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Many international companies offer a "look-see" visit prior to accepting a post overseas, and this offers an ideal time to investigate the various educational options available there.  Write down your questions in advance of the meeting with the school, and take notes so you will have a record of your interview and any promises the school might make regarding accommodations for your learning-differently student.  Go back over your notes before the interview is ended to help avoid any misunderstandings in the future (e.g. “It is my understanding that . . .”)


For an excellent check list of questions to download and take with you, go to .  This entire booklet is well worth reading, and was originally put online by Dyslexia International, Tools and Technologies.  The check list of questions to ask schools can be found on pp. 25-31.






Many parents and teachers living overseas are involved with international schools. These schools are not run like the public ones back home, nor are they run like the national schools of the host country.


International schools are private institutions, and like private schools in other countries, they do not have to make allowances for learning-differently students. One FAWCO researcher who investigated two international schools in her area reported, "Both schools were very helpful and said each child would be evaluated on an individual basis, and if they didn't feel that the very best could be provided, they would decline to take the student."   Another school policy stated that they ". . . will not accept students who, because of cognitive or physical disabilities require special education classes or services."


However in some locations, international schools are the only option for the relocating family, and as one FAWCO questionnaire respondent reported, "Parents find themselves totally alone, in many cases in fear of losing their jobs because there are no facilities for any type of learning problem."


On the other hand, large international hubs like Athens and Brussels do offer many English-speaking schools from which to choose.


This does not mean to say that most international schools make no provision for special needs.  In fact according to the responses to one of our questionnaires, 13 out of 16 of the clubs who answered this question said that their international school did provide some sort of special help.


Of special note is the program available at the Casablanca American School in Morocco:


Program for Ability Centered Education (PACE)

The goal of the PACE program is to help students who are not achieving at grade level or students who are performing above grade level.


There are three ways a child can qualify for PACE support:

·       Demonstrate a significant need for both decoding skills and increased comprehension in reading

·       Be diagnosed with a learning disability

·       Demonstrate exceptional academic abilities in one or more subject areas. (This is usually inclusive rather than pull-out.) [1]






As noted, international schools are not subject to the rules, regulations, and laws that most national schools are subject to.  But many are members of associations that do have standards of accreditation.

The following is taken from such an association, the European Council of International Schools (


The ECIS Guide to School Evaluation and Accreditation is intended to provide a uniform approach in the evaluation and accreditation of schools located throughout the world.  The desire of the writers and sponsors has been to develop an effective global system of accreditation which:


·       Fosters excellence in all stages of school-based education.

·       Encourages school improvement through a process of continuous self-study and peer evaluation.

·       Assures a school and the constituencies it serves that an accredited institution provides a quality education program for students based upon clearly defined goals and objectives that are appropriate to the unique school population served. [2]


Their Standards of Accreditation are concerned with, among many other things, Special Needs Education. What follows are some their expectations in this area:


·       There shall be effective procedures for identifying and addressing the special needs of students with learning disabilities.

·       There shall be effective procedures for identifying and addressing the special needs of students of exceptionally high ability and/or exceptional talent. [3]


For a full listing of all the 14 areas of special needs educations that are addressed, please go to .


For a listing of the current ECIS member schools, go to .






In 2000, European Children in Crisis (ECIC) conducted a survey of the English-speaking schools in Belgium which were found primarily in the Brussels and Antwerp areas.  The questions asked concerned what facilities and accommodations were available for special needs students in their school.  Twenty-four schools responded to the survey, five of which were Montessori schools.  Some of the schools were for kindergarten or elementary pupils only.  We are very grateful to ECIC for allowing us to present the results of this survey, which appear below:


1. Does the school have an established special needs/learning support unit?
12 - yes
11 - no
1 - not applicable

2. Would it be acceptable to have a classroom aid/interpreter alongside a child?
17 - yes
2 - no
3 - maybe
2 - not applicable

3. Is it compulsory for all pupils to learn a second language?
12 - yes
11 - no

4. Would it be acceptable for a pupil with specific learning difficulties to tape-record lessons?
14 - yes
1 - no
2 - sometimes
5 - not applicable

5. Would a pupil with specific learning difficulties be given extra time in tests and exams?
15 - yes
2 - possibly
7 - not applicable

6. Would a pupil with specific learning difficulties be allowed to use a computer/spell checker/reader/writer, etc. during tests and exams?
15 - yes
3 - depends
5 - not applicable

7. Could a child with Down's Syndrome be accommodated in the school?
11 - yes
7 - no
6 - possibly

8. Could a child with mild autism be accommodated in the school?
15 - yes
5 - no
4 - possibly

9. Could a child in a wheelchair be accommodated in the school?
8 - yes
15 - no
1 - with difficulty

10. Is there a full-time nurse at the school?
8 - yes
14 - no
2 - part time

11. Is there a separate sickroom?
10 - yes
14 - no

12. Does the school have an educational psychologist?
11 - yes
13 - no

13. Does the school have a speech therapist?
10 - yes
13 - no
1 - part time

14. Does the school have a counseling service?
13 - yes
10 - no

15. Does the school have tutors to provide extra help outside school hours?
15 - yes
8 - no
1 - not applicable

16. Is there a school bus service?
14 - yes
10 – no


Some schools indicated that the cost of financial support for special needs students has to be paid by the parents. 


Please check the websites for the schools below to see if there has been a change in their policies since this study was done:


Antwerp International School ( )  in Belgium indicated:


At AIS, students in all grades with identified learning needs receive additional academic assistance through the Learning Support program. An individualized plan with specific educational goals is set for each student in need of learning support, to provide the most appropriate learning journey for each student.

For more information about Learning Support Services at AIS, please contact our Learning Support Coordinator at  [4]


The British Junior Academy of Brussels ( )wrote:


We have several members of staff with experience in dealing with special needs, but because we are a small school we have not established a specialist department. Our small class sizes allow a considerable amount of individual attention, and each application is considered carefully. We therefore ensure that we are able to cater effectively for each child’s needs, so ensuring that they benefit from the educational programme we offer. [5]






For the most part, public schools, wherever you find them, recognize some responsibility for making provision for students who learn differently.  These provisions range from superior ones that can be found in countries like Great Britain where children have the legal right to be taught in a way appropriate to their learning styles, to countries where special needs programs are just being established.


Except in Great Britain and Ireland, there were no specialized English-speaking boarding schools for learning-differently students that we were able to find.  Most host countries, however, offer such possibilities in their native language and at no additional charge to the family for the tuition.  However, costs like transportation and room and board might not be covered.  These schools are usually only for severe cases, and once a student is admitted it can be difficult to get him back into the mainstream schools.


Sometimes the school system won't pay for help until the child is a certain age. Sometimes there is a time limit set for free help after which the family must pay.


Most host countries do not require that the student attend school in one particular school district.  This can be to the great advantage of the learning-differently student as one school might offer much more help than another.  One FAWCO researcher recounts experiences with host country schools, "I have heard stories in our club of children who have been treated as 'stupid' and made to do all the normal schoolwork with no extra help, and I have heard parents tell of children who have been given the very best of extra help with their learning disability."


Many host country schools follow the Greek example in their approach to the education of children with special education needs:


The ministry educational policy concerning the education of children and youth with special needs is clearly integration oriented not only in theory but also in practice.
The basic characteristic of this development is the differentiation in the strategies and methods
of providing special education programmes of the pupils who need them not inspirited and
isolated schools or institutions, but in the mainstream schools.
These strategies lead not only to the school, but also to the social integration of the children
with special needs.

The development of special programs in the ordinary schools is a major trend in Greece today
and obviously a good and fruitful way towards school and social integration. 




The official recognition by the Flemish educational authorities (Dutch-speaking area of Belgium) of specific learning difficulties as a valid condition that should be addressed by mainstream teachers has come only recently.  However, interest by many of these teachers in the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium is high, and schools are beginning to consider specific accommodations that can be allowed in regular classrooms.   Below is a list prepared by one school in Antwerp for their learning-differently students:







One FAWCO club in a developing country reported no international schools and no special help yet available in the national school system due to financial limitations.  In a case like this, children with special needs either had to be home-schooled or returned to their home country for schooling.


It was felt that in most all schools, whether public or international, the staff was accessible, and arranging a conference was easily done.  Unfortunately such conferences did not always result in the improvement of the child's situation.


The manner in which either system provided special provision ranged from regular classroom teachers attempting to tailor their teaching to the learning style of the student to highly-trained, specialized learning resource personnel.


For the most part, there was no additional charge in either the public or the private schools for any special help that was available on site. However, often this help was found to be inadequate and families found themselves in the position of having to pay for additional remedial treatment and/or assessment.


Some schools do not have referral systems, and the parents must not only pay for special help, they must also find it on their own.


The most often repeated kind of advice given by FAWCO respondents regarding coping tactics was that "one must be strong-minded, persistent and very direct."






As has been noted, many learning-differently students are not recognized until they leave their first six years of formal school because elementary school teachers are usually taught to teach in a multisensory and repetitive manner and this is the approach to which learning-differently students respond best.  The students see, hear and do, more or less simultaneously.  The teacher writes "cat" on the blackboard.   As it is being written, the teacher says the letters and the word.  The students then repeat the letters and the word a few times.  Then they copy the word on their paper. Perhaps the teacher will show a colored picture of a cat, or maybe even a cat will be brought into the classroom, and the sense of touch might be added to the learning experience.  The student's own senses are used to the greatest extent possible, and over-learning, or repetition, is employed.






There is a vast difference between teaching techniques in the elementary school and those employed in secondary and higher education.  Once in the higher grades, students are often expected to learn using fewer senses, as when they must listen and take notes from a lecture. They are expected to organize their own time and find their own way. 


Elementary teachers are taught how to teach.  Most often teachers in the middle school, high school and college or university classes are not.  They merely have to have a degree in the subject they are teaching, and sometimes, not even that.  Therefore they are ill-equipped to help the LD learners in their classes.  The information below in “12 Things” might help teachers to understand how some LD students feel.






The following comes from “12 Things High School Students With ADD/ADHD Would Like Their Teachers To Know”, by Eileen Bailey the then director of ADDHelpline:


1.     I really do forget things, I am not trying to be smart, sassy or arrogant, I simply do not always remember. The myth that if it is important enough I will remember it is just that, a myth.

2.     I am not stupid.

3.     I really do complete my homework. It is easy for me to lose papers, leave them at home and otherwise not be able to find my homework at the proper time. Completing homework in a notebook is much easier for me as it will not get lost as easily. Loose papers are difficult for me to keep track of. (Once my mother found my homework in the bread drawer after I had left for school!)

4.     If I ask the same question over or ask many questions, it is not out of arrogance. I am trying hard to understand, comprehend and remember what you have said.  Please be patient and help me.

5.     I want to do good. I have struggled with schoolwork for many years and it is frustrating to me. My goal is to do my best and pass this class with flying colors.

6.     ADD is not an excuse. ADD really does exist and it does affect my thinking process. I would like to be "normal" and be able to remember and process information quickly, I do not enjoy being "different" and made fun of for my differences.

7.     I need your help to succeed. It isn't always easy for me to ask for help and sometimes asking makes me feel stupid. Please be patient with my attempts and offer your help.

8.     Please be sure to talk with me in private about behaviors or actions that may not be appropriate. Please do not humiliate me, insult me, or call attention to my weaknesses in front of the class.

9.     I do better with a detailed plan and knowing what you expect. If you should change plans in the middle to adapt to some outside influence, please help me to adapt. It may take me longer to adjust to the changes. Structure and guidance are my best allies.

10.  I don't like having "special accommodations." Please do not draw attention to them and help me to succeed with the least amount of attention drawn to my ADD.

11.  Learn about ADD/ADHD. Read information and find out all you can on how kids with ADD learn and what can make it easier for them.

12.  Always remember that I am a person with feelings, needs and goals. These are as important to me as yours are to you. [7]





The following information comes from the school newsletter of AIS in Vienna in June of 1997:


Colleges may request complete psycho-educational evaluations for learning disabled students to help them determine admission as well as qualifying the student for special services or allowances once admission is granted.  In any case, it is helpful for high school students to be assessed if any difficulty is suspected because they might qualify for special considerations, like extra time, when taking the SAT, AP and IB exams.


The college guide, How to Get Into the College of Your Choice . . . and How to Finance It (see Resources/Books), provides a whole chapter entitled "Some Tactics for Those with Learning Disabilities."  They advise that you keep the college of your choice fully informed about your learning-differently problems.  A sample letter is provided to be submitted along with the application to the college admission office describing any difficulties, and also a sample letter to send after the student has been accepted requesting any special considerations.






Some schools, in particular international schools, don't always have a budget that will support an adequate number of special needs teachers.  One solution might be to hire learning support assistants. The British Dyslexia Association (BDA) lists recommendations for training such assistants on its Internet site, There they state that:


The BDA wishes to encourage the training of assistants to teachers in order for such assistants to be able to facilitate effectively the learning of pupils with specific learning difficulties, particularly in the areas of literacy and numeracy. The BDA recommendations and criteria . . . are made with the understanding that teacher assistants must work under the direction of the classroom teacher and that training is intended to enhance this supportive role. It is not intended to suggest that these assistants should function independently to supplant the teacher's responsibilities.


Such in-class assistance supports mainstreaming in a very effective manner.  In many cases when a family is living abroad, international school education might be the only real option available for their learning-differently children.  If necessary and as a last resort, it might be possible for the family to hire the in-class assistant themselves, if this is the only way that the international school will grant admission.


Enrollment in a national school that does not use the student's native language may further complicate the student's learning process.  The following is from an article written by a mother who was living in Germany:


Unfortunately we have learned there is little room in school systems throughout Europe for children with any sort of difficulty that might inhibit their ability to learn.  Given the uniform nature of instruction and absence of individualization in most schools, even a teacher aware of learning difficulties in a child will have little chance of modifying the classroom curriculum, rhythm or teaching style so the affected child can cope.  For this reason, placing a child like Geoffrey in a local European school is out of the question.


As with any school selection, homework is required of the parents.  Speak up and be specific about their needs.  Bring records along for interviews if possible.  This is risky because no one wants a preconceived notion of their child imposed on prospective teachers.  However, we have found it worse not to speak up.  Sometimes the ill will created by a child's behavior is damaging beyond repair.

It is imperative to receive a proper diagnosis for any and all learning difficulties. . . And most importantly, be involved and alert to what is happening.  Parents of children who have to work harder must advocate for their child. [8]


Students Who Learn Differently Overseas


by Susan van Alsenoy, AWC Antwerp




Page created 10/29/99 EvE. Last updated 03/01/11 SvA.




Copyright ©  All rights reserved.




[2] GUIDE_Sept1999.pdf





[7] “Your Guide to Attention Deficit Disorder”

[8] Grossman, Susan. “When a child stumbles academically, where do you turn if you live overseas?" Transatlantic American. March/April 1998. No. 16. pp. 14-15.