School for children with learning disabilities focuses on life lessons

Published: Oct. 9, 2019 at 6:09 PM EDT
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Most of the 70 students at a special school in Irvine, California, have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism or anxiety issues.

The school's curriculum is based on mounds of research from the National Institutes of Health and the University of California, and the students are learning life lessons that will help them just as much as reading, writing and arithmetic will.

Students at UC Irvine's Child Development Center learn more than history and science.

"What the program aims to do is teach those social skills or those communication skills that we don't necessarily put any emphasis on in traditional schooling," Executive Director Dr. Sabrina Schuck said.

Fourteen-year-old Dominic Caito has been here since second grade when his ADHD started to make public school tough. He's thrived here.

"It was really important for him to be in an environment where he could be successful, and so the extra prompting, the extra time if necessary, the extra coaching would help him kind of get through the things he needed to get through," said Michael Caito, Dominic's father.

The kids get training in communication, behavior, anger and anxiety management, and more. And there's a behavioral specialist in class for positive reinforcement.

"Having the relationship with the teacher but also the behavioral specialists that are in the classroom that are constantly giving the feedback, the feedback, the feedback, which goes with his personality of the ADHD," said Carol Caito, Dominic's mother.

Schuck pioneered the middle school program and still tweaks the curriculum.

"It is very much a laboratory school environment in which we are collaborating with investigators across the university to try new things that we believe support our mission and our model and are in line with our philosophy," she said.

Parents take an eight-week training program and go to weekly meetings so they can help ease the kids from school back into real life.

UC Irvine is expanding and in September will open the children's school for 119 students. It will be a private school at first, and tuition will be about $36,000. But Schuck and her team will apply for certifications to make the school accessible to more families.



BACKGROUND: ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders of childhood. First diagnosis usually occurs in childhood and often lasts into adulthood. Children with ADHD may have trouble paying attention, controlling impulsive behaviors, or be overly active. In addition to behavioral therapy and medication, having a healthy lifestyle can make it easier for your child to deal with ADHD symptoms. Approximately 9.4 percent of children 2-17 years of age (6.1 million) had ever been diagnosed with ADHD. There are approximately 388,000 children ages 2-5 years old with ADHD, 2.4 million children ages 6-11, and 3.3 million children ages 12-17. About 1 out of 2 children with ADHD has a behavior or conduct problem, and about 1 out of 3 children with ADHD have anxiety. Other conditions affecting children with ADHD are depression, autism spectrum disorder, and Tourette Syndrome. (Source: and

PUBLIC VS PRIVATE FOR ADHD: Some items to take into consideration when deciding on public vs private school is children don't have to test into public schools. They don't have admissions interviews which can easily call attention to ADHD. By law, public schools must prove they are doing everything in their power to help all children thrive. Homework tends to be lighter in public schools and there's less pressure to over-stimulate the child with after-school activities. A big consideration is your child can't be forced out and public schools are free. When considering private school, class size is usually smaller with better teacher-to-student ratios. Academic programs may be more challenging, which can be a plus for bright children who get bored easily. Many private schools offer extra help, like speech therapy, after class instead of during regular classroom time, which is less stigmatizing. And, once you get into a private school, testing isn't as crucial as it is in public schools. Involved in much of the research done at University of California, Irvine, over the past 30 years, Sabrina Schuck, PhD, Executive Director, Child Development Center, is currently pioneering the development of a new school in the community modeled after The Child Development Center School. Schuck says, "there are two paraprofessional behavior specialists in each class of 15 kids for positive reinforcement." (Source:

FIDGETING MAY IMPROVE MEMORY: Challenges are faced by people with ADHD when calling on an important brain capacity called working memory, which is the ability to process information while solving math problems or answering a science or history exam question. In 2016, Florida State University researchers set out to see if children really turned to movement specifically to amp up working memory. In tests of 25 boys and girls, ages 8 to 12, that involved remembering small, random lists of numbers and letters and putting them in alphabetical or numerical order. Researchers sometimes told the children how many items would be in the test, while other times they didn't. The kids moved 25 percent more when they didn't know what to expect. "It's another piece of evidence that the hyperactive behavior more and more seems to be purposeful for them," lead researcher Michael Kofler, assistant professor of psychology at FSU, said. "This movement is how they get the juices flowing." Kofler is working on developing new, non-drug treatments aimed at improving working memory in people with ADHD. Movement is a component. It may also help explain why some research has found kids with ADHD performed better on tests after exercising. (Source: