Applying to international schools can be a challenge if your child has learning needs.

When you have a child with special needs, your entire decision to relocate abroad may come down to whether you can find a school to accept him. All international schools have the right to accept or deny children at their discretion.

Before you accept your expat posting, you need to make sure your child can gain admission to a school appropriate for her needs. Most international schools have limited learning support, but if you believe this environment is best for your child there are a few things you should know before you contact schools.

When it comes to information sharing, less can be more. Many admissions personnel in schools are not educators. Even those who are often lack a knowledge base in special needs. Children who come across their desks will likely be “red-flagged” and looked at very carefully. If your child requires minimal assistance in his current school, sending a decade’s worth of test reports, records and individualized plans will overwhelm the school, regardless of the information contained in those reports. In this case, less is definitely more.

If the reality is that your child has moderate rather than mild needs, the first thing you need to do is determine whether the school is appropriate for your child’s needs. Consider the possibility that enrolling a child into a mainstream environment with minimal support may be detrimental to him and others in the classroom. If you still decide to apply, remember to include only the most current and relevant information. Stacks of paper create the impression of a student with extreme needs.

In an interview, honesty is always the best policy.  Many parents of children with needs downplay their child’s issues because they have learned how to play the “international school game.”  Schools are used to hearing “he has very mild autism,” then finding out that their definition of “mild” is very different from his parents’. Hence, schools tend to doubt comments downplaying a child’s needs. Be honest about your child’s needs, but be careful not to make them out as too severe, either.

Be a team player.  Fair or not, if the admissions person likes you, she is more likely to advocate for your child. You want to come across as supportive, likable and willing to do whatever it takes to help your child. That said, do not say things like: “if you accept him, we are willing to pay for a full-time assistant.” This will raise red flags all over the place. Let the school determine the level of extra assistance it would like you to provide.

Remember: you may be used to fighting for your child’s rights in your home country, but this will NOT work in international schools. If they see you as a parent with the potential to be “difficult” there is a good chance your child will not be accepted.

Consider other options.  As a consultant who has seen many children denied acceptance to international schools, I knew there had to be another option. Recently our center in Singapore began facilitating the K12 International Academy program. It is specially designed for students with learning needs who have found it difficult to gain acceptance into international schools. K12 is an accredited online international school that has yielded incredible results for children with learning needs while still being accepting of all.

If your child’s needs are moderate to severe, she may be better served in a special needs placement.  If this is an option in your new country of residence, by all means research it. Even if it would not have been your placement of choice at home, it could still be a better alternative to a mainstream international school offering only limited support.

In conclusion, consider all your options for schooling but do not feel forced to place your child in an environment that may be detrimental to his progress and success.  Deciding to move overseas involves weighing many options. The most important factor to consider should always be whether or not your child can receive a high quality education.

Carrie Lupoli, a US-certified and experienced educator and school administrator, has been living and working internationally since 2005. Originally an expat wife herself, she saw the discriminatory practices against children with special needs and knew she had both the experience and knowledge to help. Although starting Live and Learn meant giving up her “expat coffee mornings,” Carrie has never looked back. She continues to oversee the company remotely from her newest expat assignment, in Northern Europe, while taking on all those household responsibilities!

Though Carrie is now working remotely, she remains very active with Live and Learn, consulting with European and Asian schools, and writing–all while parenting two beautiful daughters with her husband, Peter. To learn more about Carrie and Live and Learn, please visit  You can also follow Carrie on Twitter at @CarrieLupoli.