Expat advice: Helping a child with learning needs

Developing an action plan is key to helping an expat child with learning needs, according to Carrie Lupoli, an expat mom and founder of Live and Learn Asia.

From the moment you decide to have a baby, the worry starts. I remember being nervous throughout my entire pregnancy, yet retaining the false hope that once the baby was born, I could relax.

Boy was I wrong. It’s only after delivery that the real anxiety begins.

And actually, it never ends. As our kids grow up and learn to crawl, walk, talk and run, our worries intensify. It’s a scary thing, realizing there’s a big world out there we need to prepare them for. Specific worries may change over the years, but the emotion remains the same. It’s love that causes us to worry–the intense desire for them to be happy and confident.

The idea that your child might have learning problems is understandably terrifying, given the impact it could have on her life and emotional health. The key to overcoming it is to have a plan and a path to follow in order to lead you in the right direction. Unfortunately, many families struggle to find their way along this unfamiliar path. When it comes to expats, things are usually even more confused. Parents and teachers seem to recognize when something is wrong, but there are serious misconceptions as to what to do about it.

As a special educator and international consultant in the field, I’m here to shed some light on this topic and to help you draw up a map for navigating this winding, difficult path:

  • Get data. Your first step must be to gain a detailed understand where the struggles are and how your child’s learning is being impacted. All too often I hear, “He can’t do math,” “Reading is hard for him,” or “She just isn’t listening to the teacher.” But there are many intricate areas within math, reading, writing and behavior. You need to understand where the problem actually lies. And that’s only possible by listening to the teachers’ observations.
  • Find the right people. Unfortunately, qualified individuals well-equipped and experienced in diagnosing issues are limited overseas. Word of mouth isn’t enough. Parents don’t often know what they are looking for, and on top of that each child has different needs. What worked for others may not work for you and your child. First research what type of person you actually need to help. Ask friends, but also talk to the school about experts they work with regularly. Depending on where you live, your best option may be to have your child evaluated in your home country as practices there may be more up-to-date.
  • One intervention at a time. If you try to do too much at once, you won’t know what therapy, strategy or technique is really yielding positive results. Do one thing at a time and after about 4-6 weeks, you should start to see some improvement. Once you find a qualified person to help you diagnose the issue, use him as a consultant as you implement various interventions.
  • Relax. Once you get stressed, your child will, too. Anxiety impacts performance and what your child needs is a loving, caring person who is relaxed and calm. Truly, this will be the best intervention you can give your child.


What to do when you suspect your child has a learning need:

Fact sheet on specific disabilities:

Tools for evaluating behavioral needs:

Strategies and interventions for struggling students:

This article also appears on our sister site covering issues related to expatriate children, http://www.expat-kids.com.

Carrie Lupoli, a US-certified and experienced special 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 and continues to oversee the company remotely from her newest expat assignment, in Northern Europe.

Though Carrie is now working remotely, she remains very active with Live and Learn, consulting with European and Asian schools, parenting two beautiful daughters and writing. To learn more about Carrie and Live and Learn, please visit http://www.liveandlearnasia.com.