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What If a School Doesn’t Have a Program for a Child with Special Needs?

By World Family Education

If you’ve read the World Family Education article by April Remfrey, Finding the Best International School for Your Child with Special Needs, you might be asking, “What if the schools that I have access to can’t meet those standards?”

What do you do when the educational options available to you do not have structured or intentional support for kids with special needs?

To start, many schools and educational settings that do not have special staff or programs can successfully work with kids who have unique learning needs. However, parents will have to do a lot of research and be more involved in helping set up and carry out the learning plan. Be honest with the school about the needs of your child and gauge the staff’s commitment to working with your family. 

If the school is unwilling or unable to work with your family, or you don’t have the capacity to take on an advocacy role for your child, then you should consider other options such as home education.

Related articles at World Family Education:

Home Education

Children with Special Needs

Finding the Best International School for Your Child with Special Needs

Know Your Child

Familiarize yourself with your child’s needs and learning profile. You may need to take extra time with current teachers that know your child and have them help you understand the diagnosed or identified special needs as well as interventions that have been helpful. The better you know your own child, the better you can help new teachers understand the needs they will be asked to work with.

Create a Simple Learner Profile

Example of a Simple Learner Profile

Your child’s previous school should have developed a current Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or similar document that outlines your child’s exceptionality, assessment results, strengths and weaknesses, and recommendations for modifications (changing what a child learns) and accommodations (changing how a child learns) in the classroom. If teachers at your child’s new school do not have training in how to implement an IEP, or if they are not familiar with the educational system from which it came, you may find it helpful to summarize the important parts into a learner profile or quick reference sheet for teachers. If you do not have a current IEP for your child, this summary will be critical in helping them understand your child.

This summary should look similar to the one described by Remfrey, but with much simpler language and data presentation. Ideally it would be one page and at least include:

  • Area of exceptionality and dates of latest assessment and IEP. Include any medications or outside therapy. In some cases, it could be helpful to present some of the relevant assessment data in simple terms (age equivalent, percentile rank, or even simply “average,” “below average,” etc.).
  • Description of past educational experiences and interventions.
  • Description of the student’s strengths and weaknesses (especially how the exceptionality impacts learning or behavior).
  • List of strategies, modifications, and accommodations that would help your child be successful in the classroom.
  • Other helpful information you should consider including:
  • List of things you do at home to support the student.
  • Description of how to most effectively communicate with your child and how they are best motivated.

Set up meetings to go over this document with teachers, and formalize a plan of action. If at all possible, hold this meeting before school starts so that you are making a plan, and not just trying to fix problems that have already emerged. When approaching the school or teachers, it is important to keep in mind that the goal is to establish a long-term working relationship for the benefit of your child. That may mean picking your battles wisely, finding culturally appropriate ways of expressing appreciation, and doing extra work to support the teachers as they adjust to your child.

Communicate Well & Find Extra Support

Establish a constant and routine communication system with the teachers. Make sure that this system is easy enough to manage and does not burden them too much. You may have to take the initiative and responsibility for this in the beginning.

In some cases, your child may need an adult assistant (hired by you) to attend class with your child to help implement the plan you have proposed. Most schools should be happy to accommodate this since that adult will also be of help to the class in general.

You may need to use peer tutors, hire outside tutors, or engage other support services to supplement learning in the classroom. These may be a challenge to locate, so work ahead to find sources for these, if possible. You can start at the World Family Education Special Needs Resources by Location page to find resources or helpful advice from experts at or near your new location.

This journey is not an easy one to take alone, so it may be a good idea to find an educational consultant, especially one experienced in working with kids living internationally. A variety of consultation services exist, and you can read more about these at World Family Education’s article Do I Need an Educational Consultant for My Family?