High School for Learning Differences- how to chose?


I'm looking at Orinda Academy, Bayhill High School, Sterne High School, Holden High School and Millenium High School for my child with learning differences. It's hard to tell how these schools might be similar or different. Anybody have any thoughts on how to distinguish between these schools? Size, who they serve, extra curricular activities, quality of education, quality of staff, etc? Which serves more kids on the spectrum vs just kids with LD's? 

thank you,


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You don't mention Springstone and Orion, the primary high schools for kids on the spectrum.  My son went to Springstone and was in a class of 8 kids from sixth grade through 12th (not always the same 8, but many of the same), and as a result, they formed a really tight bond.  The school was great for a number of things, including protecting these teens from everything from smoking to drugs to sex (they knew all about it, but I don't believe that any of them did anything more than look at the internet).  Two and a half years on, my son's graduating class remains a tightly bonded group, and that is more than anything else I could have asked.  My son is not on the spectrum (he has bipolar), but he has learned to get along with a group of friends who all have their particular quirks and stick with them through everything, and that, to me, is the true measure of a great education for this group.  All of the schools will provide about the same educational outcomes, but I don't know how many of them can provide this.  Feel free to contact me.

I'm in the same position.  I think it depends on your child's specific LD, social and learning profile.  We have experience at Sterne and I was told it's the best in the Bay Area but it's a drive or a BART commute and can be overwhelming for some kids.  Bayhill has an open house tomorrow I believe.  I have a couple friends who have LD children at Orinda Academy and seem to be happy but I know their program, while LD friendly, does not have some of the hardcore supports that our son will need.  Honestly, all the LD specific schools I have researched in the bay area are rather light on academic rigor compared to east coast boarding LD schools.  It's a totally different ballgame but something to think about if you have a "twice exceptional" kiddo who needs some tools and support to uncover her/his gifts without losing their spark.

My son is thriving at Tilden Preparatory School, which should be on your short list. Some kids simply need one-on-one instruction to learn, and Tilden has the process to successfully do this. Unlike some of the ASD-specific schools, Tilden has the academic curriculum both for the students who are struggling or are looking for something far more challenging than public schools.

My son has several neuropsychological conditions including dysgraphia. He cannot complete a simple math exam without accommodations and has severe trouble writing anything due to the dysgraphia.  The local school district wouldn't give the necessary accommodations for him to survive, yet he is brilliant in some subjects with an amazing ability to memorize subject matter. Challenges include getting what he knows on paper and helping him see the "big picture" (details that keep running through his mind prevent him from answering test questions). Tilden determined how to he optimally learns within the first two weeks and found him the right teachers for each subject. He improved his writing to an Advanced Placement standard within six months, is improving the way information is processed and communicated, and is challenged in amazing ways. Today he is taking AP and Honors classes, has made friends, and is involved with several clubs. Wow.

Private schools offering one-on-one instruction can do amazing things with a wide variety of kids, but some are going to be better with certain categories of kids than others. We interviewed several, which you will obviously do. Consider Tilden (Albany and Walnut Creek) during your search.


When our son was diagnosed with ASD, we did an exhaustive search and found Orion Academy in Moraga was one of the few high schools specifically for college-bound students who have Asperger's or NLD. They provide an academically challenging curriculum that is structured, rich in its offering, and nurturing in developing personal growth, responsibility and independence. In the span of 18 months at Orion our son has seen remarkable progress, with a tight group of friends that he hangs out with on weekends as well as in school, a leader in clubs, on the honor roll and a clear plan for working on his specific challenges. The school's focus on "scaffolding" your child towards independence, while providing rigorous academics, makes it unique. Our son had attended a more general LD school in San Francisco -- they were well intentioned but didn't have the right expertise, it wasn't challenging enough and our son was bored. I mention this because schools have a tendency to position themselves as LD institutions when your child's specific challenge can make a significant difference on their ability to provide supports. Orion is not for everyone, but they are one of the best at supporting ASD/NLD students in an academically rigorous environment. Good luck with your search. You're welcome to contact me.