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The Year-Long Admission Cycle in Neurodivergent Independent Schools

By Portia York posted 06-27-2022 01:34 AM

AISAP Blog Post,

Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, ADHD, Executive Function Disorder, ASD, and many other learning deficit diagnoses, accompanied by acronyms, float around a neurodivergent school, especially this time of year in the admissions office. The admissions cycle is strikingly different in neurodivergent independent schools than it is in traditional independent schools. Neurodivergent schools like to say that we start our re-enrollment process around the same time frame as traditional private schools allowing a similar window and process for families to return contracts. However, we branch pretty far away from traditional private schools with prospective families and new enrollment.

This process literally happens all year, including the summer months. When a family learns about our school through Google searches, referrals from psychologists, schools, or parents, it is their goal to share detailed information about their child’s learning challenges with high hopes that our school can academically and socially support their children. The calls often start like this:

Parent: Hello, my child is diagnosed with a reading disability, math disability, and ADHD. She used to love school and now she does not like going to school, and she feels like she doesn’t have any friends.

Me: I’m sorry to hear that she is experiencing that. Let’s talk more about what is going on with her learning. What grade is she in? How is she doing in school? Also, do you have a recent psychological-educational report that you can share with me? That would allow me to review the testing and get a better understanding of what she is dealing with.

Parent:  Yes, I can share that with you. She is in the 5th grade and her grades are okay, except for math. She now has anxiety and feels like she is not as smart as her peers anymore, but she has an above average IQ. It is affecting her self-esteem. It breaks my heart to see her go into a shell.

Me: I understand. Let’s schedule time for you to come in. It’s a chance to tour the school and witness the teaching and learning that takes places in classes.

Conversations like this happen all year. Many times, while parents are visiting the school and explaining more details about their child’s educational challenges, they shed tears from being overwhelmed with navigating appropriate educational and therapeutic channels for their children. They also witness the pain that their children endure when they are not receiving the support that can help them succeed. They even share with me that hearing the news about the diagnoses attached to their child was a relief, but also disheartening because they had a different educational vision for their child. As I hand them tissue to wipe the tears from their eyes when they are in my office, I recognize that it’s not only the diagnosed child who is experiencing confusion and feelings of deficit, but the parents as well.

Navigating in the seat of an admissions professional at a neurodivergent school requires empathy, active listening, being solution-focused, and stocking up on plenty of soft Kleenex. We often serve in a counseling capacity for the family. We present a ray of hope.

The shining light through this inquiry and admissions process is that there are many schools like The John Crosland School throughout the country that support students with average IQ that are diagnosed with specific learning differences, ADHD, and ASD. Our role in admissions is to take a deep dive into the academic and social emotional learning requirements for each of the students that we are equipped to enroll and support. 

Portia York
Director of Advancement
John Crosland School



07-19-2022 06:31 PM

Thank you for writing this, Portia, and for the work you do.

Although I spent only one year serving as a Director of Admission, there are two families that came through my process that I'll never forget. One had a daughter attending a school for gifted children--she was experiencing extreme anxiety. The other had a little boy who was afraid to go back to his school--the victim of bullying. Both children had lost their 'sparkle' and the parents were devastated. I was able to arrange for each of them to spend a day on campus with us and in just that one day, their joy and sense of belonging were palpable. Both enrolled mid-year and they absolutely thrived. 

More recently, my daughter was diagnosed with a combination of Dyslexia and ADHD. This time, we were the parents needing support. I'm so thankful for the amazing team at Rawson Saunders School in Austin for supporting our family and fostering a learning environment where our daughter can shine. 

The work done in admissions is meaningful. It changes lives. 💛

06-28-2022 08:46 AM


This is a very insightful blog. I work at a school for intellectually gifted students. While the circumstances are slightly different, we have comparable experiences when families realize that their child's current school simply is not meeting their child's needs because of how much they differ intellectually from the rest of their school's population. In many cases, these students attend the finest public schools in our state, yet their academic, social, and/or emotional needs as gifted learners are not being met. This is exacerbated when the student is twice-exceptional (2e), with giftedness being one exceptionality along with another exceptionality. The traits that you shared as important for admissions professionals in such situations are spot on, and I thank you for sharing them with the larger community of admissions professionals!