Updated: Jan 9
Patrick had been diagnosed with ADHD, anxiety, and a sensory processing disorder at a young age. It was clear that his intelligence was high, but he struggled to access traditionally taught school curriculum. He was kicked out of many schools because his anxiety presented itself as aggression. After multiple failed school attempts, Patrick was home schooled at the request of his school district. This was all thrown up in the air when Patrick’s father was offered a position in a location outside of their home country.
After the arrival of a nearly 200 page student file, I began to review all the documents to see if he was a good fit for our program. Despite the quantity of information, much of the information was more than three years old, case file notes were difficult to decipher and valuable testing information was missing. All of the information was reviewed, but information to fill in the gaps was not requested as this was not the school’s policy. In the end, the family was thrilled to find out that the international school accepted Patrick and his siblings!
However, the text in the admissions policy which stated that the school reserved the right to withdraw placement at anytime they deem necessary caused great anxiety to Patrick’s parents. “What would be the criteria for being kicked out of this school?” “Every school up to this point had kicked Patrick out, so what would be different about this school?” “Will we have to go back to our home country if he gets kicked out?”
As the parental anxieties mounted they created a very anxious child as well as a tenuous relationship between the parents and the school’s learning support personnel. Because the parents were so worried about Patrick doing something to warrant the school to renege on his acceptance, it was if they were creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. After a few months of having Patrick in school and near daily interactions with his mother, it finally dawned on me what she needed to hear. She needed to know that we wanted Patrick in our school. We would work through all problems that would come up. We would work together as a school and parent team to help Patrick in every way we could.
Patrick’s situation is not unique. Parents of a child with special needs that are globally mobile constantly carry the weight of worrying that their child will be kicked out of or transitioned out of school.
I believe the best way to help ensure the school is truly a good fit for a student is to ensure the proper information is being communicated. Parents may provide all the information they have at their disposal (a 200 page dossier), but unless they are given specific questions to ask of their current school, the receiving school will be left making uninformed admissions decisions. It is in both the school’s and student’s best interest to have good, solid information present before making an admissions decision. No one wants to learn that a student is not a ‘good fit’ six months into an international assignment.
As a teacher in US public, private, home school and international school environments for the past 20 years, I have watched many students arrive and depart schools. Transition supports at international schools are starting to be researched, but the studies are just at the beginning stages. The initial findings tend to call for more research. My reading of the research that is available all have one specific missing link: the child with special needs and their families.
Families that have a child with special needs are not only not part of the conversation, they don’t even have a seat at the table. As the number of globally mobile families increases, so will the numbers of students with needs that fall outside the general education bubble.
These families and their children also need to have their perspectives heard and researched during these transition conversations. How can we better help the Patricks of the world? And how can we help support the parents that are overwhelmed like Patrick’s parents? The first step in this process is to get everyone a seat at the table.
April Remfrey is an American special needs consultant living and loving life in Switzerland. April helps globally mobile families when they have a child with special needs and they are transitioning between schools.
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