Seeking Int’l School w/Support for Special Needs Child

With the topic of inclusion on the table, International Schools have been making an effort to increase support for kids with Special Needs. The quality of these programs, however, varies greatly from school to school and year to year as teachers come and go. This revolving door of teachers in International Schools hardly lends itself to a secure environment for the Special Needs child.

Children with mild disabilities do have a good chance to find adequate support in International Schools. The majority of schools, not surprisingly, are not equipped to support children with severe disabilities, however. To complicate matters, admin often leave teachers in the dark in regards to whether a newly matriculated student is Special Needs, leaving both the child and teachers in a disadvantageous position.

Sweden, Netherlands, Canada, USA, Switzerland, UK, Austria, Czech Republic and Germany, to name a handful, have a track record for supporting Special Needs students. International Schools in these countries could possibly be the place for expat parents to find a program with the degree of support required.

A teaching couple, with a Special Needs child, comment:

“We’re about to quit our jobs at a top-tier IB school, partly due to the cost of paying for a 1-1 support teacher for our kid, who is fine at home but apparently so dysregulated as to be disruptive and unmanageable in school. The school does seem to use quite a few 1-1 support teachers and the Learning Support (LS) department is pretty small. It has not been a great experience.

I’m asking, where should we look for a school that might be a better fit — a school with the skills and knowledge to support and accommodate our kid. We’re a teaching couple, two kids altogether. We have looked at some schools recruiting in Dubai after hearing about good inclusion there, but so many schools seem a bit sketchy.”

Do YOU have experience at a school you consider to have an adequate Special Needs program? ISR encourages YOU to share that knowledge with educators seeking the right school for themselves and their Special Needs child.

Please scroll down to participate in this ISR Discussion

15 thoughts on “Seeking Int’l School w/Support for Special Needs Child

  1. Have a look at Singapore. There are a few schools there that have special needs units. Dover Court for example has 3 pathways that run within the context of the main school. Pathway 2 is for children with needs such as ADHD, autism etc and they are twinned with pathway 1 students (mainstream) for specialist lessons. Pathway 3 is for students with additional needs and class sizes are a maximum of 8.


  2. If your child has major behavioral and emotional issues you are better off returning to your home country where you will have access to services and counseling. If you are from the US for example these services must be provided to you by law at no cost to you in the public schools. That’s assuming you are from the US and would send your student to a public school. Internationally there are some great learning support programs but the majority of them are for students with academic needs and mild sensory or behavioral support. They simply are not equipped to manage excessively disruptive students and most of the gen ed teachers in the international sector are not prepared to manage them in their classrooms.


  3. It is already expensive to hire a teacher with child, it takes up a paying space, if you compare your salary to that of a single teacher, you get x+more for the cost of school fees.

    To add on top of that, the need for your child to be supported at additional cost to the school, it is a tough pill for schools to swallow.

    There are a a couple of BKK based schools that have very good inclusion – St Andrew’s Samakee, ISB, BBk Prep, StA107&71 – after that the support is limited at other schools.

    If you head towards Europe way would you not have greater access to more standardised services if you are working in country.?


  4. Finding an international school that will accept students who are disruptive and unable to keep the learning pace of the school is particularly challenging. There are quite a few international schools that use 1:1 aides and provide minimal sped services all at a big cost to parents. Another difficulty is often as the sped student gets older, the academic and behavioral gap gets wider which increases the difficulty level. International schools rely on their reputations of high academic and behavioral standards so are often not willing to accept a wide range of disabilities as parents paying high tuition aren’t interested in anything other than a very academic environment with few behavior problems. Focusing on international schools in countries that have special education services in local schools can be helpful because they may feel more compelled to accept students with disabilities instead of viewing them as a burden. Bangkok has a good private special education school but it is expensive. Some families hire an English fluent local nanny whose job is to do online schooling with the child. I know several American families that have done that. For social aspects they join children’s clubs like girl scouts/boy scouts, sports, etc. I also feel educators that have special needs kids are often harshly and unfairly judged by other educators. Often the undercurrent is “Why, if you are a teacher, can’t you control your kid’s bad behavior? Why doesn’t your child know more reading, writing, math, etc.? Why do I have to work with you and put up with all your demands for your child and you are staff?” There was also often friction in the workplace because of the sometimes outrageous parent demands related to the parent’s perception of the children’s needs. In 2 different countries, the expat teachers had to leave the schools because the schools couldn’t accommodate their children. This caused a terrible financial crisis for both of the teachers. Unlike in the USA where children with disabilities have a right to an education, in overseas private schools there is no such mandate. I’ve been teaching sped for more than 30 years, most of it overseas but also in the USA. Next Frontier Inclusion is advocating full inclusion at international schools of even students with quite moderate disabilties. Some International Schools have joined. That might be a starting point for those parents looking for a school for their children with disabilities. But at some point, parents need to ask themselves, what does my child really need for their future success? Maybe a highly academic international school is a poor fit for a child who has limited intellectual ability and needs education that is heavier in social skills and daily living skills. Also for children with extreme behaviors, do you really want involvement of local law enforcement in countries that are well known for human rights violations? A child who steals, lies, assaults others, and has no respect for authority can end up with local legal consequences and there is nothing your embassy can do about it. I can’t share specific details but there was a student with behavioral disability who is still in a local jail and must serve a 10 year sentence. Nothing anyone could do to get them out because they were charged as an adult for what they did. All things to think about.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Learning support comes down to a cost for international schools which are not government-supported like public schools in those Western countries listed in the original post. We can’t expect schools to provide support beyond their means. Most schools I have worked at have a statement saying something like they could only admit students they can support their educational needs. Children are different at home than in a room with 20 other students. I agree with JB it might be time for the couple to go home where the needs of their child can be met.


  6. ISM Manilla has a robust program of support, AISJ Johannesburg is doing a good job and ISB Brussels has a very well-established and resourced program of support. In this instance, it seems the child has social-emotional needs and no mention of anything else. Maybe having the child see a Play Based Therapist would reduce the cost of a 1:1.


  7. I’m from the US, but I’ve been teaching in International Schools around the world (Kuwait, Colombia, China, Germany, Switzerland)since 2005. All of them have had Learning Support departments. I wouldn’t send my kid to any of them if they had learning needs. Currently, I’m in Germany. We have a quite large cohort of kids who receive learning support. As a science teacher, I can guarantee that what the department offers is not nearly good enough for these kids, or their teachers. I’m dying’. I can’t offer enough support and deal with criticism from kids and parents for not being able to do more…. I would honestly go back to my home country, and in the past, have suggested this to parents. Just my two cents.


  8. Muscat international school in Oman they have a big department special for supporting and including the kids with learning challenges and I have seen huge development in many of my students .


  9. Hong Kong – English Schools Foundation have a decent system of support for children with all levels of need. They even have a dedicated school for children with more profound needs called the Jockey Club Sarah Roe School.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Good support for students with special needs are at: International School of Dhaka in Bangladesh and International School of Kenya in Nairobi are good. I put together both student support programs and services at each of the schools.


    1. I joined Int’l School of Kenya, the year the author above left ISK, and the program there has only gotten better over the years. When I left in 2020 they had just started a new program in the ES with plans to build that up each year.


  11. I’m a licensed school psychologist and BCBA (behavior analyst) in the US, and while I don’t have much to recommend in terms of international schools that provide support, I have to admit that when I interviewed at a few international schools it appeared that the hiring was done through nepotism and “face” rather than the strengths and qualifications/backgrounds of the candidate. At the schools that I applied to, they hired clinical psychologists (not school/educational psychologists) who did not have a background in working with special needs children in schools. I can’t imagine what the support for the teachers and students was like. It might be a good idea to somehow advocate for hiring better-suited staff for these positions?


    1. I agree with you! I have worked in a couple of international schools. In my opinion, many international schools and administration still have a big learning curve when it comes to understanding what special education really is. What the roles of special education staff are within the school and the needs of students with special education needs.


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