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