Going International with Special Needs Children

Submitted and written by ISR member:

Going International with a special needs child can make it tough to find a good school match, but it is well worth the search on the front-end because the consequences of having a poor match of schools can be devastating for your child.

Some schools flat-out state that teachers with kids who have any kind of learning differences or special needs, Need NOT Apply! This can be the danger of having an existing IEP and assuming it will be addressed in a competent manner.

Many  “need not apply” schools insist they are keeping a ‘high standard of education’ when in reality the teachers simply do not have a strong background in differentiated learning. The longer some educators have been teachers overseas, I have seen them hide behind the old fashioned instructional/traditional insistence that kids who learn differently are not capable of achieving great things when they have multiple strategies/assessments in their corners. Don’t be fooled. The best practice schools can manage a highly competitive IB or AP HS program and still maintain high expectations for kids with learning disabilities.

The state department uses some wonderful consultants through Families in Global Transitions. They are familiar with strong international academic support programs. You want to scour websites and read philosophies carefully. You need to ask extensive questions of existing staff because often those schools have experienced a turnover in academic support services.

Listen for that attitude of “all kids can learn and our job is to have have high expectations for them.” With the right environment, the small class sizes can be miraculous. In the wrong setting, when you add the transition stress and often the language differences, as well as your own adjustment and starting new jobs, settling in, and the dynamic of living in a fish bowl with your colleagues, it is hard to be the parent advocate the kids deserve.

With that said, however, the researches also say that the kind of lifestyle that opens up a kid’s mind and stretches their understanding of the world can also open up brain neurons they never knew they had.

We invite you to participate in this discussion, share information, ask questions and provide support.

Do feel free to list resources and the names of schools with comprehensive special needs programs. But school bashing is strictly prohibited and any such posts will be removed and the poster blocked.

43 thoughts on “Going International with Special Needs Children

  1. As a special educator I can truly say that I have NOT yet seen any international schools doing special education well. Sure there are some schools who are preaching they are fully inclusive and have small programs for children who do not have truly extreme special needs but for the most part unless a child’s need is extremely mild they can not be accommodated.

    Many international schools I have taught at had very small classroom sizes which is a benefit for all children but especially special needs. The children are usually from educated backgrounds so that creates a learning environment without the difficulties associated with poverty.

    The fact that there are so many ESL kids in some international schools is also helpful for children with mild learning disabilities because it brings the overall instructional level down and slows the pace of instruction.

    However is a family has a child with moderate to severe needs or behavioral issues I would NOT advise they go overseas because you can get into a very terrible situation. At my last school there was a family that adopted a child internationally. The child had multiple problems: learning, behavioral, severe reactive attachment disorder, and was extremely intelligent and creative. This child was expelled after numerous incidents at the school. The father had to continue working in the country and the mother had to return to country of origin with the child. The child was placed in a residential school catering to children with psychiatric needs. After 6 months the child created a terrible incident at that facility and was prosecuted under the law as an adult due to the nature of the offense. Now the child is serving a 25 to life sentence in a prison. A very sad, stressful situation for the parents who nearly lost their marriage as a result.

    So the bottom line is in elementary if your child is perfectly behaved and does not make waves usually they are allowed to stay if the gap between their learning and the grade level is not too big but beyond that forget it. In middle school and high school where the focus is often on gaining admission to elite universities children with needs are often not welcome.

    Bangkok has a nice school catering to children with moderate disabilities but it is not an international school.

    One positive thing about being international is in some countries parents can afford to hire nannies or private teachers which may be a viable option for some. Many international schools, if approached by a parent, may consider allowing social inclusion for sports or after school programs especially if the parent explains the nature of the difficulties and is willing to send their nanny to supervise the child.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I can’t believe I missed this posting earlier because it speaks to the heart of what I do. Someone in one of the first threads referred to educational consultants and the organization Families in Global Transition – that might have me they were referring to since I presented there last year on working with special needs children overseas.

    I’ve been working in international education for 20 years now, first as a classroom teacher, then education advisor for State Department families that had special needs children, and now I am in private practice as an ed consultant. I work with all kinds of kids, but my specialty is working with all the kids you all have just described who are in situations overseas that can no longer meet their academic or psychological needs. I could tell story after story of great kids that lost hope and gave up on themselves because they were in situations that were not a good fit for them. As I just told a student this week, let’s not assign blame. It’s not about the school being “good” or “bad”, but rather, it just wasn’t the right learning environment for him.

    The reasons why have already been covered thoroughly by other contributors to this blog. My focus is on “ok, what’s next?” I work with families to help them find the setting that IS right for their child. By the time they find me, they have usually tried all options unsuccessfully and the child/teen is feeling terrible about themselves. I always tell parents the two mistakes I see most often are that they 1) remain too hopeful, and 2) wait too long before taking action.

    I also appreciate the comments of one reader who mentions the backdrop of TCKs with these learning differences. I think that makes a huge difference in many, many ways – too many to go into here. But I touch on that in one of my recent articles for the Foreign Service Journal on “Promoting Your Child’s Emotional Health”.
    The link is http://www.afsa.org/FSJ/0611/index.html#/74/ and it starts on p. 75.

    I have written on this topic before and will include some links for those interesting in learning more about special needs kids and international schools.

    “Taking Your Special Needs Kids Overseas: What to Know Before You Go” is at http://www.expatwomen.com/expat-women-mothers/taking-special-needs-child-overseas.php

    “Five Things to Know Before Taking Your Special Needs Child Overseas”

    “Special Needs Children and Parenting Abroad”

    and my favorite piece because it is a reflection piece about one of my students I worked with on college applications

    “Learning Disabilities, Self-Esteem and Future Plans: What Does It Mean for Students in International Schools?”

    Maybe one day I can be of help to the some of you as parents. Maybe one day you will have a student in one of your classes and realize that your school is no longer the right fit for this child/teen. I hope that you keep me in mind…my heart lies in working with these kids. You can contact me at rebecca@rebeccagrappo.com, or visit my website for more info.


  3. Teachers headed to Shanghai might want to check out The Essentials Learning Group. They offer tons of learning services and a specialized program as well as advice on choosing an international school for your child.

    I haven’t had any direct dealings with the center itself (it was formed after I left Shanghai), but I have worked with several of the staff in a professional capacity and they were all top notch.

    Here’s the site.



  4. I think this article paints an overly optimistic picture of what most international schools can really do for kids with learning disabilities. While they’re a good start, it takes way more than “high expectations” and “can-do” attitude to educate a child with special needs.

    You wouldn’t hire a podiatrist to do your triple bypass, even if he had all the enthusiasm in the world. It’s the same way with education. If the school doesn’t have people on staff (or enough of them) who can deliver what your child needs to learn, all the warm-fuzzies in the world aren’t going to make a good learning situation out of a poor one.

    I do agree with this article’s main point, however. As a parent taking a special needs child overseas, it’s important to do your homework. Some tips from working on both the admissions and counseling sides of international schools:

    While researching:

    – You can often find the school’s special needs policy on their admissions webpage.
    – Explore what services are available in the community. Check and see how often they are offered, where and if there are any wait lists.
    – Get school information from the embassy
    – Use your network to connect with teachers currently at the school.
    – Some overseas communities have a special needs support group for expat parents. This can be a great resource for school information.

    Before accepting a job offer:

    – Discuss how the school will meet your child’s needs before signing a contract.
    – Be direct and specific about what your child needs to learn and ask how the school will meet those needs.
    – Ask to speak with a special ed teacher or other professional who will work with your child at school.
    – Get your child’s take on changing schools, living overseas, etc.

    If the school seems hesitant due to your child’s needs:

    – Try problem solving. Sometimes its a matter of obtaining updated testing or providing more info.
    – Talk about the outside resources you plan to utilize (language therapy, tutoring, etc.).
    – Offer to put the school in touch with your child’s current teachers/principal/therapists for a better picture.
    – As a last resort, ask if the school will accept your child on conditional or probationary status during your initial contract.
    – In my experience, most schools will bend pretty far to accommodate the needs of a teaching candidate’s child. But despite your best efforts, they may still say no. Hard as this can be, it may save you and your child from a bad situation and much bigger problems down the road.

    Before you leave for an assignment:

    – When submitting your child’s application send all requested documentation with the application, including IEPs, testing results, school records, etc.
    – Ask about class placement and if you can have input into the type of teacher your child will have
    – Keep your child busy reading and do some work on academic skills over the summer.
    – Schedule therapy sessions and doctor’s appointments as early as possible to avoid waits at the start of the school year
    – Put a plan in place for medications and gather your initial supply
    – Gather your child’s educational history and carry it with you, including records, prescriptions, test results and therapy progress reports. (Don’t put it in your shipment!)

    Before the first day of school:

    – If your child benefits from a “trial run,” arrange to tour the school and meet teachers one on one.


    1. Thank you for posting an excellent list. It is clear and comprehensive–very helpful information. To clarify the ‘overly optimistic and can-do attitude”, the original post was in response to children with undiagnosed and mild learning needs who had gotten ‘lost in the transition and shuffle’ between overseas schools. It was intended for those children who have/will continue to survive in the international school environment but often at a cost–namely low self-esteem, stress and anxiety. TCKs are among the least identified as multiple transitions can mask the needs and parents are often busy with the logistics of the move/settling in. This topic was identified after interviewing students, parents, teachers and counselors about the importance of identifying (not labeling) and understanding the unique needs of TCKs. It seemed a bonus to have teachers from around the world begin to identify where that support was happening today–not just written on the school’s website, but in reality.


  5. This article is right on time. I am a SPED teacher with other certifications and have one child with mild autism/ADHD. He’s always been in mainstreamed classes. I have accepted a job with a school in Hong Kong for the next school year. In making a decision about schools, this issue was always playing out in my mind. I figured that since I was a SPED teacher, any school that was interested in me may be alright for my child. At least it was one hurdle crossed. I didn’t mention that my child had some special needs in the interview because I was unsure when and where it was appropriate to jump in with that information. I would be interested in hearing some opinions on that as well. I was also more concerned with the challenge of finding a placement as a single woman with two dependents. When it was time to register my kids for school, I informed the school about my situation and asked how to proceed.

    I haven’t started yet, but I’ve been very impressed so far. A representative from the school has talked to my child’s teachers, requested and reviewed his evaluations and are clearly making a good faith effort to find the right placement for him. I’ve discussed it with no less than 5 faculty members, including the head of school and the principal. There are several levels of intensity that are available and they are giving me the impression that my input is valued. I am more concerned with him not being able to adjust socially to the new environment with larger classes and a different curriculum. So good luck to all the parents out there. I know there is room in the international teaching circuit for us all.


    1. @ Wanderlust

      We had a teacher who we hired a few years ago and they did NOT disclose they had a special needs teacher. We fired the teacher upon arrival. Special needs students take extra resources and time. The school even if it has a program may or may not have space in the program. Furthermore we figured if the teacher was so dishonest as to NOT disclose their own child had special needs in what other ways would the teacher continue to be dishonest.

      My suggestion is you disclose during the interview at the point where the school says, “Do you have any questions?”. That way time is not wasted by you or the school.

      Seriously, if the shoe is on the other foot, would you want to work for a school that does not fully disclose something extremely important?


  6. I have a question, perhaps someone can help me with it? When we refer to students with special needs, does that include students that need special education classes,or modified programs? Just wondering who is included in this group os special needs students.


    1. This is such an important question. I agree, there is a a no exact definition of special needs internationally. It seems to depend on a number of factors, including the history of individual schools, country resources, etc.. In my mind a school is always searching for a balance between typically agreed upon benchmarks or descriptors of learning differences and needs, available resources, and the willingness/capacity of educators at a particular site to collaborate and find solutions. The other side of that equation is the parents asking questions and looking for options. i never advocated “one right way”, but I also firmly believe that some matches are far better than others.

      I appreciate all the opinions that have been expressed and am particularly heartened by the posts that have explored various nuances of this complex question. In my experience, the discourse on the blogs can get rather binary very quickly — this is good / this is bad. This seems like a different conversation — one that is exploring options, not proving a point. That’s my hope, anyway.


  7. I work at a school where the upper principal states openly that “low performing students are a waste of a school’s time.”

    The school maintains a facade of advanced academics but the reality is that at least 60% of their clientele could benefit from some special intervention.The end result is that the education resources and programs do not match the students’ needs, even the regular students. The teachers would love to modify their courses to the level of the class, but they are pushed to deliver advanced courses to students that need remedial work just to reach standard levels. It’s all about image at the students’ expense.

    After arriving on contract and nowhere else to go in August, my wife and I had to literally beg the school to admit our child since he has speech and motor delays. Based on medical advice, we insisted that all he needed was to immerse himself in a regular classroom (he’d been kicked out of three previous schools because he wasn’t at grade level.) They reluctantly agreed on a probationary basis and we have been ecstatic with the results. He’s still behind grade level but his speech and motor skills have improved tremendously. The school has no special needs department whatsoever but through our son’s observation of his teachers and classmates coupled with a little extra help from a teacher’s aid in the regular classroom, he is slowly but surely grasping all essential skills.

    Sometimes it only takes a few teachers who care about their students, those who have the “we need to do the best we can for EVERY child” mindset. Add continuity of a familiar environment and many schools would be surprised at the results they may achieve with even the most challenged learners.

    Our story has been successful, but we’ve seen many failures. Due to the nature of international schools who cater to transient families. I think it is imperative that they have some sort of special needs program, in fact, I think it should be mandatory to be classified as an international school.


  8. Hi. My husband and I are preparing to begin careers overseas as teachers. We have accepted jobs in China. We just found out last week that our youngest son, age 6, has a language-based learning disability. He has been in speech therapy for several years, but for articulation only, not language. I am a bit nervous about finding support (we will need a private speech-language pathologist) over there. I know they do not have one at the school. You said you have researched and found schools where special needs kids can get school support? Do you mind telling me which ones? We will consider transferring to one of those after our initial contract is done if we can’t find him support there. Thanks!


    1. Hi,
      Don’t be nervous. Your child will be attending school with many children who are acquiring English. Classes, hopefully, will target all Language Arts skills. Your child will look average, not different.
      Make a plan with professionals here in the States and carry on with support of your child at home (on a daily basis).
      I doubt you will find a trained speech-language pathologist. Even schools who advertise learning support are not always skilled in carrying out a program.There are many resources on-line and in your present community. I would not share your concerns with prospective schools. See how this year goes and then adjust if you have to.
      I’m a teacher with K-6 Regular Ed and Spec Ed degrees and taught both overseas for 15 years.
      Really, you will be fine if you support your child at home.
      Wishing you the best!


    2. BB,
      “I doubt you will find a trained speech-language pathologist.. Even schools who advertise learning support are not always skilled in carrying out the program”.

      Do you even know what you are talking about? Have you researched this and found no speech-path in Shanghai or Beijing.

      Do not tell the school?

      Shanghai has a special education school for students with moderate to severe needs with a clinic with related services providers.

      Before you spread false information do your research.


    3. China extends a little beyong Beijing and Shanghai. You certainly won’t find a trained English speech-language pathologist within 1000km of the city I work in, in China. There’s only one western trained doctor, at the only expat clinic. in our municipality of 30 to 40 million people.

      I’m not sure why you’re attacking BB, s/he is trying to encourage the original poster.


    4. Of course, research your new post…
      I was asked to accept a position as a Speech Path in Beijing even though I am a Special Educator… years ago, however…I declined.
      If one can be found, great! If not, plan B…just sharing my years of experience…Stateside and overseas…
      There are wonderful schools…and not so wonderful ones…

      Remember, this is a forum to express opinions…


    5. BB, I’m concerned that you would give advice like “your child will be fine” and “don’t tell the school” to someone on a forum. Unless you’ve met with this child in a professional capacity, I think it’s safe to say you really can’t make that sort of judgment.

      If the child has received speech and language assessment and services, most international schools will require those records be submitted as part of the admissions application. At many schools, failure to disclose this sort of information can have serious consequences later, just like any misrepresentation on the application.


  9. I am a SPED teacher and the parent of a child with special needs. Despite this we have forged a career as overseas teachers by researching the few places in the world where we could find support for our son.

    While I accept that all schools must be self-sustaining (even if they are not solely profit driven), I do find the old “we don’t have the resources to support those children” reasoning to be a bit circular. They don’t have the resources because they have chosen not to have those resources. There are certainly a number of successful business models that would allow schools with the will to action to accept and actually support a wider range of students than most international schools currently admit. If anyone doubts this then just take a closer look at ISB (Brussels) where they offer appropriate support and even diploma tracks for an incredibly wide range of students.

    There are exceptions to this, but even here in Asia, the top schools could easily expand their services and widen their doors while providing the support and services that those addtional students would require.

    Why don’t they? I don’t really know. Probably because they don’t have to. Many of these schools see themselves as elite college prepatory institutions and can’t imagine that students with more than mild disabilities have any place there and there are no legal or monetary pressures (currently) driving them to change. That only leaves progressive or ethical pressures which cannot exist in a vacuum and would require people (or even one person) with the will to action and the power to do something about it or convice others that it is worth doing.


    1. This is closer to the original intent of the article. The “we don’t have the resources” can be a a battle cry that outright rejects students who would/could have been successful with some basic support and flexible programming. It is a philosophical question–either a school/teacher believes that all children are capable of learning and that there are a wide range of instructional strategies and alternative assessment strategies that can be employed or they do not have the time nor the training to do what would automatically be expected in a public schools setting. Having worked in very small international schools as well as large highly academic ones, I know for a fact that where there is a will and a team collaborative approach it can be done. With that said, it is important to be in a country where there is some access to outside services such as speech and OT, obviously. A comprehensive support program needs internal or external support services, so networking in the community is important. Many schools do not hire psychologists so testing has to be done during school breaks, and the results need to be integrated into a clear action plan. And contrary to Anonymous4 post’s suggestion, I have indeed worked in tiny international schools with limited resources and no ability to ‘officially diagnose” ADHD or autism spectrum, and still managed to have a flexible learning program in place(one that included a local equine therapy program half day for the child with autism–it was highly successful once the support team focused on a positive outcome instead of ‘it can’t be done’ assumption.) It is certainly not an easy task, but through my dissertation research on TCKs it is clear that there are an increasing number who struggle overseas and while it is definitely the parent’s job to find the best match, the international educational community could become more standardized and cohesive in a best practice approach to working with kids who learn differently.


    2. Actually, the original intent of the article was attacking international schools that are reluctant to, or won’t, hire, teachers who have children with learning disabilities or special needs. Forgive me if I have misunderstood, but it almost sounds like the article writer feels a sense of entitlement to a) a job at an international school because that’s where they want to work and b) a sense of indignation that these schools haven’t chosen to use their limited resources to support a handful of children with learning disabilities because back at home schools are required to do it.

      In the 17 years that I’ve taught in international schools I have never come across the attitude “We don’t take children with special needs because we don’t want to spend the money on them”. The prevailing attitude is “We’re hesitant to take children with special needs because we can’t give them the kind of support to which they are entitled”.

      > I do find the old “we don’t have the resources to support those children”
      > reasoning to be a bit circular. They don’t have the resources because they
      > have chosen not to have those resources.

      Here’s the simple answer – “Dear Mr. and Mrs. Smith, we’ve deicded to raise your children’s school fees by 40 % because we have decided to hire an OT and Speech therapist, as well as an educational psychologist because as an international school it is possible that in the future we may have applications from teachers with children who have a learning deficit. We’re sure you’ll understand and can identify with our situation because as an international school we’re obligated to provide the same levels of support that families back home in the good old US of A receive.”


    3. These ‘articles’ are always taken from blog posts, out of context, to encourage dialogue. I think ISR has positively tried to do just that by encouraging those who are in schools with strong learning support teams to compile a list of where a teacher/parent might find that support.

      Your post actually illustrates beautifully why all parents and teachers need to research, network, and find a good match for their children. Not out of a sense of entitlement, but so they don’t lose sight of their most important job as that of a parent advocate who cares. Find the schools who choose to hire those that inherently believe in the potential of your child–not those who settle for the alternative.


    4. I think ISR do a good job to foster this kind of discussion and clearly this is a topic that needs discussing. I agree with you that parents and teachers need to do research to find the right school that meets the needs of their children and their family. I realise too that there are schools with an eye on the money, academic results, or whatever, but many of them are upfront about this – certainly if they have a strong academic results focus.

      Big centres offer many different options, which is clearly the ideal. But cities like Vientienne, Ulaanbaatar, Tallinn, Ougadougou etc have one or at best two alternatives. These schools really do not have the resources to hire a raft of support professionals unless they double their school fees, so it’s not fair to claim that they ‘settle for the alternative’. Families with children that need support beyond the normal should not be looking to work in those environments. The first reply to Elaine at the beginning of this thread sets it very clearly.


    5. A school does not need a whole staff of fulltime therapists to support a much wider range of students. In any case, here in China, a number of the top schools already have fulltime Speech therapists.

      As someone else said, there are many ways to admit and support more students without raising tuition across the board. It goes without saying that school’s are even less likely to accept learning differences among teacher’s children as they do not pay tuition.


  10. It would seem that this article was written by someone who has never taught in a small international school with few or no special needs resources in a country with no English bookshops and limited internet access, and one western trained doctor for a small expat population.

    I’m also surprised to hear that differentiated teaching strategies will adequately support an undiagnosed ADHD or Autistic child in a multiage mainstreaam classrom of 20 students, only three of whom are English mother tongue speakers.

    “The best practice schools can manage a highly competitive IB or AP HS program and still maintain high expectations for kids with learning disabilities.” Perhaps in an American school in a European capital. Central Africa and Central Asia are a whole different world.

    The writer of this article just doesn’t seem to understand the challenges faced by so many international schools around the world. The schools say DON’T APPLY simply because they CANNOT give the kind of support that many special needs children need.


    1. I agree with your statement. People from areas like the United States have come to believe that special needs children should have all the rights. Regular classroom children should always have to subordinate their needs. Also, schools in the United States make “business decisions” They label advanced students as gifted and problem ones as autistic. Finally U.S. schools prolong exiting ESL students. Some states a teacher is not allowed to fail a student because of language. They are passed on to the next grade. That is why I left the United States. I am sorry but I do not have any desire for the fairy tale classroom called differentiated learning. Translation. All the regular students are ignored while the energy and resources of the homeroom teacher are focused on the special needs areas. United States. I am certified in elementary, special education, and ESL.


    2. I was rather hoping someone would pick up on this, although I’m not surprised that no one has. Is it because it’s a ‘we dont’ talk about this’ topic or ‘this kind of attitude has no place in a modern classroom’ or what?

      In many ways it lies at the heart of the problem. As a homeroom teacher without any special needs students I’m already spending 8 to 10 hours a day preparing, planning, marking, grading, and doing the myriad of other things that teachers do. I use differentiation strategies in my lessons, I have learning centers, and I’m fully engaged managing their learning and their normal student behaviours. I also have a bag full of other things to see to in my day. You get the picture, I’m already fully engaged with a minimum of downtime. The question is – if I’m already fully engaged and I now get a special education student in my class, how do I support him or her without taking away some of the support that the other students in the class get? Remember, I’M FULLY UTILISED, NO SPARE CAPACITY – so where does the needed extra capacity come from? Remember too that we are at the International School of the Middle of Nowhere with no professionals or specialists to support this student.


  11. I am both a teacher and a parent of a mildly LD child who has been successful overseas. Would I recommend it to another parent? No, mostly due to very limited, or no access, to services. Even if the school has teachers who differentiate (which is not all by a very long shot) the other services your child will need are simply not there. Most schools do not employ a school psychologist for testing. Even more rarely will there be a speech/language pathologist. Standard meds are very restricted in many countries and pediatricians are not well versed in developmental issues overseas. If you do go overseas, you need to be prepared to take on all the responsibility yourself including flying home for triennials, or med adjustments, etc. I was trained and able to work with my child and we used (and paid for) the services of a wonderful reading specialist over the summers in the early years for intensive remediation. It worked for us because my child was high IQ which helped compensate for the LD, the LD was mild and I had training.

    Another concern is the culture of many overseas schools. Many of the better ones are HIGHLY academic. Class sizes have been growing steadily in overseas schools with budget concerns. Many schools only offer limited areas of opportunity such as fine arts that may interest your child. Schools vary widely – some have large percentages of undermotivated, very wealthy, local students while others are 100% professional parents who want more and more homework with an eye to only an ivy league college. Consider the fit for the child. Will your child be comfortable in the community?

    Lastly I take issue with the negative tone of why some schools do not take special needs kids in the introduction. Many of the overseas schools do not take special needs students because they are very aware they don’t have the full set of resources within the school or the wider community. They are private schools with limited professional services. Enrolling a child that cannot be properly serviced is robbing that child of access to the correct services. Special needs children often have a limited time to truly remediate or compensate for a disability. Interventions are best at a young age. Every school I know has been approached, sometimes aggressively, to accept children whose needs cannot be met. The more honest ones say so, even under pressure from major corporations or the State Dept. If you have a special needs child, you may want to consider postponing an overseas gig until your child is older.


    1. Your points are well taken and there was no intent to have a negative tone about schools who are hesitant to take kids with special needs. Depends on the needs and the situation. The original intent of this topic was in response to someone asking for a list of “good schools” for their child with mild learning needs. ISR suggested those schools who were successful at meeting those needs could be posted here. So, please feel free to list and share those schools who you feel are successful at this time.


  12. I teach at a top non-profit international school in China. We have Academic Support teachers in ES, MS and HS divisions as well as a school psychologist. We will accept children with mild learning disabilities but some children are turned away not because we want to keep our ‘high academic standards’ as is stated in the article above, but because we do not have the resources some children need that would typically be found in public school systems in their home countries. We don’t have speech pathologists, occupational therapists or small self contained special ed. classes. We will only accept children if we think we can meet their needs.

    This is a reality of living overseas and any teachers whose children need substantial services should think carefully about whether international schools will be a good fit for them.


    1. As a former counselor at three first-tier international schools, I’d like to add an enormous amen to Elaine’s comment.

      I think the right international school can be a great environment for a child with mild learning needs. But if your child needs more than a few hours a week of support or needs a lot of one-to-one instruction, it may difficult to find a school overseas that can effectively meet those needs.

      When I began my 7-year career overseas, I was a real champion for the admission of kids with learning differences. Learning differences meaning things like dyslexia, behavior issues, high-functioning autism, etc. I was 100 percent for access and equality. I believed (and still do) kids benefit from being around a wide variety of learning styles.

      However, I’ve gradually come to the conclusion that like it or not, in reality most international schools aren’t set up to give kids with moderate to big special needs the education they deserve. Even at the top-tier schools I’ve worked at, the existing special ed programs are set up to assist kids with fairly mild learning differences.

      I can remember a few cases where I advocated for the admission of kids that probably had more needs than the school I was working at could handle. Did I do those kids a favor? Looking back, definitely not. At best, they struggled along academically. Some lost ground and watched the gap widen between themselves and peers. Some families were forced to seek expensive outside therapy the school could not provide. In one case, a student with a behavior disorder was asked to leave our school, only to find that there were almost no other education options available in that community.

      I find the above assertion that schools who run IB/AP programs ought to also be able to provide comprehensive special education misguided. The article seems to imply that “maintaining high expectations” is all that’s required when in reality, effective special needs education requires financial and human capital, and sometimes a great deal of both.

      I know to teaching candidates with a special needs child it seems elitist and discriminatory, but when a reputable school tells you they can’t fulfill your child’s needs or honor an IEP or provide a needed service like language therapy, they’re usually being very honest, sometimes even to their own detriment.

      Think of it this way. Schools hate to say no to an interested, qualified teaching candidate given the current shortage. But no ethical school wants to be the school that fails your child by agreeing to deliver an education they can’t.


    2. A lot of what you said resonates with me. As a principal, especially early on, I, too, wanted to push the envelope in terms of access. I also believed that my schools were capable of more. In retrospect, however, every time I pushed too far, I crashed the system and did more harm than good in the long-run. You might be able serve the student, but then maybe the organizational cost is too high.
      What I eventually settled on was a benchmark of +/- 2 grade levels. That is the amount of differentiation capacity that we were trying to build in our school. People had different opinions about that threshold — some teachers felt it was too much, others too little, but at least we had a benchmark. Beyond that, we were seeking different sorts of win-win solutions — partial day programs, limited contracts, etc. We could have said an outright “no”, but there were also other factors, such as students not having control of where the family ended up. If both sides are willing to be honest about what is possible, I think many options can exist. But, it is a trust-based, and somewhat qualitative conversation, and not all schools or administrators want to go down that road.


  13. I am currently teaching at a true int’l school and am a special education teacher with over 10 years of experience. The school that I am teaching at is using best practices across the board. Students with IEPs are charged extra $ and are assigned a special education teacher who works with that student both in and out of the classroom as needed. Reports are sent home monthly which are directly related to how students are doing on their IEP goals, and special reports are prepared each semester as well that are included with their grade level report cards. Every classroom has a full time teacher and a co-teacher and teachers are knowledgeable and expected to differentiate the curriculum. I am just finishing up my first year teaching at this school and it has been a wonderful experience.


    1. I would love to know at which school you are teaching. Is it okay to name it?


    2. Thanks for the info. Do you teach elementary or high school students? If not high school, how is it in high school – are classes small, do all teachers have co-teachers, IEPs, etc?


    3. I teach in the primary school but there is an active program as well in the MS/HS. Classes are small but there are not always co-teachers. IEPs do exist at all grade levels and we have a Learning Support Director on the Admin. level who overseas the entire program. There is a waiting list at our school.


  14. I also teach at a for profit school that calls it self international but is far from it. I am a certified teacher in three areas of special education but was assigned to teach fourth grade regular English and Social Studies. There are more than ten (10) students in this school that I never see after the initial meeting. Parents never check to see if their child actually have classes with me; they just know I work there. I am told by administration, “If they have and aide, they can teach them.” The aides barely speaks English and if I were to give instructions to them, they are not trained nor would they understand what to do. Their job is to see that they behave and cause no disruptions. When they do, they are to go to the playgrounds until the child settle down.

    I hate living this lie, but can’t do anything about it until this school year is over and I leave. Parents never ask how is my child doing, no reports are written (IEP’s) because most parents in Egypt refuse to accept that anything is wrong with their child. They believe it is the teacher’s fault, “you should have made them do it.” Those who do accept that their child is different, don’t check with administration or the the teacher in charge to see if their child is improving, need help or try to understand more about the child’s disability. Most just bring them to school and pick them up. In a school where no one fails, the parents dont care as long as they progress to the next grade. I am in elementary, have no idea how they will make it in high school where there isn’t any special education AT ALL.


  15. I teach at a for profit international school in a developing country. Our school readily admits children with special needs. The elementary principal is a huge advocate of inclusion and differentiation. But there is little doubt amongst us teachers that this is a business decision. The principal has packed the classes to the brim with little or no support given to teachers. Unless you call having one ESL and one spec ed teacher for three hundred and fifty pupils sufficient support! Administrators love to talk the talk yet at the end of the day its the teachers who have to cater for all kinds of needs. Readers may feel its a teachers role to do so. However picture a class of 25 with only three pupils who have a command of English at the native speaker level, five identified as needing ESL and receiving support three periods a week, and the rest – all ESL – who don’t receive any support. Sounds like an ideal teaching environment? Hardly when you consider I didn’t mention I have three children with special needs who are not catered for at all. And how much do you want to differentiate? Our school charges almost US@6500 per year. Money talks. I have a lot of respect for international schools that honestly tell parents they can’t cater to special needs children. There are enough sleazy ones that claim they do, take the children’s money, set them up for failure while singing the inclusion and differentiation song.


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