Find a school abroad for your SEN child

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Research schools overseas offering SEN provision

First off, I’d like to be up front – I’m not an expert in the field of learning disabilities or children with special needs. However, I am the parent of two young children with learning disabilities. Our oldest has Dyslexia and Dyscalculia and our youngest has Non Verbal Learning Disorder (NLD). And, we’re expats. Our children have been educated abroad for the last 5 ½ years (their entire academic careers) and all testing was done outside of our passport country as well.

The advice below is based on our experiences on how to advocate for our children while living overseas. It has been both frustrating and challenging and, at times, we’ve wanted to throw in the towel and go back home. But we continue the fight to make sure our children, and hopefully those that follow, will have the opportunity for mainstream education without these additional barriers.

Inclusive schooling for children with special educational needs

It’s hard enough getting support for our children these days in our passport countries, but it can often times be even more challenging when moving abroad. Here are a few tips that I’ve learned along the way:

When doing research for your upcoming assignment or international move, you should take these things into consideration:

  • When applying to schools, be up front with your child’s needs. Not only is this required when applying to most schools, but it is essential to let them know what your child’s needs are so that they can plan ahead and in some cases, arrange for the necessary resources in advance.
  • If you think you will need testing for your child during your time abroad, whether to confirm your suspicions of a learning disorder or to update your child’s records (many schools require retesting every 3 or so years), are there local resources in your language that can provide this service? Contacting your child’s new school is a good way to find this information as there will have been other children that they have referred for testing. Some schools may also be able to provide testing by qualified professionals.
  • Don’t be afraid to speak up if you think something is “off” with your child. It might take some pushing but as we all know, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Don’t let being in a foreign country prevent you from advocating for your child.
  • Does the school provide any learning support? Not all schools offer learning support for children unfortunately. And private schools often have more leeway with whether or not it is mandatory to provide these services. In fact, it’s an issue we are facing right now with our oldest son as he enters middle school in the fall.
  • If the school does not provide any learning support, will they help you find ways to supplement your child’s education with tutors, occupational therapists, etc and will they also follow any accommodations that need to be made for your child? For example, allowing a dyslexic child to have more time on an exam as a result of their processing speed.
  • If the school does provide learning support, how much will your child receive and how often will you have meetings to stay up to date? Will they provide you with an IEP (Individual Education Plan)? If the school cannot cover all of your needs, do they have the resources available to help you secure the necessary support such as tutors, psychologists or occupational therapists?
  • Something to keep in mind related to OT (or other specialist) – some schools, when asked, will allow an OT to come to your school to meet with your child during non-essential classes at your cost. The pros to this is that your child is already in “school” mode and is not exhausted from a long day of learning and then has to head to yet another school related activity at the end of the day.
  • Will your local or global insurance cover any additional resources or support that you might need for your child?
  • What are the laws in your new country regarding schools admitting children with learning disabilities or special needs? If your school is privately funded, they often do not need to follow the same admission laws as public schools. Make sure to research. It is also important to research not just the laws, but the schools themselves to see if there have been any issues related to admissions and / or support of children with special needs in the past. Thankfully in today’s world, Google is a great tool to use in this case!
  • Find Facebook or other social media groups in your new location for support as parents of children with learning disabilities. If you cannot find these groups, you can often start with more generic groups, like “Expats in (Your new country)” and ask on those boards. More often than not, you are not alone in your search.
  • Most importantly – DO NOT GIVE UP!

By Julie B Marcus

Originally from Boston, MA (USA), Julie Marcus is a mom to two boys, a small business owner, blogger and, of course, an expat.  After leaving the US in early 2010 for Barcelona, Spain for her husband’s job, she and her family found that expat life, while challenging, can also be addicting!  She and her family are currently living in the Netherlands where they are finding happiness on the road less traveled. You can find her personal blog at    

My book on choosing the right school for YOUR child overseas

Choosing the right school for your child is one of the hardest decisions you’ll make as an expat parent when moving abroad. There are many education options around for expats, and so much depends on your individual family set-up and child that there is no ‘one-school-fits-all’ solution.

Each child is different and each country’s school system is different, even within the ‘generic’ international schools. Also, families differ in their requirements and aspirations, and even relocations vary greatly. What worked well for you all in one country won’t necessarily be replicated in your next move.

It’s easy to get very stressed at this point. Don’t panic! I’ve put together this book to help you kick-start your search for the best type of school for your child.

Available on your local Amazon

To get instant access to the key points you need to know right now, check out my abridged version eBook here

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  1. This is a real issue for many expatriates. We actually help some children via video link, skype or otherwise, with dyscalculia. They have to be mature enough to do a video session but we have had success with children even as young as 8, with the adult being around to help out. In addition to the tutoring session we then also give advice to the parents on what resources to use to reinforce the learning throughout the week.

    1. Morning, I have a daughter currently enrolled in a year 9 class who has Dyslexia, Dyscalculia and Dysgraphia. We are from Perth, Western Australia but currently living in Qatar. There is no schooling system here that can seem to help her so we are looking at options back home for her. We are either trying to find a boarding school, home schooling system that could help her. Can you help us in the right direction please. Thank you so much for any information that you can provide. Justine Mutch

      1. Hi Justine,
        Thank you for reaching out. You would need to contact the writer of the previous comment directly if you wish to ask her a question – I’m not sure comments on my articles are monitored by the writers.

        You could take a look at the Online Education articles on my site for ideas here – Virtual Education Articles.

        Good luck 🙂

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