Which High School for Autism Spectrum?

Parent Q&A

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  • Hi - my daughter is a very bright autistic / ADD 8th grader who does well academically in a public middle school despite exec functioning challenges. Socially she has difficult time. We’re considering Orion, Maybeck, Orinda and Stern.  I’d love advice and/or to speak to someone who has gone through this process. Thank you! 
     

    Having a similar kid who started at Orinda Academy and is now at Sterne, I would advise looking very closely at how the schools you are considering foster both social and academic growth for their students. All the schools you mention offer smaller class sizes—look more closely at the executive function support they provide. Consider the structure of extracurricular and social activities at the various schools and how that would work for your child. If they struggle socially, sometimes more structure is better. 

  • BayHill, Orion, etc. LD kids

    (2 replies)

    Hello. My twins are in 7th grade and we are looking into NPS options for high school.  They both have ADHD (combined type) and ASD (high functioning). My daughter struggles socially a LOT and deals w anxiety. My son is just pretty rigid in his thinking and doesn’t LOVE school. Both need A LOT of help w executive functioning skills

    i am looking for recs on NPS.  Both kids should be able to go straight to college after high school, definitely my daughter academically.  I’ve read through all the old posts but as we know, the pandemic changed things. 
     

    Any thoughts on BayHill or Orion Academy?  Orion seems super….formal and maybe not the best for my son. BayHill was ok but I’ve heard there are more behavior problems than in past.  We visited and every kid was on a cell phone texting and scrolling during class. I know every school has cell phone issues and behavior issues but for the amount we may pay, I expect a lot of oversight. Thoughts?

    Hello there -

    It's such a hard decision to make, especially when your kid needs a different learning environment than their classmates!

    My son struggles with similar challenges as your kids, and he has found his safe haven at Mentoring Academy. It's a tiny hidden gem of a school near Rockridge BART.

    He was bullied in a private middle school not just by his peers, but also by the teachers, who just didn't get him. At Mentoring the "we meet your kids where they are"  - turned out to be true - for the first time ever. He's just finishing 9th grade, and has been more engaged and excited about learning than he was all throughout middle school. 
    These folks truly "get" our kids - and they do so with humor and kindness. They understand that our kids' brains need to be stimulated differently. So how about they all go  to Mount Wilson Observatory for a week and workion the amazing telescopes that Hubble and Einstein worked with? ;-) But it also means cooking together, doing homework AT SCHOOL, and building your own desks. And all of that always with the eye on the prize - getting them into a good college.
    I hope you will be able to experience the genuine community they have created - and your kids can come to visit, of course. To no fault of their own, they are currently looking for a new space. So if you decide to visit, please don't judge them by the building they are in currently.
    All the best to you and your family - I hope Mentoring will be a revelation to all of you as it was to us. (To this day, most middle schools don't even know about them!)
     

    Hi--no current experience--just commending you on thinking this through NOW.  We had to make a similar decision for my son 12 years ago.  He insisted he did not need the structure at Orinda Academy, and was in a Small Learning Community at Berkeley High School.  Teachers there were excellent--BUT he got by with "least effort necessary" , had good grades and reasonable SAT's, chose University of Puget sound for college--and was NOT prepared for the academic requirements, nor the social complexity, despite a coach etc--ended up with severe depression and a medical withdrawal late first semester.  We're still on the journey... (BTW, he eventually was ready for classes at our local Community Colleges--there are some excellent options--I think those of us with neurdivergent kids need to be careful about balancing appropriate expectations/accountability with love, encouragement, realism, and flexibility....)

  • Bayhill vs BHS for autistic + ADHD kid?

    (5 replies)

    Hi out there,

    Our kid has autism and ADHD and some rough challenges.  She has never really recovered since the COVID year and a half, and public middle school has not prepared her well for high school, either academically or socially.  She is a huge book and theatre person, and so the lack of a library and drama program at Bayhill are definite minuses in our equation.  We've also been through both private and public schools, and are under no illusion that small/private is necessarily "better" than large/public. 

    If you have a kid with an IEP at BHS, what has your experience been?  Is there ever enough supervision for someone who needs a LOT of it?  Like constant reminders to stay on task?

    What do you wish you had known before sending your kid to Bayhill over BHS, or vice versa?  HELP!!!  Thank you so much.

    My kid has an IEP at Berkeley high for adhd and dyslexia. The program there will definitely not provide a lot of structure or reminders to stay on task. And the drama program is ok, but there is only drama classes. They don’t have annual drama productions. We get outside help and constantly think about moving to a different school. But so far we have stuck with it because of money and because we know that if he goes to college, he will need to figure things out on his own. 

    Hello! I had a kid at Bayhill, and he only lasted there for two weeks.  However, he was primarily there for his severe dyslexia. The school was too small to give him what he needed for his ADHD. He transferred to BHS, eventually graduated, and even took some classes at BCC (although I had to read his textbooks out loud to him).  

    Our girl with severe ADHD (but no LD) ended up thriving at one of the SMALL SCHOOLS at Berkeley High. However, since Berkeley High has stopped offering the small school option to 9th graders -- a bad decision on their part, IMHO -- I would consider placing your child in a private school (whether Bayhill or another, like St. Mary's High School, which is not far away) for 9th grade, and then consider transferring to BHS in 10th grade, but REQUESTING A SMALL SCHOOL (not AC or IB, which are large).

    What I liked about BHS was that our teen had the same cohort, and *many of the same teachers*, throughout her four years there. King had instituted a 504 Plan for her towards the end of 8th grade, and it was a lifesaver for us.  We had 504 meetings once a year, that included her private therapist as well!  Her counselor, Dwayne Byndloss, was always available to help.  (For example, we were able to switch math programs in 10th grade when her small school program was just not working out.) 

    I was also in frequent contact with her teachers, to make sure that I knew what her assignments were, so that I could help her stay on task during homework time.  One of her teachers said to me, "I don't mind you contacting me, because your support ME!"  

    As you might imagine, I was spending a lot of time supervising her homework every night, but she got pretty good grades throughout high school; she ended up in the top 12% statewide, which for her was an accomplishment.  She enjoyed taking chorus and Afro-Cuban dance classes as electives, and she ended up excelling in chemistry, which we never would have predicted. 

    Good luck!  (And check out St. Mary's -- I know a number of teens who've gone there, and they just absolutely loved it.)

    No. BHS is overwhelming. Severely cognitively challenged kids might stay in a classroom all day but otherwise I don’t think a higher functioning kid would be supervised. She’ll get marked absent if she misses class- no one would look for her. She’s free to leave campus anytime.

    Hi, our teen went to Bayhill for two years then left to go back to public school. First year at Bayhill was pretty good, second year was pretty awful. It’s such a small school, I think the population (kids, teachers and admin ) that’s there at any given time can really influence your child’s experience. There seemed to be in an inordinate number of kids being expelled. This was a few years ago, but a teacher there was having some pretty significant mental health/perhaps substance abuse issues and lashed out very inappropriately. The teacher was subsequently let go but it had a pretty traumatic affect on our teen. Kids are allowed off campus (with provisions) and some teachers take kids off campus (for example PE). This seemed like a neat feature but my teen later told me that when the class stopped at a convenience store, kids in the class routinely shoplifted. The qualifications of the teachers who provided extra educational/study support varied (eg at one time it was an educational therapist, then it was the band teacher). Also, if your child needs therapy/counseling, that is an additional charge. Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out to be the quality experience we hoped it would be, especially if you’re privately paying. 

    You may want to check out Holden High School also. It’s a very small school but it provides a lot of individually focused support. It was a good alternative for our son with ADHD and social anxiety. We were able to get BUSD to pay the tuition for Holden using a great lawyer. 

  • hi all

    we currently attend a private school in oakland. our kid has adhd and is currently being tested for mild ASD. mainly social struggles. thrives in project based learning and we are concerned he will fall through the cracks of pubic schools. am i incorrect? are there charter schools for this? are there private school that specialize in this? he excels in math/tech, struggles with language comprehension and social skills. we are open to sending him anywhere in the east bay or even marin county.

    Hi,

    You didn't say the age of your child, but my daughter has a very similar profile and we've found a High School that meets her needs fairly well- Latitude High (a public charter school). It is a project based learning school with a block schedule, small groups of kids that stay in the same pod over the 4 years, and a wonderful special education department that supports her IEP. If your child is younger, I would encourage you to look at the reel2e.org site in general, they have a list of schools that may serve 2e learners (reel2e.org/post/2e-private-school-panel-2022). Feel free to reach out as well and good luck in your search!

    Hi, my daughter is autistic and we're getting her evaluated for ADHD as well.  She also has social challenges and communication challenges as well.  We live in the east bay in Pleasant Hill/ Walnut Creek area and she definitely did not have a place in our school district.  

    I looked everywhere for a school in the east bay and found Big MInds; they have a Pleasanton and Pinole Campus (we attend Pleasanton.)  I cannot recommend this school enough.  It's a private school just for 2E learners that goes from 1st-8th grade. My daughter loves it, my husband and I love it.  

    Here's the website - good luck with your search!

    https://www.bigmindsunschool.org/

    My kid has ADHD and excels in math/reading but struggles with social skills/impulse control. Public school was not a good fit and we opted for a private school. Check out Core Academy in Concord. This is our 2nd year there and the teachers have been great with dealing with my child's needs. We know several families who commute from Oakland. The school offers a shuttle service that picks up and drops off in downtown Walnut Creek. 

    Check out Tilden Prep.  They have campuses in Albany and Walnut Creek, and an affiliate in Marin.  It's not exactly project-based learning, but classes are taught 1:1 so it's very flexible and the pacing is individualized, and the whole social aspect of school is kind of optional.  The school has a mastery-based system in which kids basically can't fail; if they don't earn at least a B grade in a class, they keep working on that material until they do. What a concept, no more "you got a D/F, on to the next unit" but "here's what you need to learn, we'll keep teaching it and testing it in different ways until you succeed"!  It's expensive, especially if your kid takes a long time to get through a "semester" class (you more or less pay by the class hour, rather than a set amount of tuition per semester or per year); it was worth it for my 2E son whose freshman year in public high school was a disaster.  They offer a solid range of classes, including honors and AP, and have both full time students and part timers who are taking just a class or two to supplement their schedule at another school. (My other kid took French III at Tilden after taking I and II at, and while still primarily enrolled in, public HS, long story, but we were very glad to have the option.)

    Hi - I’m a mom of a 2e boy who is on the spectrum. Your situation sounds similar to ours. We enrolled our son at Big Minds Unschool when he was in 2nd grade and he will be graduating this year! We are forever thankful for this wonderful school which allowed him to develop his strengths and tackle his challenges in an environment free from bullying and negativity. The school has locations in Pinole and Pleasanton. There are numerous students from Berkeley and Oakland who are enrolled at the Pinole site. You can learn more at bigmindsunschool.org. 

    I would look at Big Minds Unschool.  They have a small campus in Pinole and another one in Pleasonton.  The founder, Melanie Hayes, is great!  She looked over my kid's assessment and gave me some great insights that I didn't get over at Summit Center, the clinic that specializes in gifted kids.  The school is based on the Sudbury model where the curriculum is student driven with support and guidance from the teacher.  It's small and designed specifically for the needs of 2E kids.  If you're not familiar with that term, 2e are kids who have advanced-level strengths and some kind of learning difference, like ASD, ADHD, or dyslexia.  When I toured it, I liked it a lot, and loved Dr. Hayes, but we ultimately decided my son was going to need more remediation than what the school could do.  So that's important to know--although a lot of private schools won't be able serve some LD kids.  But I know other kids who did great there.

  • Seeking High School for Teen Son

    (7 replies)

    My 15-year old son and I live in New York but I've now accepted a job in Walnut Creek and we'll be moving to the East Bay by Sept '21.  I need to find a high school that can meet his needs.  He has an autism diagnosis, though that was not confirmed until he was 10 as some teachers and docs suspected a mood disorder before then.  He is very verbal and quite naturally intelligent but his behavioral and emotional challenges have been a barrier to many school programs in NY.  He has a strong sense of fairness and can react strongly when he perceives himself to be the victim of unfairness, such as when routines are changed in a way which places more demands on him.  Change, transitions and unexpected developments can be difficult for him to process and he will often require support in adjusting to such developments.  Though he wants friends and has had some recent experience in developing and maintaining friendships, he has had limited opportunities to develop lasting friendships and to develop the social skills needed to maintain relationships.  He also suffers from anxiety, treated through meds (Fluvoxamine); one way in which his anxiety manifests is through anthropomorphizing, which means that he thinks of inanimate objects (e.g., a paper towel used in an art project) as having feelings and can become quite anxious if they are thrown away or lost (he usually wants to bring these items home, by which point he's calm and is no longer concerned about whether they're thrown away).

    I have found it difficult to find an appropriate school for my son in NY.  Over the past 20 months, he has attended a residential school, so he sleeps at the school during the week and comes home on weekends and for extended breaks at holidays.  He has been instructed in classes with not more than 8 students and 1-2 adults and has required the assistance of a dedicated paraprofessional to remain moderated and on task.  While he is often conscientious about finishing his work, he can be disruptive and inappropriately provocative in class.  An FBA concluded that many of his behaviors are attention-seeking.

    While my son's current school has been able to manage his behaviors, the school is not very academically rigorous and academics are not a priority for many students or their parents.  My son does not want to be challenged, so this creates a self-reinforcing cycle, and I worry that he will resist when the demands on him are increased at his next school.

    (I have already been in contact with Springstone School and Orion Academy.  Both have been helpful but Springstone has already advised that they could not meet my son's needs.  I am continuing to speak with Orion, which sounds like a good program but again the question will be whether they can meet his needs.) In sum, my son is a smart kid with significant potential, but he has presented challenges which have proven a barrier to many programs in NY.  He has shown signs of maturing and progress in recent years and hopefully that will continue, but he can become emotionally disregulated and act out in physical manners when he becomes very frustrated, so I need to find a school that can manage such episodes and will not expel him if one occurs. Any suggestions re area schools will be much appreciated.  Thanks for your time and advice.

    Research Tilden Prep in Walnut Creek, they have "open houses" via zoom that are a good introduction. Also, Holden High in Orinda, they may haveboth in-person and zoom open houses. Both are very good private schools especially for kids with learning challenges. Good Luck.

    Hi, welcome to the Bay Area! I toured the Springstone School in Lafayette for my daughter with learning differences and high needs. I know there are autistic kids there. It may be a good fit! I really liked the philosophy, the size, the campus. I believe they have gone through some huge transitions with directors in the recent past but perhaps it has found a new equilibrium. Good Luck! 

    Check out Orinda Academy. It is a small school of about 100 kids 9-12th grade. Classes are small (6-10 kids), teachers are wonderful, and the environment is very supportive. My son is doing quite well there.  Best of luck!

    You might want to check Star Academy in San Rafael. You wrote a very good description and they may be a good place for your son. https://www.staracademy.org/about-us/who-we-serve

    Good luck. 

    We had the exact situation with our son when he was 15 yo. and opted to send him to a safe place (after vetting several schools in CA ) where he would be surrounded by true peers and trained staff who would understand the needs to connect and the deep struggles from being seen as different and aggressive bullying he'd endured at the middle school in CA.

    Please check out Middlebridge School in Narragansett, RI. 

    This school has literally saved our son's life and our sanity as a result. Can't put a price on that..

    I'd love to talk with you about the school, my husband is still on the board though our son has since graduated from college.

    He can answer your questions about the school and refer you to the admissions director to see if it'd be a good fit with your son's needs.

    HTH

    Have you considered engaging the services of an educational consultant? There's a firm based in San Francisco that has a sub-specialty in assisting with special needs students.  We found them to be extremely helpful with guiding us in finding the right high school for our son and know they've assisted families with other placements.

    http://mmbredu.com/our-services/

    We found it very hard to assess whether Orion Academy was right for our child, who also has a complicated profile. We enrolled one year, but it didn't work for us. I think that the school should have recognized this earlier, but I suspect they were willing to give it a try because they had many open slots that year. Before deciding to enroll, I talked to some parents. After our child started and we got to know them, these parents explained they were not comfortable being candid with us because it's hard to be anonymous in such a small school. However, they had wondered from the start whether our child would fit in based on what I had to say. From the first interview visit, our child consistently told us that it didn't feel right -- we should have paid more attention to that than to anything else, but we were desperate to try an option close to our home. Our eventual choice is no longer an option for high school. I wish you the best in finding a good placement for your son.

  • Looking to hear from parents about Philips, Orion, and any other east bay schools for a 9th grader with ASD, anxiety and depression, still struggling to accept who he is as a neuro-diverse person. Our kaiser therapist has encouraged us towards Philips (also James Baldwin, which seems way too restrictive for his needs, so we're wary of her advice). Philips seems like a warm community but we are wondering if he would be challenged enough in academic terms - he's a bright, creative, inquisitive, critical thinker who has achieved top grades with the right support and aims for college. Also considering Orion and Holden, though as a private school Holden would be a bigger challenge in terms of getting district assistance with tuition. Many thanks for any thoughts or advice!
     

    My stepson went to Orion and loved it there. It was easy for him to make friends there, and the teachers did a good job of keeping him focused on school, made sure homework got done, etc.  Another option to consider might be Orinda Academy?  They aren’t specifically focused on ASD kids, like the others, but they support kids with different learning styles and they are more college-prep focused than Orion.  

  • Hello Bpn communirty,

    We reside in San Ramon and are seeking for a high school either public or private for our 16 year old with autism spectrum, anxiety and some behavioral disorders. We had tried Seneca & we were not crazy about the school and counselors. He attending Monte Vista High in Danville (they have special needs classes/therapy) but end up being too much for him academic & behavioral wise, perhaps too may student and over stimulation for him. 

    Any suggestions or recommendations will be much appreciated! :)

    Mina

    I would recommend Spectrum Center in Hayward, a NPS where your district can place him. My recommendation comes from a very positive personal experience of over 3 years with my child who has ADHD, Anxiety Disorder and ASD that came with behavioral needs as well.

    Perhaps you should visit Orion Academy in Moraga.  Orion is a high school which has a program specifically designed for those diagnosed with autism or NLD.  The school has experienced teachers and psychologists who provide specific support with academics, pragmatic language and executive function skills.  (www.orionacademy.org)

    Hello,

    My son with similar issues attends the Marchus School in Concord and it has been amazing.

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Questions

High School for mild Asperger kid

March 2013

Our 8th grade son with recently diagnosed mild Aspergers is set to attend Oakland Tech this fall, but several teachers have recently expressed concern that it might not be the best fit. Yes, rather late in the year for this!! And now I'm panicked that we need to have an alternative lined up. There is absolutely NO WAY we can afford any private school (we aren't poor enough for financial aid and no way rich enough), so I'm hoping there's a charter school SOMEWHERE in the Bay Area that would work. Any suggestions, recommendations or warnings much appreciated!! Panicked and Stressed


You and your son may want to check out the Alameda Community Learning Center (ACLC) in Alameda, CA. (www.alamedaclc.org) ACLC is a small (300), public (tuition-free) charter middle and high school.

ACLC is a creative, inclusive and dynamic learning community. It provides an innovative, hands-on, research-based curriculum that emphasizes student engagement in a democratic society through leadership, self-direction and personal exploration. Learners participate in unique educational experiences including internships, community projects, and college classes at the nearby College of Alameda.

ACLC has been recognized by U.S. News and World Report as one of the Best High Schools in the United States for the past four years. It is consistently ranked as one of Alameda's top middle and high schools. The ACLC curriculum meets all University of California-approved A - G college prep courses, and over 90% of ACLC graduates are admitted to four year universities. Parent of 12th-grader and 8th-grader


If you are willing to go to San Jose look into Communitas Charter High School. there are openings and it is a small and supportive college prep school. t


I know a student with Asperger's who goes to Flex Academy in San Francisco and it is working out for him after some earlier attempts elsewhere. http://www.k12.com/sfflex/home#.UU-AeByG374 Dusty Sykes


Don't freak out. You say your son is going to Tech in the fall-will he be in the ASIP program there? If not, please make sure you do all the paper work so that he is, you can't ask for him to be in the program if you haven't done the paper work. The ASIP (Asperger's Inclusion Program) at Tech is really supportive. Any kid who needs it has an aid accompany him/her to class and there is a lot of support. I work in the program by the way.

Maybe his teachers were afraid it would be too big and scary but it really isn't. Starting in 10th grade he can be in one of the academies which is an amazing opportunity to get a headstart on a career in either Biotech, Health, Engineering, Fashion Design, and Computers. It is a great opportunity that the Charter schools don't offer.


Full-time alternative school for AS teen

May 2011

Our teen has Aspergers and is having a hard time in the public school system. He has been in the Independent Study program at BHS for a year because the social scene at BHS was too much, but IS is not really meeting his needs. He is becoming isolated and is not making any new friends. We cannot afford placement at CLC or Bayhill, and are ideally looking for a home school/charter school arrangement, or even a private tutor, that will meet his needs and also qualify as full-time high school education. Any advice or ideas are appreciated. -Berkeley mom


We have had a great experience at Trails To Success.....www.trailstosuccess.org shea


Choosing a high school for our daughter

March 2011

We are looking for a high school for our daughter (entering 9th grade in the fall) who is intellegent but also on the autism spectrum-- PDD-NOS or Asperger's. In the right environment, she does relatively well in school, but has low self-esteem and also dyslexia which causes struggles with reading (about one grade level below normal). Thus, a highly competitive, college-track-only school might not be a good fit. We're looking for those who have actual experience with the schools in our hunt, right now: Star Academy, Orion, Orinda Academy, CLC (Alameda), Milennium HS, Bay Hill, others we may not know about. We've seen the past BPN posts on this, looking to update our info, thanks.


My daughter had been diagnosed with Asperger's, was very shy and also had low self-esteem. We sent her to Bentley School and she had a very good experience there. It's a small school and we found it both rigorous and ''touchy-feely'' (for lack of a better word). The teachers were very good, very kind and always ready and willing to help with any problems.

Because the school is so small, my daughter was able to form friendships with students in all the grades, not just hers, which I think provided her with social interactions she wouldn't have had in a bigger school.

My daughter did not have learning disabilities per se, though she had trouble with executive function. Bentley was very helpful in that regard, because they taught organization techniques to the students and there was a lot of one-on-one teacher/student interaction.

We have not had personal experience with Orinda Academy, but two of my friends sent their children there and quickly removed them when they found that the school did not seem to know that their kids were leaving campus during the day and getting into all kinds of trouble.

Good luck with your school search. In hindsight I will say, don't worry about your daughter being in the perfect school. As long as she can get the attention she needs from the teachers and can meet some friendly kids, she will be OK.


If you're looking for a small school environment, good teacher support and communication, confidence building for students and really important school feedback for both students and parents Orinda Academy is a good choice. You should visit and talk with students and faculty. It's a few blocks from BART in Orinda so is good for many students from Oakland/Berkeley who take Bart. We've especially appreciated, as parents, a progress update every 2-3 weeks that each student gets. It's really helped our daughter stay focused and those that are falling behind know quickly. The report is emailed to parents as well. It's been good for building our daughter's confidence in many ways. Thanks... Orinda Academy Parent


High School for SID/High Functioning Autism Teen

Sept 2010

Does ANYONE know of some really good schools for teens with SID and/or high functioning autism, in sf bay area, esp east bay, and near Richmond would be greatest! Need to accept substance abuse background and accredited would be best. Son already 16.5-I'm desperate! THKS!-Amy amy


My son has Asperger's Symdrome and did very well at Children's Learning Center (CLC) in Alameda. He successfully transitioned to Alameda High School and I found them very supportive. If your son needs a specialized school, call CLC at (510)769-7100. If he can handle a regular high school with support, call the Alameda School District Special Ed at (510) 748-4012. Feel free to email me if you have any questions. Nancy


I suggest you look at Saint Joseph Notre Dame in Alameda, a Catholic High School. One of their hallmarks is diversity, which includes students with learning differences such as Aspergers. Your teen need not be Catholic, Christian or even a believer to apply. My son, diagnosed with Aspergers (now High Functioning Autism due to the DSM change) was a self-professed atheist when he enrolled as a Freshman. Our son was welcomed and included by the staff and students from day one. The school is small, with three full time counselors and one part time special needs counselor, and has been very supportive during some bumpy academic and social rides. The tuition is affordable, more so than other private high schools, and worth every penny. There is financial aid available. Our kids also like the school's setting, on a tree lined street in a residential area but with the Alameda Free Library (open until evening) and shops within walking distance.

As a furtherance to socialization, your teen would also have many opportunities to become involved in after school activities in performance arts and sports. My son participates in the Cross Country Team. Our daughter performed in a play and a musical in her Freshman year. The school's website is SJND.org. Google SJND Diversity to find the pdf of their 2008 Annual Report titled ''Embracing Diversity''. Feel free to contact me with questions. Barbara


School for 15-y-o who may have mild Aspergers

April 2010

My 15Y son might have mild asperger, will be tested this month. He is depressed and socially anxious. He is extremely difficulty going to school. In the past, I have tried to enroll him to a private school for independent learners. He responded well for the 1st semester, but lately he even feels anxious and reluctant going to that school. Considering there is not much social activity and help when he is absent,I enroll him to the public school under IEP. There are 8~9 students in that class with 4-6 therapist/teacher. He is not willing to go there either and feel terrified and anxious. We do work with doctors on his issues and he takes meds too. This public school is suggesting home hospital which teachers come to our home. I don't like this idea, since this just make my son feels more isolate at home. But I don't know other approach.

He is very bright, and had good grade all along. But now he doesn't have motivation. All he does is to sleep until noon, watch TV at night, no exercise at all. He does participate family activity even though reluctantly. Someone recommended me therapeutic boarding school. I would like to hear your experience to see whether I should plan for this. Also if you have any idea how I can request school service to deal with school avoidance, please let me know. worried mom


Nancy Chin is very good with children and teens who have asperger. She has done wonders with a child that my son went to elementary and middle school with. This boy who really had few social skills and had trouble fitting in is now a happy, motivated high school student. I highly recommend you call her at 925-299-1069. http://www.stepbystep4success.com/ Nancy-Can-Help


Hello! I work for an educational consulting firm called the Bodin Group. Our expertise is school placement, local and boarding, for young people who need specialized learning or therapeutic enviroments. We also provide assessment and other services. If you would like to learn more, please contact us for a free consultation/information gathering call or meeting.


The same thing happened with my teen daughter. 1) First call Berkeley's Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF) to learn your son's legal rights and develop a strategy for meeting them. 2) Tell the school's guidance counselor or principal, ''My child has an educational disability: an emotional disturbance''. Use those specific terms; the jargon alerts the staff to what is needed. The school will do a psychoeducational evaluation at their expense. 2) Also have an adolescent psychiatrist evaluate him. The MDs at Herrick Hospital's adolescent psych unit in Berkeley recommended Dr. Richard Pollack (925-945-1355). He charged $1400 up front; our insurance reimbursed $800. It would have been worth it even if we had to pay the full price. 3) An emotional disturbance is one of the qualifying conditions for an IEP, an Individual Education Plan, which entitles your child to specific Federal protections and services. Ask the school staff to set it up. 4) Learn about the signs a depressed teen may be considering suicide, and ask your son openly whether he's thinking of hurting himself. If he says yes, keep him within eyesight all the time until you reach help. 5) Learn now how to get emergency medical help if your child had suicidal thinking. In Alameda County, take your child to the ER at Alta Bates in Berkeley. Don't take him to Children's Hospital; a nurse there told me they don't evaluate kids over 12 for psych admission. (I'm not sure this is accurate). You may have to wait several hours to be seen if your child is not acting out acutely and more urgent emergencies (like heart attacks or accidents) need attention first. Take something to read. 6) If the MD judges him at immediate risk for hurting himself or others, he will declare your son a ''5150'', meaning he needs a 72-hour legal hold for evaluation. This will be done on Herrick's adolescent psych unit, the regional teen psych facility, which is outstanding. Your son will go by ambulance for his own safety. You can't ride with him, which sucks, but you can see him again at Herrick. 6) This is a lot of info to absorb. It's scary to have a child this depressed; know that you will be doing the right things to help your son. Best wishes to you and him. Nancy


Gosh, This email could have been written by me. My son is 14.5 years, academically bright, is not doing well in his current school environment, is anxious about going to school, kids pick on him there and he feels ''uncool''. He sleeps late, has a hard time waking up, grades have slipped, and all he wants to do is watch TV or play video games. As per the boarding school - I researched them all - 1) All the schools which are open to Aspergers are on the East Coast. 2) The really awesome one specifically for Aspergers (I forget the name) has an annual tution of $73,000.

However, the 4 local options are: Springstone School in Lafayette, Bay Hill High School in Oakland, Holden High School in Orinda and Orion Academy in Moraga.

You may be aware of all these places, however, please feel free to contact me directly if you have any more questions.

Wishing you the best. I know EXACTLY what you are going through. anon


You can have your son assessed for autism, PDD-NOS at the Regional Center of the East Bay. If he qualifies for services you will have case management and service coordination. Offices are in both Alameda and Contra Costa County. Good luck. Carol


I don't know about boarding schools, but if you're interested in checking out a small private high school for kids with learning differences look at Bayhill HS in Oakland. Our son was struggling in ways similar to yours and the change has been dramatic. He still has his issues and difficulties but the staff has been wonderful in helping him do his best. Also, once you get a diagnosis, call the Regional Center of the East Bay to ask for an evaluation. If they find your son eligible, there are behavior specialists who can come to your home and help with some of the difficult behaviors. Mom of teen with Asperger's Syndrome


Sorry, I don't have advice on particular boarding schools, but I wanted to respond to the post from Bodin associates about their placement and assessment services. A few years ago we paid for their services for my daughter, on the advice of her psychiatrist. I felt they had a very limited perspective on alternatives. Most of the programs they suggested were really designed for teens out of control, not for teens with depression, motivation, and more subtle social interaction problems. When I indicated I did not see the programs they were suggesting as a good fit for my daughter (whom I would have described at the time as depressed, and with nonverbal learning disability issues), the reaction of our consultant was that she guessed we were just not ready to take these steps. She had little to offer that did not involve what seemed to me quite extreme situations that in our assessment could have been a disaster for our daughter. The service was expensive, and may well be worthwhile for out of control kids, but for us it was an expense we could well have saved. Not a Bodin fan


I saw the response about Bodin and wanted to offer one other suggestion. We used McClure, Mallory and Baron to help us find a school for an ADHD (inattentive type) teen. Amanda Mallory helped us find a boarding school that worked for him. While they do offer theraputic placement help, they also have lots of experience finding schools that work for a wide range of student needs. They are in SF. www.mmbedu.com

There are also directories of boarding schools. You can find something that sounds interesting and then research on your own. Some of the families at my child's boarding school found it that way. Schools will provide references. I got names of several current and past parents and called them all. Good luck. anon


We also found consultants (we used McClure, Mallory, and Barron) unhelpful in a similar case. They made very strong recommendations for wilderness followed by schools that felt inappropriate, and against the school my gut told me was right. We felt guilt tripped -- told we were in denial, falling into the same bad habits that supposedly got us where we were, etc., even though the wilderness program director agreed that it wouldn't be a match. The process wasted time and money and confused my son. It seemed oriented towards teens who need to be separated from a detrimental peer group, have problems with substance abuse, etc. and not more complex or subtle profiles, such as my son's anxiety and learning disabilities. We went with our gut feeling, and our son flourished. It was a residential program back east that helps with emotional, social, and learning issues. At home he had failed in two private schools, refused school, and became socially isolated. He had been diagnosed with ''atypical'' Asperger's or high functioning autism, and schools talked of defiance or even megalomania. That was all wrong -- learning disabilities (masked by high IQ) kept him from doing the work until he had effective remediation, and anxiety made him withdraw, which fooled some professionals into thinking he had social skills issues.

When we told him he'd be schooled at home as long as it took to find the right school -- home study wasn't a permanent solution -- he became more cooperative and optimistic than we expected. Being in a supportive, structured residential situation was a big relief to him. Success, academic and social, turned things around. It was a very hard decision to send him away, but our relationship became so much better! But it was very expensive, and it's nearly impossible to get funding through a school district. Another problem with going away, is that we didn't have continued support when he returned -- but he left because we didn't have it here to begin with.

My information is a few years old, but have you looked into Glenholme School in CT or The Learning Clinic in Brooklyn, CT or Brehm School in Carbondale, IL? Those admissions directors are well connected, and you can ask them if there are other schools you should consider. wishing you the best


Student with mild aspergers looking for high school

June 2009

I'm looking for information about Orion Academy and Orinda Academy. My daughter has very mild aspergers, and we are worried about her placement at a high school for typical kids. We want her to have a good social environment during the high school years where she can make friends. Can anyone tell me if Orion Academy students have mild aspergers, or are the students more severely affected? Also, we have been told Orinda Academy would be a good place for her, but I'm worried that the students don't have special needs, and she won't have friends there. Please advise if you have experience with either school. Thanks. aspie mom


Orinda Academy has many students with a variety of special needs, including Asperger's, and caters to them with small classes, lots of individual attention, careful academic monitoring, and efforts to build a supportive, accepting community. The school just doesn't like to position itself as a special needs school. This baffles some of its parents and pleases others. Visit for a day. Summer school starts soon, if it's not already in session. Summer school is a little different from the regular academic year, and gets a somewhat wider spectrum of students, but visiting now will still introduce you to many of the teachers and several of the regular students who are either making up missed work or getting ahead, and the general style of the place. If you like it, your daughter can visit for a day, too, and can shadow a current student. The administration can connect you with some of the Parent Group Board members, to answer specific questions from a parent's point of view. -Happy OA parent of successful LD kid


My son is at Orinda Academy and we couldn't be happier with the school. The philosophy of the school is that the very small classes and quick feedback make it possible to accommodate different learning styles while not in any way compromising a pre-college curriculum.

As for your daughter's mild asberger's, my advice would be to go to the school and ask for an interview with the head of the school, Ron Graydon. He is an extremely principled person who is not going to tell you that the school is right for her unless it is. I feel absolutely sure about this. He is very experienced and wise in terms of not only educational issues, but interpersonal dynamics amongst teens. P


Has your daughter visited either of the schools you're looking into? Our child's visit at Orion and the impressions shared with us told us a lot. I think that many students find a respite from teasing and bullying there and find it easier to make friends, but it's hard to say how an individual will fit in without trying it. The director's book will give you a good idea about the school's approaches and program. If you'd like to chat with us about our experience with Orion, you can contact me at yahoo.com. another parent


There was a post about Orinda Academy in the last 'parents of teens' newsletter (see 'Happy OA parent of successful LD kid') in which the writers said the school has many sudents with a variety of special needs, including Aspergers. I am a member of the parent group board and have run this post by the director of the school, Ron Graydon. Ron mentions that in the entire school there is only 1 student with very mild Aspergers, and that well-meaning posts like this one misrepresent the school's mission and student body. If your daughter is looking for a special needs school that specifically addresses Asperger's students you might consider Orion Academy in Moraga, or Springstone School in Lafayette. For a special needs education (not specifically Aspergers) you might try Sterne School in San Francisco or Star Academy in San Rafael (SA caters for grades 1 through 10). Orinda Academy provides an excellent, inclusive college prep environment for a diverse range of students, and it strives very well to accommodate moderate learning style differences and to provide a positive and supportive culture where all students can work to their potential. It has been hugely successful for our son, who is very bright but has focus issues.


I want to offer a suggestion to the parent looking at Orinda academy for their child with mild AS. I think that it is very important to the administration to protect their school from having a reputation for having LD children and the response from the director reflects that. It is not however in my opinion (as the parent of a child attending Orinda) that it was a typo. Orion is better suited for child with severe LD issues. Orinda could be an excellent choice for milder LD issues. It would depend on the issues your child faces. It is very small and most of the children have some type of concern that brings them to the school. The teachers are caring and available to work out individualized learning plans that can maximize your childC",b"s success. I think it is an excellent option that should be considered. I'm sorry that the administration shies away from acknowledging that. Been there parent


Another school in the Bay Area that serves students with special needs is Bayhill High School across from Lake Merritt in Oakland. The majority of Bayhill's students have learning differences but many students have social skills challenges, including mild Asperger's syndrome. Bayhill High School would be a less restrictive setting than Orion because there is more of a range of social profiles from very socially adept to Aspergers and NLD students. Bayhill has special education teachers, small classes, a multi-sensory approach to instruction, social skills groups and speech and language therapy, as well as a very positive and supportive school climate. If you would like to learn more, contact (510)268-1500. Rachel


As an MD and parent of two teens, one with mild LD, one without; one currently in Berkeley High School, one who went to a competitive private high school and is now a junior at an Ivy League college, I wanted to respond both to the HS for ''mild AS'' question and the private vs public HS, because I think there are some key principles here:

1) knowing your child and what they need for both support and appropriate challenges (and helping them recognize and advocate what they need for themselves)

2) recognizing that our understanding of LD/ADHD/AS/ASD is primitive; that diagnostic labels are imprecise shorthands for complex individuals who have a wide spectrum of specific difficulties and strengths, which also vary from quite mild (and occasionally overdiagnosed) to profoundly challenging.

So our child with LD/AS feels great about doing well academically at Berkeley High School. He has done well in part because of the study skills and routines he learned at his private elementary and middle school; in part, he has been in one of the small school programs and has had excellent responsive teachers--as good as most of those we have had in private schools. BHS has been accepting and even welcoming of his social eccentricities.

We expect we will be utilizing tutoring help in the future, and he has done pragmatic speech groups for social skills work. We looked at Orinda Academy, which I think would have been excellent for him, but he felt he did not need that level of structure--so far, he seems to be correct. But for other teens, Bayhill or Orion may be the environment in which they can thrive and learn.

Our experience of private schools has been positive--but far from ''real world''--of course there are great kids, families, opportunities--but the one overwhelming impression that sticks with me is--too much money and consumerism. Our older son felt underprivileged (FAR from true) when he wasn't spending spring break in Barbados. Of course your family is the primary determinant of culture--but I was troubled by the peer messages... even more true in private colleges--the amount of spending money many kids have is striking. And in retrospect, I'm sure our older son would have done just fine in public high school with good AP classes. learning as we go....


There is another wonderful school in Alameda, Children's Learning Center. C.L.C. has 2 campuses, one for grade school and the other for middle school and high school. C.L.C. provides are a small, warm, school environment with a thoughtful sensitive behavioral system, which encourages/supports students to grow and stretch. The classes are very small. The teacher's are amazing. The staff stays for years and years because it is such a supportive learning environment. There are spot on for academics. They work on supporting and learning social thinking (speech pragmatics, social skills). CLC provides a behavioral piece and services are a bit more intensive as I understand it than Bayhill. So, it is for a child or adolescent that needs a bit more structure and support. CLC has sports teams, cheerleading, and the best talent show. The info is: Children's Learning Center,1910 Central Avenue, Alameda, CA. 94501, phone 510-769-7100. Wishing you the best in your search!!! Parent of teen at C.L.C.


Best high school in Bay Area for mildlly autistic, bright boy

Nov 2008

I am moving back to the Bay Area and need to find the very best high school in the area for my 16 year old son who has mild autism and needs some support. Any suggestions as to which district/high school is best? Thanks so much.


If you're looking for a public high school, my son, who has Asperger's, did very well at Alameda High in the city of Alameda. The Special Ed team was very well organized and extremely supportive. They were also very good at getting in contact with me when there were issues, such as late homework. I highly recommend them. Nancy


School for "Spectrum" Kids

October 2002

We are looking for other parents of children with high functioning autism, Asperger's syndrome or similar non-verbal learning disorders. We are having great trouble finding an appropriate school for our boy. He is 15 and very very bright, but has sensory integration problems and a list of other things that make it impossible for him to survive (let alone thrive) in the public schools. This is a common problem among high functioning kids on the spectrum. Many can't function in the large, noisy, ''full inclusion'' setting for behavioural, language processing, and sensory reasons, but the smaller, ''special day classes'' are geared to students on a cognitively low level and so are equally pointless. There is supposed to be an epidemic of autism out there, and we KNOW there must be other families stuck in similar situations. Where are the good schools for these remarkable young people? They can grow up to make enormous contributions to society, and to make their way in the world. But they need the right educational setting, social skills training, and lots of attention. Can't we get together and form a school, or help the school districts form an appropriate school? At least we could share ideas. Please write to me. Tobie


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