What parents of special needs children need to know about international schools
“Without full disclosure of a disability, a school may accept a child under false pretences only to discover they cannot adequately educate a child”
For many expatriate families, international schools afford the opportunity for their children to be educated their national language with similar standards to their home country’s curriculum. The challenges that many families face is related to finding an international school that can effectively educate their child with special needs, writes Joseph Graybill, school psychologist at the Anglo-American School in Moscow.
As private foreign institutions, international schools are not required to comply with special education laws such as the Individual with Disabilities Act (IDEA). However, in recent years, international schools have adopted special education programming to serve children with disabilities.
The provision of special education services in most international schools does not follow IDEA to the letter of the law but does model its special education services based on American federal guidelines. For example, many international schools provide typical special education services through the adoption of an Individual Education Plan (IEP).
As with the public schools in the United States, quality special education programs vary. An important difference is that public schools need to provide an appropriate education for all disabled students, even severely disabled.
International schools typically provide special education services for those students classified as having mild to moderate needs. Most international schools classify special needs students as falling into the following categories:
Mild Needs: are students who are below one grade level in academic achievement. Their social-emotional functioning rarely impacts their functional performance. These students are able to achieve with academic accommodations through a Student Support Plan, which is modelled after Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act “504 Plan”.
Academic accommodations for students with mild needs may include extended time for tests, providing copies of notes, preferential seating and accommodations to support their disability. Mild needs students are typically those having mild diagnoses of a Learning Disorder or ADHD (mild).
Moderate Needs: are students who are functionally below two grade levels in academic achievement. Students who also fall into this category are those who have social-emotional and difficulties that significantly impact their functional performance.
These students are usually provided with an IEP services such as in-class and pull-out support to support their learning, social and behavioural needs. Related services of psychological counselling, social skills group counselling, speech and language therapy and occupational therapy may also be provided. Moderate needs students typically have a diagnosis of a learning Disorder (Moderate), ADHD (Moderate), Autism Spectrum Disorder and emotional difficulties.
Intensive Needs: students who are achieving academically three grade levels below their current grade and/or have social-emotional difficulties that substantially affect their progress in a mainstream educational setting.
These students required academic modifications, behavioural modification plans, or a resource program modifies curriculum expectations to their individual needs. Intensive needs students typically have an intellectual disorder, a severe learning disorder, autism, or a psychiatric disorder that substantially impedes learning and socialisation.
It is recommended that parents provide the school with accurate information related to their child’s educational history and current needs. They are encouraged to send all documents related to their child’s disability which may include previous psychoeducational evaluations, medical records, psychiatric evaluations with any medications the child is currently taking and previous IEPs.
“It is recommended that parents provide the school with accurate information related to their child’s educational history and current needs”
Full disclosure of a child’s disability will help school personnel make informed decisions as to whether the school can meet his or her needs. When possible a family and student visitation to the school helps determine the best fit.
Without full disclosure of a disability, a school may accept a child under false pretences only to discover they cannot adequately educate a child. This may result in the termination of a contract and untold stress to the child and family. Honesty and trust help build a coordinated approach between families and the school in providing children with disabilities optimal support.
About the author: Joseph Graybill, Ph.D, is a licensed American psychologist and current school psychologist at the Anglo American School in Moscow, who also maintains an online psychotherapy practice. He can be contacted here.