The Lab School of Washington Shows the Limited Reach of Specialized Education

The Lab School of Washington is a private school specialized in providing support to students with learning differences, yet the school does not have the proper accommodations for students with a handful of other differences.

The Lab School of Washington (Lab) was created for students with language-based learning differences like ADHD/ADD and dyslexia. According to their site, they have 385 students.

The power behind this school lies in its staff and faculty, or as they call it, "staffulty". Their support staff includes speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists, social workers, and psychologists. For students with language-based learning differences, these services can help with specific needs in the classroom.

Director of Admissions and Enrollment Management, Dr. Robert Lane, helps families learn more about enrollment. Dr. Lane has worked in specialized education for years and found that the Lab School offers something different for students with language-based learning differences.

"It's coming to school each day with others who are just like you, and you don't need to spend cognitive energy not letting other kids hear the way you read out loud or see the level book that you are reading or what your handwriting looks like," Lane said.


While specialized institutions like Lab do a lot for students who otherwise wouldn't get such thorough support, it narrows down what students they can accommodate. 

Jaime Zindler is a professor at American University who teaches education students. Zindler has taken her students to The Lab School of Washington for several years and notes that her students are often taken aback by the fact that Lab does not have the necessary support for students with other differences.

"When my students come in for the tour and they learn that, typically, that leaves a very sour taste in my students' mouths," Zindler said. "It comes across as shocking,"

According to a 2020 report from the DC Office of the State Superintendent of Education, Lab serves students with "specific learning disabilities" and "speech, language, and health impairments", which means that they cannot support students with autism, deafness, blindness, development disturbances and more.

As an occupational therapist and administrative assistant for Lab, Julia Stein takes on this challenge firsthand. When a new student applies to Lab, Stein and other administrators review their files to ensure the student's support.

She finds that Lab's support is so niche that for other students, specifically those with autism, wouldn't find their program helpful. 

"Lab kids, they may need a social-emotional program, but it's not really geared towards autism," said Stein. "It's geared towards Lab kids. So Lab's social-emotional program is not geared toward the rigidity and the types of challenges a student with autism may have,"

According to Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD), a quarter of children with ADHD also have signs of high-functioning autism. CHADD states that ADHD is the most common coexisting condition for kids on the autism spectrum.  

In the case of Lab, this means that testing and evaluating students is crucial. When a student applies to Lab who may not have the support they need, Lab does what it can to redirect and support those families. For students who may see changes in the support they require, Lab provides what it can. 

"We then start working to find ways internally to help the student," Lane said. "You know, are there ways we can tweak certain things? And depending on what the need is if it is just too far out of our expertise or we don't have resources that would be ideal to support that, and in those rare situations, we then help the family find other resources," 

The Lab School provides resources that many other schools don't. They help students who have faced challenges in the classroom be successful and regain confidence. While their niche realm of support limits what students they can help, for the student they can uplift, it makes all the difference.

"I think having our focus here is what helps our students be as successful as they are. So it's not that we don't like other types of students or don't want other types of students," Lane said.