Packing up and moving to another country is an exciting yet stressful proposition. Finding schooling for your children abroad can be another mammoth task to tick off your growing to do list. If your child has a diagnosed learning difficulty or particular special educational needs, it can be even more important to get it right.Special needs include:
• Physical challenges that make it harder for your child to access traditional classrooms
• Developmental disabilities
• Living with an illness or disease
• Learning difficulties
• Behavioural challenges
Children with special needs may find it particularly unsettling to move to a new school in a new country. Parents should try to be flexible with their expectations and allow their children plenty of time to begin to feel comfortable with their new setting, new classmates and new teachers.
The school you choose can have profound effects on your child and their academic progress. These effects can be either positive or negative, and as the stakes are so high, it really is important to choose the right international school for your special needs child. Here’s how to do just that.
Put In The Ground Work
Research schools in your new city thoroughly and read as much as you can about the school resources, staff and ethos. Get copies of their official exam results and compare them against national levels. Ask for recommendations from your employer, Human Resources or relocation teams as well as other colleagues who have also made an international move with children. It’s also a good idea to scope out the school’s social media pages, as these will show you how parents are feeling about the school and will give you a more informal look at special events and community connections.
Tour The School With Purpose
Many parents feel a little intimidated when touring a new school and so tend to silently be shown around, allowing the headteacher or marketing department (in a private school) to lead the discussions. Instead, go armed with questions about enrolment, attainment, assessments and special programming.
Be sure to ask the following questions:
• How will you motivate and support my child to succeed?
• How will you communicate problems or praise with me?
• What other educational professionals will be working alongside the teachers?
• What specialised equipment or resources do you provide?
• What special training and education do the teachers have?
• How large are the classes?
When you look around the class and resource rooms, imagine how your child will use these spaces and think carefully about whether they would be a good fit for your child’s unique needs. For example, if your child becomes easily overwhelmed and overstimulated, is there a safe and calming place to decompress with a trusted aide? If your child uses a wheelchair, is there appropriate access to all parts of the school?
Ask what provisions or programs are in place to support your child if they initially struggle after the move.
Find A Local Support Team
Look into local support groups for parents of children with special needs. These will help you find a wealth of practical information, school recommendations and emotional support. They may also plan and organise social events and activities to help your child to settle into their new community and feel right at home. If you are moving to another country, make sure you understand local laws and protocols for registering children at school, and make sure you have all the right documentation at hand. Try to find another parent who has previously made the same move; learn from their mistakes and ask them how to avoid common pitfalls.
Give the school as much information as possible about your child before they start. Tell them all the wonderful and interesting things about your child that make them unique. Talk about their passions, and the things that they like to talk about. Fill them in on any particular activities or occasions that your child may find difficult to allow them to prepare and try to avoid situations that will put undue stress on your son or daughter. Let them know exactly what is normal for your child. After all, nobody knows them like you do and you are the best person to act as an expert on their behalf.
At this stage, you’ll no doubt have talked about the move with your child at length. Give them lots of opportunities to share any worries they may have and be understanding that this a big change for them too. Remind them of other times they have had to overcome difficult circumstances, such as if they have had to endure surgeries or doctor’s appointments, or times when they persevered and learned new skills. Be their biggest cheerleader, but expect some setbacks or even regressions in behaviour or developmental steps at the beginning while they adapt.
If possible, volunteer your time in the school or classroom so that you become well-known in the school. This will help you feel part of your new community. Ask if you can come in regularly to read to the children, organise school supplies or help with sports.
If you are not free to volunteer in the daytime, book a day off and offer to accompany the class on a field trip, or help out at school and community events after school or at the weekend. Likewise, sign your child up to appropriate extracurricular activities if they would like to participate, offer your time to coach classes or simply be an enthusiastic spectator.
Your whole family is embarking on an exciting adventure in a new country and while this may sometimes be challenging, the experience will hopefully be hugely beneficial to your child in the long run.