Transitioning to a new country with a new workplace, friends, house, school and life is very difficult. There is so much preparation, investigation and exploration that goes on beforehand. It can be difficult to find a school that you like, that you think your children will do well in and that is close to your new home and work. When you also have to consider support for learning differences as well, things can become extremely complex. I have put together a list of things that you may want to look out for or questions that you may want to ask when you are investigating or visiting a new school for your child with learning differences. If you would like a list that is specifically tailored to your child’s needs then we can do that too.

When moving back to state school education in your home country The first thing that you may want to investigate is whether or not your child needs a formal, medical diagnosis before he or she will be able to access services at home. If you have a diagnosis for your child check that it has been verified by a clinician if it is a medical diagnosis. This will most likely be one of the recommendations on your report if you have one. It may read something like – ‘Consultation with a paediatrician or Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist or a Neurologist to confirm diagnosis of …..”. The types of diagnosis that would most likely require confirmation would be Autism Spectrum Disorders (PDD-NOS, Aspergers etc), ADD and ADHD, ODD, Anxiety Disorder, Speech Disorders or Learning Disabilities. Each country will have different guidelines about what your child may and may not be entitled to in order to support them. Please contact the Education Authority or School District that you will be returning to as soon as possible.

When moving to another international school. Again, you may want to pursue the confirmation of any diagnosis before you leave Manila or when you are at home for the holiday if you are going. This is especially true if you are moving to a country with a lack of access to good paediatricians etc. If your son or daughter takes any specific medication try to find out in advance if it is available in the country you are moving to (for example, long-acting Ritalin is not easily available in the Philippines). As far in advance as possible you should begin examining your options for schooling in the city that you are moving too. You may or may not have a choice of school depending on what is available or what your employment contract may tie you to.

 When considering the needs of a child with learning differences you may need to think beyond the accepted ‘best’ international school that everyone else sends there kids to.

• School size – Often, international schools can be very, very large. This means that it can take little kids sometimes 5 – 7 minutes to walk from their classroom to their art room or that there are up to 200 students in the playground at any one time. Try to see this world from your child’s perspective. If their exceptionalities make it hard from them to retain focus or stay in control of their impulses then a very large environment, even when the class size is small may be stressful for them.

• Class size – When your child has learning differences then you may need to consider the class size or the ratio of adults to children in the class. It is also prudent to ask about adult supervision on the playground during recess, on the school bus and in the canteen, particularly if your child has social functions issues.

• Learning Support – You can be provided with a brief summary of your child’s needs and the support structures that are in place at ISM to take with you or forward to the schools you are considering. Many international schools will only accept children with mild learning needs. While it may be tempting to underplay the needs of your child or their current levels of support, it goes without saying that the removal of supports which are required will likely have a detrimental effect on your child’s achievements in school. You can be provided with a ‘minimum level of support’ that your child will need if you are lacking in options and want to ensure that your child will have some needs met. If this is the case then please come and meet with me to discuss how you can make up for deficits in support through activities at home or in the community.

• Interventions – Will the new school be able to provide social skills/social functioning input if your child is currently receiving it or will all support be purely academic? Again, you can talk with me about ways to address these issues at home and in the community if it is going to be missing from Learning Support in the new school. If you know your child has these issues the find out some more about how the school will support your child’s transition in an enhanced way. Will there be a member of staff they can link to straight away like a counselor etc?

• In-school Supports – If your child currently has an Educational Assistant, Speech and Language Therapy, Occupational Therapy or any other school based intervention then will a new school be able to provide this? Will you be able to access it locally outside or school and what will the effect be of removing this support are all questions that can be discussed with the new school and with me and the therapists. If there is no EA provided will the school let you hire your own and have them support your child in class?

• Educational Philosophy – Take time to talk to the school about this. Do they assign homework? Will this be differentiated for your child? Do they have a highly structured program or a more flowing, child-led approach? Which would suit your child best?

• Looking to the future – Continuing levels of support into MS and HS. If you are planning to stay at your next school until your child moves into Middle School then do check if the supports that may be present at Elementary School will follow into Middle School and beyond.

• Cost – Do not forget to enquire into the cost of the LS program and what is included in that cost. As mentioned, please do not hesitate to contact me to talk about these issues in relation to your specific child. I am also happy to talk with the schools you are considering if they want clarification on any elements of the current learning supports in place at International School Manila.