According to the U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, close to 20 percent of all U. S. public school students ages 3-21 are receiving special education services or are in programs for gifted students (collectively referred to as special education needs, or SEN). Parents have to invest a great deal of time and effort in arranging the support their children need, and may be very reluctant to leave those arrangements behind to undertake an international ongoing assignment.  If an organization demonstrates that it is aware of the challenges posed by special education needs abroad and are willing to bring resources to support employees in those situations, the pool of potential assignees can expand considerably.

In many Asian countries, there is a strong desire for children to do better than their parents.  It is the belief that this is how one becomes successful in life. Most U.S. families are aware of their child’s differences and rally to give their child what they need so they have the best chance in accessing the education they deserve.  In the U.S., there is an understanding of learning differences and an abundance of resources, partly because parents insist on it and the government complies.  Most Asian countries are less attuned to these situations.  Because many parents feel ashamed of having a child with special needs, these children are underreported or go unreported.

In the U.S., parents are accustomed to a fully packaged special education program within the public schools that carry a legal mandate.  In APAC, although SEN programs at local schools are usually government-funded, these may not be realistic options for expats who probably do not speak the local language.  International schools are privately funded and do not receive any financial support from the government.  Most international schools can accommodate only students with mild learning differences and do not have a large support team in place.

There are schools in APAC that make a concerted effort to deliberately include students with learning differences.  While considering an international assignment, the most important factor in locating a school  with SEN resources is finding staff who are willing to work with the family.  The family and the school should be a team to best support the child, and a family should be transparent about their children’s needs so the school can determine whether they can offer appropriate support for the child to thrive. Some suggested questions to ask are:

How are individual learning needs addressed?
What types of therapy does the school offer on campus (speech and language, occupational, adaptive P.E.)?
Any parents of special needs students with whom they can speak?

Global assignees with special-needs children can find schools, but the most successful employee relocations happen when you start early. An education consultant can first set the family’s expectations regarding the differences between cultures and resources and then discuss all of the options for the family.  Every family is different, and each outcome is different. A truly global education consultancy is needed to provide home-host perspectives in terms of curricula and cultural nuances in school.  In the end, the weakest link of an international assignment is strengthened so that the employee and family will be able to move with peace of mind, knowing that their children will be happy in school.

We are proud to bring this excerpt from our partners at School Choice Group. The original article was published in Mobility in 2015. The School Choice Group is the world’s leading global education consulting firm, finding the right schools for children worldwide, including private, public, specialized, and international schools, from preschool through college. With more than 120 consultants (including Special Educators) in 77 locations globally, they provide our clients with a distinct advantage in addressing one of the most critical global assignment needs.


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