What You Need to Know: Special Needs 2022 Trends and 2023 Predictions

Special Needs 2022 Trends and 2023 Predictions

Like our traditional school and college practices, our special needs group spent a great deal of time in 2022 getting back on the road visiting over 30 therapeutic programs in Utah and North Carolina and 20 schools offering both specialized and supportive learning services all over New England. Likewise, we hosted a number of therapeutic program representatives and school admission officers in our Boston and Southern Maine offices to understand how programs and schools are adapting to the changing special needs landscape.

Students with Emotional and Behavioral Challenges:
The past year can best be characterized as a “Perfect Storm” of factors colliding in the worlds of mental health needs among our young people. Primary among these factors are parents’ treatment preferences for their children and the rapidly changing landscape of programs available to those in need and seeking our guidance.

Sadly, we have seen a dramatic increase in the acuity of mental health challenges students are facing, particularly in the significant number of students hospitalized for suicidal ideation. We are also seeing an uptick in school refusal, emotional dysregulation, and co-occurring Autism Spectrum Disorder and complex mental health issues. At the same time, our trusted partners in the world of private behavioral health, who have put countless McMillan Education students on the road to health and healing over the years, have seen a decline in families seeking their services. Like our colleagues in private behavioral therapeutic programming, we have experienced a dramatic shift in parents’ preference for types of treatment programming and a heightened reliance among many parents on online information on treatment programs.

The shift in the therapeutic landscape can be attributed to four trends: 1.) the number of quality program closures that have occurred as a result of COVID-driven economic and staffing challenges; 2.) the rapidly increasing corporate buy-outs of private behavioral health care programming previously privately owned by highly experienced mental health care providers; 3.) parents’ demand for shorter lengths of stay in higher levels of mental health care programming and their preference for programming that resembles the corporate model of mental health care provision that is quickly buying out the private behavioral health industry and changing their proven methodology; 4.) online information and press coverage of the private behavioral health field that have been fraught with disinformation and celebrity sensationalism.

In the face of these disruptions, our goal continues to be to ethically serve students in need, ensuring that they have access to the best therapeutic programming in the world so that they can return to as typical an educational and developmental path as they are capable of achieving in as efficient a timeline as possible without compromising personal safety, quality of care, or sustainable outcomes. We hope that we will see the strengths of the private behavioral health care model survive COVID disruptions and corporate buy-outs in order that they can continue their history of transforming young people’s lives for the better. In the meantime, we remain committed to working only with the best private behavioral health programming and with families motivated to benefit from their particular services.

Students with Learning and Developmental Differences:
The impact of COVID on our most vulnerable students is undeniable. Those with learning differences are struggling more with the return to full-time in-person schooling. We have seen a dramatic increase in families in strong public school districts seeking smaller classrooms and more structured educational environments for their children with mild to moderate learning and attentional issues. We have also seen a significant uptick in younger children with Autism Spectrum diagnoses or features in need of an educational change. We continue to assist families whose students have specific learning disabilities and need either a traditional school with the right type of learning support or a specialized learning environment to remediate their learning disability.

It is our privilege to help parents understand the nuances of best fit education by unpacking the educational profile of their children and then aligning that profile with the educational choices where their children can thrive. Our youngest students are the most vulnerable, particularly those facing the challenges associated with Autism Spectrum, because there are few choices in the independent school market. Finally, we are seeing an increased competitiveness among specialized schools as a result of this heightened need and demand and are working closely with admission colleagues at these terrific schools to advocate for our students.

We predict that student need for specialized education and traditional education with learning support will continue to increase in the coming years. We look forward to seeing schools and programs continue to add to or adapt programming appropriately to meet these needs. Our special needs group of one developmental psychologist, three clinical social workers, two learning specialists and one occupational therapist love being our families’ advocates, support systems, and educators about education and child development. We look forward to the work ahead!

About The Author

Sarah McMillan, Ed.D.