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Children with Special Needs

By World Family Education

Families raising a child with special needs while living internationally face an incredible challenge. Not only are they navigating another culture, and all of the transitions associated with that, they also are caring for a child that requires extra support. Having both stressors at once can prove to be overwhelming.

Children with special needs are those having difficulties that are more severe than the typical child, and could possibly last a lifetime. They may have been born with a syndrome, profound cognitive impairment, or serious psychiatric problems. Special-needs children may have learning disabilities, long-term illness, or developmental delays. (World Family Education has a page about Learning Disabilities.) To support these children, families often need added guidance and help meeting academic, social, emotional, and sometimes medical milestones.

Diagnosis Before Leaving Home Country

Some children receive a diagnosis before leaving their home country, and parents are able to plan support services before moving overseas. This helpful article by Expat Child details the factors parents should think about before moving overseas with a special-needs child, including local laws about medication. Read more about medication from an American expat perspective.

Finding a school that will support a special-needs child will also be a priority. In most cases, it’s best to contact a school you are considering directly to learn what services are available. International schools use a variety of terms to describe the help provided to students with special needs, including special services, special education, or special education needs (SEN). The article Find a school abroad for your SEN child provides a list of questions you can pose with potential schools to advocate for your child.

Diagnosis After Moving Internationally

Sometimes a family will suspect or discover they have a special-needs child after the move. In this scenario, parents face the challenge of identifying trustworthy professionals and services in a place they are not familiar with.

The Lai family — Malaysian-Singaporeans who live in Taiwan — describe their first-hand experience in seeking a diagnosis for their autistic son while living in a new culture at Raising TCKs. The family was first concerned they would need to return to Singapore, but they were able to find therapies and support in Taiwan and are continuing to navigate cross-cultural challenges related to their son.

Early Intervention

The sooner you can find the help your child needs, the better — early intervention is an important step towards helping the child fulfill his or her full academic, emotional, and social potential. Early intervention is the process in which the developmental abilities of a young child are evaluated. If necessary, an individualized program is made to enhance the child’s developmental skills and encourage their growth.

Even if your child is older, support services may be critical for your child’s quality of life. This will include physicians who are familiar with special-needs children, physical therapists, language and speech specialists, audiologists, occupational therapists, and more.

Check out the World Family Education page about Special Needs Resources by Location that lists helpful professionals. The listings on that page are mainly contributed by readers like you, so it is not comprehensive. We welcome you to share contacts you have had success with in your own location to help other families looking for resources.

Language Learning & Special Needs

For some special-needs children, language acquisition and expression is difficult. Some may question if learning or retaining a second language is even possible for these children. A couple of articles address this topic:

Language learning is possible for all — Special-needs children can learn a second language, and a parent explores the research — and her real-life experience — that shows this is true.

Supporting Bilingual Children With Special Education Needs — A professor and certified speech-language pathologist describes the research that shows how bilingualism is beneficial to special-needs children.

More Resources

LD Online: The educators’ guide to learning disabilities and ADHD — A comprehensive website related to learning disabilities.

Challenges and Benefits of Expat Families Living with Disabilities — Podcast episode that shares stories of people with personal and professional experience with disabilities while raising a family abroad.

Six Tips for Homeschooling Your Child with Autism Spectrum Disorder — Article shares approaches to home education with a child who is autistic.  

Special Education Network & Inclusion Association (SENIA) — An organization based in Asia that advocates for resources and supports for differently abled students. Members from both local school and international school communities.