Special Education Needs 2018

This article originally appeared in the August 2018 edition of Mobility Magazine.

A Snapshot for Mobility Experts.

The diagnosis of children with special education needs (SEN), including autism, attention deficit disorder, and dyslexia, is on the rise. This is placing a high demand on specialized programs and support within state and private schools worldwide and is also prompting the opening of new schools that cater to children with atypical learning profiles. 

The Hidden Challenges 

For families on the move, the changing educational landscape is increasingly difficult to navigate, let alone master. The fact that there is no worldwide consensus on the definition of a “learning disability” creates even more complexity and confusion for both families and companies.

Some countries and cultures understand the phrase as a disorder that is characterized by at least average intelligence, with developmental delays in specific areas (e.g., reading, spelling, or math), while others equate “learning disabilities” with what is commonly known as mild mental retardation. In some countries, learning disabilities must be diagnosed by specially trained educational psychologists, while in others, teachers or speech therapists are making the diagnoses. These differences in definition and diagnosis, in turn, impact the types of support programs that are available in the various schools.

Different linguistic, diagnostic, and cultural layers make navigating the world of special education increasingly complicated for everyone involved. 

What’s Happening at the Family Level

Parents have already invested significant effort and time in securing the support their children need in their home countries, and therefore they are often—understandably—reluctant to move. When a family of a child with special needs learns of a possible relocation, the rug literally is pulled out from under them. Even when the services might be more advanced in the new location, parents need to learn an entirely different educational system, understand the cultural challenges, and rethink best practices for their child’s education.

Sometimes the move places the family in a location where there is less choice in terms of appropriate schools and support services. In certain cases, homeschooling, boarding school, or a complete rethinking of the child’s educational path may seem to be the only solution.

Moreover, sometimes in the midst of a relocation, families find themselves having to process and confront their children’s newly uncovered learning challenges. This happens either because the move presents an opportunity for parents to rethink what is the optimal educational environment for their child, or because learning challenges are sometimes diagnosed during the admissions process. Families will need to come to terms with these issues while at the same time finding a home, packing their boxes, and saying goodbye.

This is not an easy adjustment and can take time—time that a company believes it cannot afford during a relocation but should provide to ensure the family has an opportunity to process the information and to research appropriate schools and services in the new location.

What’s Happening at the School Level

With the growth in the number of international schools, there has been growing awareness and availability of services for SEN children, although it is very location-dependent. More families are considering relocating with a SEN child, whereas in the past fewer would think it was an option.


While many schools still limit adaptive instruction to mild-moderate learning disabilities, that scope is widening yearly. Most schools now have SEN professionals—some in all sections from early childhood to high school. These educators work one-on-one, in small groups, and in the general classroom. More students are being accommodated in general classrooms with the support of a full- or part-time paraprofessional. Many schools are also hiring much-needed therapists such as speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists, and educational psychologists. 

One drawback to increased levels of service for individual students is that this provision comes at an increased cost of instruction, and these costs are passed on to the parent. Many countries also have schools that exclusively serve local children with special needs; however, those that provide instruction in English or another nonlocal language may be limited or nonexistent. 

Special education requires additional—and more specialized—resources than does mainstream education. Schools in high demand, such as those in Brazil and Hong Kong, do not always add additional SEN services, because they are already meeting their enrollment goals and do not want to incur the costs to build more robust services and teams. In addition, they place a lot of importance on their academic performance statistics, which might be impacted by having more children with special needs. However, in other locations, such as Kuala Lumpur, there are schools that make it a priority to increase the modalities of academic instruction in order to provide support for all students.

Related: Harry Potter Becomes A Cowboy: Differences in English & American Education

The U.S.

Families in the U.S. might be accustomed to getting high-quality special education services, many of them for free in state systems. However, families must be made aware that not all states offer the same quality of services. This can be a surprise for families relocating domestically.

While individual education plans from one state might be temporarily honored upon arrival in another, the school system in the new location will ultimately decide what services a child will receive, which may be less robust than the previous arrangement. In addition, one location in the U.S. might have several high-quality private school SEN options, whereas another might have none at all.

Related: There and Back Again: Successfully Repatriating to U.S. Schools

Best Practices for Organizations and RMCs

What can organizations and relocation management companies do to make sure a family with a SEN child has the best possible relocation and assignment? Organizations should:

Best Practice No. 1

Ask families directly whether they have a child with special needs. It should be a question on the first needs assessment with every family. If a family chooses not to divulge this information, it will make the relocation more difficult, but at least the company will have been proactive in trying to gauge the level of assistance needed. Some employees might be more willing to consider assignments if they see their employer is acknowledging that families have SEN children and are willing to address needs upfront.

Read the rest of this article in the August 2018 edition of Mobility Magazine.

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