What's the right type of school for a student with dyslexia?
Exploring a dyslexic child’s potential fit in 10 different school types
Kids vary widely in their learning strengths and weaknesses. Don’t underestimate the importance of this on school choice: it can profoundly affect the kind of learning environment, and hence school, that’s right for them.
Kids with dyslexia have a reading disorder. This disorder affects areas of the brain that involve processing language.
Below, we identify key points you should reflect on when considering 10 different school types for students with dyslexia. Note: our aim isn’t to tell you whether a school type is right or wrong for you, but to highlight some critical factors you should consider when making your decision.
To learn about how to choose the right school in general, read the Our Kids’ step-by-step advice guide and our expert tips. To get school-choice advice customized to your child's unique traits, create a child profile through your user account.
How students with dyslexia fit in 10 school types
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- Small school (150 students or less)
- Big school (151+ students)
- Coed school
- Girls' school
- Boys' school
- Montessori school
- Reggio Emilia school
- International Baccalaureate school
- Language immersion school
- Boarding school
Small school (150 students or less)
Smaller schools with small classes normally provide lots of personalized learning and one-on-one guidance. This gives them the flexibility to support students with a range of learning disabilities (LDs), including dyslexia, and to actively monitor their progress and development. Some also provide learning environments that directly support dyslexia, such as segregated classes and part-time withdrawal classes.
“Keep in mind, though, that not all small schools provide support for kids with dyslexia,” say Ann and Karen Wolff of Wolff Educational Consulting. “For instance, a school may only support kids with LDs involving math or numbers (like dysgraphia).”
Ask whether a school supports dyslexia, and if it does, how it delivers this support. Finally, make sure a smaller school has out-of-class resources that meet your child’s needs. Since your child struggles with decoding language, they may need regular visits with an on-site reading intervention specialist.
Big school (151+ students)
Since kids with dyslexia require special attention, ensure any large school has smaller classes (ideally 15 students or less) with plenty of structure, personalized learning, and individual support. Also, ask exactly what kinds of resources it has to support your child. For instance, “do you have a reading intervention specialist to help my child work on their phonic decoding?”
Some big schools provide learning environments that explicitly support students with dyslexia. These can include dedicated classes and regular classes with in-class adaptations and breakout groups. Many also offer a range of out-of-class resources to promote your child’s overall development, such as academic and psychological counselling, social workers, tutors, and faculty advisors.
A coed environment will require your child to negotiate the complexities of boy-girl interactions. Since this can sometimes be a distraction for students with dyslexia (and other learning disabilities (LDs)), ask about the social dynamic at a school and how it plays out in the classroom. Also, ensure it has the right learning environment, support systems, and teaching approach for your child. For instance, since your child has a reading-based LD, they’ll likely need a reading specialist to help them with their phonic decoding.
Of course, in a coed school, students with dyslexia will work with and learn from the experiences of boys and girls, which can widen their perspectives and enhance their academic and social development. “Since research shows that boys and girls often approach problems differently, it can be beneficial to bounce ideas off and seek opinions from both genders,” says Stacey Jacobs, director of Clear Path Educational Consulting.
Make sure any girls’ school provides the right learning environment for your daughter, whether this is a dedicated class or regular class with extra resource support. Small- to medium-sized classes with lots of structure and one-on-one support are a minimum requirement. Also, ask about school resources that can support your daughter, such as academic and psychological counselling, faculty advisors, tutoring, and homework support.
Of course, in a girls-only school, your daughter won’t have to negotiate the complexities of boy-girl interactions, which can help her focus on her work free from potential distractions. Also, in an environment often less influenced by gender stereotypes and false narratives, such as “boys are better at math and science,” your daughter may feel freer to pursue her passions and stake out a unique developmental path.
Make sure a boys’ school provides a learning environment that directly supports your son’s dyslexia, whether this is a segregated class or a regular class with special adaptations and resource support. Small- to medium-sized classes with lots of structure and one-on-one support are often a minimum requirement for kids with dyslexia. Also, ask about a school’s resources that can support your son, such as academic and psychological counselling, faculty advisors, tutoring, and homework support.
Of course, in a boys-only school, your son won’t have to negotiate the complexities of boy-girl interactions. This can free him up from potential distractions, in class and out, which can help him better focus on his studies. Also, in an environment often less shaped by gender stereotypes and false narratives, such as “girls are better suited to the arts,” your son may feel freer to pursue his learning interests and stake out a unique academic path.
Many kids with dyslexia (and other LDs) will find the calm and quiet learning environment of most Montessori classrooms peaceful. They can also benefit from Montessori’s special focus on individualized learning: since kids often choose their tasks, with teacher guidance, their work can be tailored to their abilities and interests.
That said, not all Montessori schools offer the right environment for kids with dyslexia. “Some don’t provide the explicit, teacher-directed instruction that some research indicates is beneficial for students with dyslexia,” says Una Malcolm, director of Bright Light Learners. “For instance, some students may need more help with phonic decoding than some Montessori environments are able to provide.”
Of course, since Montessori schools vary in their teaching approach, support systems, and resources, speak to school directors and staff to determine whether your child is a good fit.
Reggio Emilia school
Reggio Emilia schools’ emphasis on personalized learning can be a blessing for kids with dyslexia. Since they don’t have a one-size-fits-all curriculum, these schools help guide kids through their studies according to their own abilities and interests. This makes it less likely they’ll fall off track, get lost in the shuffle, or become frustrated.
Just make sure Reggio Emilia schools’ focus on group and open-ended learning works for your child. Some kids with dyslexia may require more structure, direct instruction, and one-on-one support than some of these schools provide. For instance, to help them with their phonic decoding, your child may require a reading specialist, which most Reggio Emilia schools won’t have on staff.
International Baccalaureate school
The heavy workload of IB schools can be difficult to manage for some students with dyslexia. Also, due to their standardized curriculum and their focus on collaborative learning and group projects, some IB schools may not provide enough one-on-one support for kids with dyslexia.
That said, the IB organization requires authorized schools to have specially trained staff in both IB education and in meeting the needs of different learners. But, “What this looks like and how students are supported varies between schools,” says Stacey Jacobs, director of Clear Path Educational Consulting. “Ask what specific programs and policies a school has in place to support your child’s learning.”
Language immersion school
Dyslexia can make it extremely challenging to learn all or most of one’s subjects in a second language, as language immersion programs require. For instance, “A child with dyslexia in a French immersion program would struggle to read in both English and French without adequate intervention,” says Una Malcolm, director of Bright Light Learners. “It’s thus important for parents to recognize early signs of phonological decoding issues—or processing or reasoning issues, for that matter—since most language immersion schools do not offer intervention or support in these areas, and unfortunately this can lead to literacy difficulties in both languages.”
If you’re considering a language immersion school for a child with dyslexia, make sure it offers the intensive support your child requires. For instance, since your child will likely need to work closely with a reading intervention specialist on their phonic decoding, ensure one is on staff.
Make sure any boarding school has small enough classes to provide the structure, individualized learning, and one-on-one support your child needs. Also, confirm it has the resources and staff to support your child’s reading disorder. For instance, since they struggle with phonic decoding, ask whether a reading specialist is on staff.
Finally, “Ensure your child has a strong understanding of their learning challenges and what kind of support and accommodations they need,” says Stacey Jacobs, director of Clear Path Educational Consulting. “At a boarding school, kids will need to advocate for themselves, and they’ll need the knowledge and confidence to do so.”
Keep in mind that some boarding schools provide learning environments that explicitly support dyslexia, including dedicated classes and part-time pull-out classes. Many also provide a range of resources to promote your child’s academic, social, and emotional development, such as robust guidance departments, counsellors, psychologists, social workers, and faculty advisors.
Students with dyslexia’s school fit: key take-homes
- Smaller schools with small classes normally provide lots of personalized learning and one-on-one support for kids with dyslexia. Ensure this is also offered in any bigger school you’re considering.
- Make sure a boys’ or girls’ school provides a learning environment that directly supports your child’s dyslexia, whether this is a segregated class or a regular class with special adaptations and resource support.
- Kids with dyslexia can benefit from Montessori and Reggio Emilia schools’ special focus on individualized learning: since kids often choose their tasks, with teacher guidance, their work can be tailored to their abilities and interests.
- The heavy workload of IB schools can be difficult to manage for some students with dyslexia.
- Dyslexia can make it extremely challenging to learn all or most of one’s subjects in a second language, as language immersion programs require. For instance, “A child with dyslexia in a French immersion program would struggle to read in both English and French without adequate intervention,” says Una Malcolm, director of Bright Light Learners.