It’s that phase in life when, after spending six, long, stable, well-supported years in one place, the time has come to relocate to different lands. This is one of those free-flowing posts -written because I want to just make sense of the situation. We all know change is inevitable and yet it’s not the easiest to embrace. I also know that it is this process that helps us all evolve. Being in the expat community for quite long now, we have seen families leaving, the nitty gritty of winding up and the excitement of the new place. So, what is different in our case- Well, to say the least we had to keep the offer on hold and find out first if the new lands could cater to my child’s needs. Is there a well-intentioned mainstream school ready to include my son? Are there qualified intervention services available in the city?
My son with learning needs goes to a regular school presently and he receives support/facilitation in class. Within my first few minutes of browsing the net, I found a very detailed description on one of the premier institutions offering “Learning Support services at various levels- one is to one support, small group support, in-class support”. The economics also worked so I was almost sure that my son will be given a spot. I mailed them the important reports and I received a mail which said they will not be able to accept my child. Quoting them “Although we have a learning support team, we do not have the specific requirements that your son requires.”
As a parent this would have been easier to accept and understand if they first met with my child virtually at least, had an interaction and gave me an understanding of what these specific requirements are, that they cannot cater to. This coming from a school with all the great infrastructure and a learning support team, it was quite a difficult one to comprehend. I got one more “sorry” email from another school and then I went quite numb for a day. I was back in 2016-2017 when my son was transitioning from preschool to the big school. We had faced so many “we regret to inform” and “sorry” until we found the perfect fit. I realised that my child has progressed immensely in the four years, but the education system is right there where it was!
I then went into expat forums and found a lesser-known school. Or rather a school probably known to the special needs and expat community. This school admits typical /regular kids without a test. They believe that every child has the right to education and hence will not be tested. The children with learning needs will first undergo a detailed assessment to see what level of support is needed. If mild needs, they are included in mainstream class with an assistant teacher dedicated to the child; if mild to moderate needs then they are given learning support in class and outside of it and for kids with severe conditions they provide special needs support. They allow for inclusion in the sense that a child will have the right to education amongst typical kids in the same regular class. Children in general learn by observing peers and through the social interactions. For my son, school is his happy place. The intention in inclusion exhibited by his present school has been the key to his progress. We want that to continue not only for his self-esteem and confidence but for his growth.
I think we need more months than just April dedicated to Autism Awareness. We have a long way to go to understand the needs of autistic children, understand they have a right to education and only if they are given this can it translate to their independence and success at jobs. Children on the spectrum can go on to have successful lives and the seeds for this must be sown early on in their lives. The Ministries of Education can incorporate best practices from countries like Denmark where inclusion in schools is a political priority and a clear goal for schools. There is an advisory body constituting of educational psychologists that assesses the child and communicates with the school and parent on the support level and services that should be provided. A social worker is assigned to ensure progress of the child. The public-school systems are evolved, providing good quality education to children. I am referencing some articles around this for further reading and for further awareness.
The other noteworthy point is, that in these countries, the parents are not stressed by the economics involved when the children are supported at the schools. The public-school systems do not charge exorbitant fees and the support provided is also within this. Parents of children with needs already need to pay for the specialised services like speech therapy, occupational therapy, etc outside the school hours. These services are very expensive and require good financial planning. Hence it is a relief that they are not burdened by the school fees. Expats will need to consider the first language used in these schools. In Denmark, the public schools can cater to your children provided they know Danish! This becomes quite tough for the foreign or expat population.
Most countries either don’t have laws in place or are still formulating laws around inclusion. In India, the RPWD Act (Right to Persons with Disabilities Act) came about in 2016. It defines inclusive education as “A system of education wherein students with and without disability learn together and the system of teaching and learning is suitably adapted to meet the learning needs of different types of students with disabilities.” However, the ground realities are quite different. Parents have had to decide to home-school their children despite getting admissions to schools because they have not received the quality they expected. Inclusion is seen merely as an Act to abide by, and the intention is lacking. Schools that do have the right ethos and intention have managed to put a system in place but these schools are few.
What is lacking everywhere is the existence of an advisory body that constitutes of psychologists, neurodevelopmental paediatricians, occupational therapists, and speech therapists who can assess children and give clear directives to schools on the level of support to be given to the child. This can help bring the much-needed consistency, uniformity, and accountability. The lack of clarity has allowed for loopholes that the school managements can use to their convenience.
It is imperative that there be a strong political will across countries to improve education systems as the truth is the number of children with learning needs is increasing and this area needs to be addressed. We are all global citizens now. People are on the move and they should be at ease to pick up opportunities that come their way and their children should be able to seamlessly transition between schools. I hope that I see light for my son. I hope he can go to the same regular school as his younger sibling, and they can together tide over every transition that is in store for them.