may include accommodations, modifications, or remediations.
- Qualified teachers: Teachers normally have focused training in special education.
- Differentiated instruction: Instruction is tailored to individual students to meet their unique learning needs.
- Special resources and services: Special resources and services may be available. This may include academic and psychological counselling, tutoring programs, speech-language therapy, physical and occupational therapy, and learning aids.
- Fitting in: Students learn and interact with peers who also have challenges.
- Lack of integration: Students in a dedicated special needs school will only learn and interact with peers with special needs. They thus won’t be exposed to a wide range of influences.
- Stigma: The label "special needs" can have a stigma or negative connotation. Being in a special needs program can reinforce this.
- Social relations: Students in a special needs class may have problems relating to other kids in the class or school. This can impede their social growth.
- Academics: Special education sometimes involves lowering expectations (for instance, when modifications are made). This can lead to problems at higher levels of education.
- Transition to a regular school: Some find the transition from a special needs school or program to a regular school challenging. This can be both an academic as well as a social and emotional adjustment.
Special needs school costs
The cost of a private school for children with special needs will depend on many factors. For instance, the types of special needs supported, how they’re supported, and the environment the support is provided in can all affect the price of tuition.
In Canada, private schools with full-time special education programs can cost between $20, 000 and $100, 000 a year. Meanwhile, schools with part-time special needs programs (for instance, schools with integrated classes) tend to be cheaper. These schools have annual tuition that often ranges from $15,000 to $50,000.
In Canada, there are many types of funding and aid available for private schools for children with special needs. The main sources of funding are
- Financial aid from schools: If you can demonstrate need, some schools will help subsidize your child’s education. Many will offer you a bursary to help defray the costs of tuition.
- Government funding: Most provinces and territories in Canada provide some kind of financial support for families with kids in a special needs school or program. For instance, Ontario has a special education grant which can cover up to 100% of tuition.
- Support from community or charitable organizations: There are many community, non-profit, and religious associations that can help finance your child’s education by covering part of their tuition. This includes the Prosser Charitable Foundation’s Parent Choice Bursary Rotary Club, Canadian Council of Christian Charities (CCCC), United Jewish Appeal (UJA), and Muslim Association of Canada (MAC).
- Sibling discounts: Some schools offer escalating reductions in tuition based on the number of children you send to them.
- Tax relief: Another way to reduce the expense of school is through a tax deduction or credit.
Choosing a special needs school or program
It’s important to find the right school for your child. If your child has special needs, this can be challenging. You should look at several schools and programs and choose one that’s the right fit. Luckily, there are top special needs schools in Canada, including in Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Vancouver, Mississauga, Calgary, and Edmonton.
What’s most important is whether the special needs school is a good fit for your child. You’ll need to consider some crucial questions.
- Type of special needs supported: What type of special needs does the school support? Does it offer support for your child’s special need(s)?
- Type of support: How does the school support students with special needs? Does it offer accommodations, modifications, remediations, or additional services? Does it offer the kind of support your child needs?
- Type of environment: What environment is the special needs support delivered in? Is it the right kind of environment for your child?
- Teaching and learning approach: Does the school or program offer individualized learning and differentiated instruction? If so, what does this look like? How can this approach support your child’s learning?
There are many great resources to help you in your search for the right special needs school or program. Below, we discuss some of the main ones.
- Special needs websites: There are some great websites to aid you in your search for a special needs school or program. We recommend the following sites: the Ontario Ministry of Education, Learning Disabilities Association of Ontario, Integra Program (Child Development Institute), Council for Exceptional Children Ontario, and Smart Kids with LDS.
- Open house events: Attending open houses is a nice way to learn more about any school, including a school for special needs students. For advice on open house visits (much of which applies to special education schools), check out our guide to school visits.
- Choosing school guides: There are some strong guides to choosing schools in Canada (and throughout the world). To learn more about choosing private schools (including private special needs schools), read the Our Kids choosing guide. You can also read our guides to choosing preschool and choosing a Montessori school.
- Private school expos: Private school expos are a great way to find the best special needs school for your child. We have annual expos across Canada, in Toronto, Halton-Peel, Ottawa, Montreal, Vancouver, and Calgary. At these expos, you can meet with lots of private special needs schools, ask them questions, and learn whether they might be right for your child.