by Rebecca Grappo
Many families find, to their dismay, that the needs of their exceptional children may not be easily met in a foreign environment.
In our years of experience working with internationally mobile families and their children, many have found that with careful planning and coordination, their children have wonderful educational opportunities in either international or local schools. But this is too important to be left to chance. Thus, preparation and investigation is key to a student’s ultimate success overseas.
There are many factors to consider, therefore, if a family is contemplating an overseas assignment when it involves a child with special needs. Here are my “Top Ten” tips for those considering such an assignment.
- If you live in a country with reputable psychologists who can thoroughly evaluate your child’s learning needs, be sure to have updated psycho-educational testing done for your child before you leave your home country. Know and understand the diagnosis and what the recommendations are to meet your child’s needs. These recommendations are usually a combination of home and school interventions.
- Identify schools in the new location of the assignment to see which schools might be able to meet the recommendations. Remember that just because a school might say it accepts students with special needs doesn’t mean they are equipped to deal with ALL kinds of special needs. Some may accept mild learning needs only; others may be able to work with moderate needs. In my experience, it is not easy to find a school that can work with severe special needs. Engage in a dialogue with the receiving school before accepting the assignment, not after.
- Find out who the personnel are who are delivering the special needs services. What are their qualifications? Where were they trained? How long do they expect to be in country – forever, because they live there, or are they also expats who will be moving on one day?
- Investigate how services are delivered. Is it a study hall with homework help? Are they teaching learning strategies for overcoming certain needs? Does the school have specialists on staff for extra reading or math help? How often will your child/teen be in the learning support classroom each day or week? How receptive are the other teachers in the school to making accommodations or modifications to the curriculum? Are they cooperative or see working with special needs students as an extra burden?
- If your child needs certain medications, will these medications be available at your destination? Certain prescription drugs, for example those that might be used for ADHD, might not be available locally and there are limits to how much can be brought into the country at one time.
- What about other therapies? Some students need physical therapy, mental health counseling, occupational therapy, speech and language, etc. Will these be available through the school or will the family be expected to find these independently in the community? Again, look for the training of those delivering the services and their ability to take on new students or clients.
- Some families consider homeschooling to meet their children’s educational needs. If this is an option that your family considers, then investigate how your child might get the socialization that is also crucial to development. In the United States, for example, many homeschoolers find peer groups in their own community, but this homeschooling community may not exist in the country of destination. Also, homeschooling is illegal in some countries, so make sure that this is addressed before you embark on this path.
- Will the school you have identified actually accept your child and deliver the services promised at the time of acceptance? I would strongly encourage to get any agreements in writing in order to be sure that everyone is on board with the school acceptance and services needed.
- Ask how the school will communicate with you with regards to your child’s goals and progress. In the U.S., public schools write Individualized Education Plans, or IEPs, that define the goals, milestones and methods to achieve those markers. Will the school write some kind of agreement like this? How often will they communicate with you regarding your child’s progress? Will parents be welcome to collaborate with the school or will they be kept at arm’s length?
- Finally, if you find that your child’s needs cannot be met at any school in your country of assignment, maybe it would be in your child’s or teen’s best interest to exercise the boarding school option. All children need to be in an accepting, supportive, and encouraging environment where their needs will be met. For a developing adolescent, this becomes even more critical. To not receive this kind of educational environment could significantly impact the adolescent’s opportunities and even desire for post-secondary university or vocational education.
Rebecca Grappo, M.Ed, is a Certified Educational Planner and the founder of RNG International Educational Consultants, LLC. She and her daughter, Michelle (who is trained as a school psychologist) work with students and families around the world to help them find the right educational setting to meet their children’s needs. This includes placement for all kinds of boarding schools, therapeutic schools and programs, university planning, and planning for post-secondary options for students with special needs. You can learn more about their services at www.rnginternational.com or write them at firstname.lastname@example.org.