How to educate children who don’t fit the typical school mould

How to educate children who don’t fit the typical school mould

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Chamberlain International School advises parents on how to identify and help their children with learning or behavioural problems at school. [Contributed by Chamberlain International School]

A common complaint of mainstream education is that it doesn’t cater to the wide variety seen in children’s personal characters, moods and learning styles. Too often children are left behind by a one-fits-all education, and not all schools can supply the teaching support for those children who learn in different ways.

There are many things that can affect the way your child learns: mood disorders, learning disabilities, ADHD, autism, non-verbal learning disorders, anxiety, depression, attachment disorder, PTSD and borderline personality traits.

Without the right support, these learning differences and emotional health issues can decrease a child’s performance and esteem, where otherwise they would thrive with the right support. Thankfully a niche of schools are increasingly identifying and catering to a range of learning and emotional difficulties, allowing flexible education methods and child-focused teaching support. Chamberlain International School, for example, has created an education model that allows flexible teaching styles and child-focused support so students aren’t hindered to learn in their own way and at their own pace.

As experts in the fields of learning disabilities and supportive education, Chamberlain International School answers some FAQs to help parents identify red-flag learning signals and provide the support that their children need both at school and at home.

When should parents consider specialised education for their child?

As a parent or teacher, it is important to know what to look out for and how to identify when learning or behavioural symptoms are hindering a child’s ability to learn in a normal education setting.

The earlier parents and educators can identify that a child may need special services, the better. With earlier intervention there is a higher chance your child will need less intensive support and for a shorter amount of time.

Parents should look out for frequent teacher reports that their child is not complying with classroom expectations such as sitting still, focusing on schoolwork for an age appropriate amount of time or getting along with other students. 

Other behaviours to note include excessive crying, arguing, forgetfulness and avoidance of specific tasks, particularly avoiding or refusing to go to school. Listen if your child has certain complaints such as having no friends, being teased by others or reports the teacher doesn't like them. All of these could be a result of the child's disability or another issue at school.

If you see your child struggling, parents should initially work with teachers to find non-specialised education methods to address the issue, but if they are not able to be successful then specialised education may be required for your child to improve, such as a school with special services.

Ongoing academic, behavioural or social failures in the classroom over the course of time can add to a child's distress and potentially require more frequent and intense interventions in the long-term.

How to educate children who don’t fit the typical school mould

What factors in the classroom should you consider to help your child with learning disabilities thrive?

It’s important a child feels comfortable learning in their own way, and teaching methods should incorporate a range of social and emotional tools your child needs to learn.

Chamberlain International School has experienced that children with learning difficulties perform better when teaching techniques include 1:1 support as needed, small group settings and alternate means of assessment. They have seen children learn better when the education style breaks down larger concepts into more manageable pieces.

When teaching is personalized, each student can also learn in a way that makes sense to them. In the classroom at Chamberlain, for example, a different teaching strategy is used depending on the profile of each student. There are also many technological devices and resources that are quite useful for children learning with disabilities and the school tries to use as many devices needed to encourage students to interact with learning their curricular topics.

It is also important to tailor and be flexible with the expectations of each student. An example of this would be to disprove a child with ADHD for not focusing on academic content for a long time. Instead a teaching style that allows them movement breaks and a sensory diet means a child is not pushed above and beyond their capabilities and feels like a failure.

What education methods can encourage children with learning disabilities?

When choosing the right style of education for your child, consider how behavioral disruptions affect their classroom learning. To decrease disruptive behaviours or ease interactions, it’s important to consider a variety of resources to promote learning and decrease external stimulus, allowing a child to focus on the curriculum instead.  

A strength-based model that includes extrinsic rewards can also be helpful for some students. In Chamberlain international School, for example, the rewards are developed by interdisciplinary teams including students.  Through reinforcements, an expectation is that there will be an increase in children’s positive behaviour toward increasing their achievements and wanting to spend time spent on learning.

Trust and relationships are also particularly important for a child to feel comfortable. In a general education setting, the support might be as little as providing students with copies of teacher's notes, or decreasing the length of their assignments and allowing a modified curriculum. 

Additionally, teaching children how to direct their actions to positive solutions can help those who frequently run into difficult situations. Children need to know how to independently consider a number of options and choose their best outcome. On a basic level, one model of problem-solving is to review any problems your child runs into at school and discuss how they might have handled that problem differently.

How to educate children who don’t fit the typical school mould

How can parents support their children at home? 

It is encouraged for parents to speak to their children about their day at school, particularly to pick up early warning signs. If anything they are reporting sounds unusual, parents should ask more questions about it and not feel shy to follow up with the school for more information. 

Some parents find it useful to keep a ‘communication journal’ with their child’s teacher that goes back and forth daily for the teacher to comment on the child's day. Besides giving parents information to chat with their child at home, children also benefit from knowing their parents and teachers are working as a team. 

Parents can additionally support their children at home by using similar strategies as their child uses at school for consistency. It is also recommended to praise children for any genuine effort with schoolwork regardless of grades. Providing unconditional, positive regard for children encourages them to keep trying and that they have their parents' love and respect regardless of success at certain tasks.  

Why is education different at Chamberlain School?

Chamberlain International School has a long history and experience helping a diagnostically diverse student population between the ages of 11 and 21 years.

Chamberlain’s philosophy is that all children are capable of achieving goals in the vital areas of their life, if they are provided the right support for their needs. Helping students achieve academic and social success is also an important part of Chamberlain’s principles. They focus on engaging and teaching students and their families how to develop the skills needed to manage their lives to their highest potential.

Chamberlain’s students benefit from low student to teacher ratios so every child can receive the support they need to focus on learning. Since the school’s establishment in 1976, its teaching delivery has incorporated a range of treatment teams and specialists, which together allow them to provide the kind of comprehensive services any student might need. For this reason, the faculty and staff at Chamberlain incorporate a range of skills from social skills coaching and psychiatry to mood regulation and redirection of challenging behaviour. At Chamberlain, a child is encouraged to develop three main parts of their learning — educational, clinical and student life — and learn how to use all these parts of their lives in cooperation and towards successful goals.

Chamberlain is SEVIS-approved by US immigration to accept international students and issue an I-20. The school offers college preparatory and general education courses to both middle and high school students, and is currently an IB candidate school.

Some students stay beyond grade 12 to participate in a transition program, which can involve an apprentice program, college studies or both. Chamberlain offers a diploma, otherwise credits are transferrable to local high schools (if applicable) for those who wish to receive a diploma there.

Chamberlain is an inclusive co-educational day and boarding school that offers comprehensive education for students with learning differences and emotional health issues. The school bases their education methods on current research and 40 years of experience.

For more information, you can visit or email Michelle Gosselin at


Contributed by Scott Davignon, M.Ed. and Colleen Quaile, LMHC / Chamberlain International School
Chamberlain International School

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