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Moving Abroad: Coping with your child's dyslexia in international schools

Updated: May 3

A guide to supporting your neurodivergent child while living abroad


by Susan Cranfield

 a young boy with a blue backpack walking to the front door of a school

Sometimes we need to move our family to another country, either for work, health reasons or simply for a desired change of lifestyle. If you have school-age children, this will usually involve checking out international schools that offer access to the curriculum through the medium of English, since your child will most likely need time and social interaction with their peers before they are able to understand, speak, read and write the new language they will be immersed in.

 

English-medium schools overseas deliver a broadly UK-based curriculum and have the advantage of being able to provide access to IGCSE, AS and A level examinations meaning that your child can slot back into the UK education system at any time. There are various inspection bodies such as COBIS or ISI, that provide certification so you know that the school you have chosen is meeting academic and safeguarding standards.

 

However, what happens if your child is struggling with reading and writing, maybe maths, and is not achieving the targets for their key stage? Whether they are in Primary or Secondary, the understanding of learning difference and the support provided by an English-medium school overseas is often limited. Usually this is because the school is funded only by fee income and therefore has limited resources available to target a smaller group of pupils who have additional needs in diverse areas of their learning.


a young girl looking out a school window sadly

 

Attempting to look for an alternative school for your child is costly (you will most likely have paid a non-refundable entrance fee) and disruptive (they will often have made new friends and settled into their environment by the time the difficulty with learning comes to light). In addition, there is no guarantee that another English-medium school in the same locality will be any better suited to your child’s learning style. Many such schools have limited capacity to cope with non-neurotypical ways of learning. They might also require a diagnosis which is difficult for you to access in a country where neither you nor your child are fluent in the language of available educational psychologists.

 

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A Davis programme is available in almost every part of the world (and online) and can get your child back on track so they can access the curriculum without the need for special support or drastic, anxiety provoking, changes. In addition, the programme has the advantage of boosting your child’s self-esteem and confidence because it gives them certainty around the accuracy of what they are perceiving. I know this because at the age of 8 my own, extremely bright, son suddenly started to struggle with reading, writing and maths at an English-medium school in the classroom of a qualified teacher who labelled him as lazy and uncooperative. He was constantly kept from recreation, art and sporting activities in order to complete maths exercises, could not memorise the times tables and spent hours trying to learn spellings with results of two or three out of ten each week. His writing was illegible (even he couldn’t read what he had written just a few minutes after producing it) and completing Year 3 primary school homework took two to three hours every day.

 

After a term of what can only be described as torture for all the family, he moved to a different class where, after just two weeks, the teacher told us that “something wasn’t quite right” and that she thought it might be dyslexia. After being diagnosed back in the UK we then tried many kinds of support strategies, all of which had a minimal effect. Finally, after discovering Ron’s book The Gift of Dyslexia, we found a provider and he did his first Davis programme in Mastery for Dyslexia with a facilitator in the UK. A year later we went back and he did the Maths Mastery programme. These programmes changed his and our family’s life. He could read and understand what he had read, write so that other people could read what he wanted to say and understand mathematical concepts. He continued in the same school, and moved into vocational education at age 16 after passing seven IGCSEs.


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All this was 20 years ago. My son is now a successful professional who uses both his neurodivergent skills to excel at the creative part of his job and his Davis orientation to deal with day-to-day report writing and other administrative processes he needs to carry out. Without Davis, I truly do not believe that any of this would have been possible. Now, the network of Davis facilitators has expanded across the world – if you and your bright but struggling child have tried different solutions and are still suffering, I would encourage you to check out who is near you and ask for an initial appointment to see if they can help. What do you have to lose?


Susan Cranfield


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