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Nurturing Success, Supporting ADHD, High-Functioning Autism, and Executive Function Challenges

Building Academic and Emotional Resilience in Students with Learning Differences


By Stephanie Borges Folarin



Education is not one-size-fits-all. This truth is especially evident when it comes to students with unique learning profiles. For children and adolescents with ADHD, High-Functioning Autism (HFA), and executive function challenges, specialized schools, like Wye River Upper School, provide an invaluable support system tailored to their needs. These schools are designed to help students thrive academically and personally throughout the year, offering a range of strategies and interventions that foster growth, independence, and success.



At Wye River Upper School, we take a student-centric approach. We craft Student Support Plans that outline specific goals and strategies tailored to each student’s unique needs and abilities. These plans serve as roadmaps for teachers, ensuring that the curriculum and interventions are aligned with the student’s developmental stage and learning style. These support plans evolve with student growth and eventually are no longer needed. The ultimate goal with these plans is that our students learn to use all the tools and techniques they need to be successful academically and socially. Our Student Support Plans are the avenue we use to map the progress toward measurable goals for each student.




Cole and Molly '26 participate in a hands on activity to understand the theory of natural selection.

We also have an intentionally low student-to-teacher ratio. Smaller class sizes allow for more individualized attention and support, reducing distractions and helping students with ADHD or HFA stay engaged in learning. Our teachers are trained to understand and accommodate the needs of students with ADHD, HFA, and executive function challenges. They use evidence-based teaching methods, sensory-friendly classrooms, and structured routines to create an optimal learning environment. We are dedicated to making our school feel like a home away from home for all of our community members. When people feel comfortable, they work harder and smarter; our students are no exception.


We prioritize social skills development for our students with HFA because we fully understand that social interactions can be challenging for them. We provide targeted interventions, such as social skills groups during lunchtime, to help them build meaningful connections with peers and adults. 




Shawna Buckley talks with Zoey '28 during 8th grade study skill building class

Many of our students with ADHD, HFA, or executive function difficulties are sensitive to sensory stimuli. We support them by providing sensory rooms throughout the school and tools, like fidget tools and noise-canceling headphones, to help them regulate their sensory experiences and remain focused.

We offer dedicated training programs to strengthen executive function skills during our support periods and seminar groups. These programs teach students time management, organization, and planning skills, helping them become more independent and effective learners. Our students get at least an hour of explicit instruction and direction daily in these areas per day. 


At Wye River Upper School, we recognize the importance of collaboration between educators and parents. We facilitate regular communication and meetings to ensure that parents are actively involved in their child’s education and can reinforce strategies at home. Teaming with parents and students can only lead to better understanding and outcomes for everyone involved. We host Zoom conversations and in-person planning sessions, and we even have clinicians and educational events throughout the year to support our teaming with parents.


Dr. Amy Littlefield and Silas work on executive skills together

Together with the outstanding parents at Wye River Upper School, we support students academically and prepare them for transitions to higher education, the armed forces, or straight into the workforce. We offer guidance on college applications, vocational training, and job readiness, ensuring a smooth transition to adulthood. Our students take tours of colleges, have career day events, and can dual enroll at a local college in academic and trade fields while completing their high school career. Read more about WRUS College and Career Counseling. We regularly update our social media pages with stories of our alumni and how they are changing their communities and the world.


At Wye River Upper School, we know that by providing personalized student support plans, small class sizes, specialized instruction, and a range of support services, we empower students to overcome obstacles, build essential skills, and achieve their full potential. Our school is a second home for our students and parents, dedicated to positively transforming their lives. 



Definitions


ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder):

Students with ADHD often struggle with maintaining focus, impulse control, and organization. They may be highly intelligent but have difficulty effectively channeling their energy and attention in a traditional classroom setting.


High-Functioning Autism (HFA): 

HFA is a form of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) where individuals have average to above-average cognitive abilities but face challenges in social communication, sensory processing, and rigid thinking patterns.


Executive Function Skills: 

These skills encompass planning, organization, time management, and task initiation. Weak executive function skills can hinder a student’s ability to complete assignments, follow routines, and adapt to new situations.


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