When Charlotte and Dave had their son, Alex, they knew life would be more challenging. Alex has Down Syndrome. They knew raising a child with special needs wouldn’t be easy, and it wasn’t, but things got much more challenging when Alex reached school age. “Because my husband is a diplomat, our family relocates every two to four years,” Charlotte explained. “We had never run into any problems getting our other three children into international schools. It was at this point in my life as a foreign service spouse that I realized how incredibly difficult it is to travel around the globe and find a family fit with a child with special needs. Although Alex was high functioning, had no behavioral issues and received high marks during NY-based cognitive and physical evaluations, I could not find a single family fit anywhere on the worldwide list of my husband’s bidding possibilities. International schools from New Delhi to Tbilisi to Cambodia to locations in South America to various posts across Africa would simply not accept Alex.”
In the United States, “The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is a federal law that requires schools to serve the educational needs of eligible students with disabilities…eligible disabilities include autism, visual-impairment, deaf, Down Syndrome…and intellectual disabilities” (Understood, 2014).
So, one can imagine Charlotte’s surprise when no school would accept Alex. Charlotte had schools tell her they couldn’t support students with needs. Some even said that she should consider staying in her home country rather than trying to find a fit for Alex. Charlotte received a letter from a school in Morocco saying, “We can certainly accept your other children, but there’s nothing in this country for your son.”
Charlotte is not the only person with a story like this. In an international setting, it is not unusual for schools to have very little, if any, support for students with learning needs. Finding appropriate special education related services and therapies in the local community can also present many challenges. International School Bangkok (ISB) is one of a growing network of international schools who believe that families should have access to an education that meets the needs of all of their children. They believe in the philosophy of inclusion.
Charlotte was looking for a school similar to one from her home country. She wanted a classroom where students with special needs were given the opportunity to learn alongside peers without disabilities. In an inclusive school, classrooms are set up both physically and educationally to support all learners. Every child has a right to an education, to belong, and to be accepted into a school community.
Inclusive schools are beneficial for all students. Students with special learning needs learn alongside their peers and benefit from peer models and an appropriately challenging instructional level. Typically developing students learn that we live in a diverse world and learn how to get along with all people. They develop empathy as they appreciate and accept others into their classroom community. As students graduate and enter the workforce, they find themselves in an environment where people accomplish tasks differently than themselves. With inclusion, students get a head start on this skill.
Serving a managed number of the full range of learning needs (mild, moderate, intensive and the exceptionally able) within a school takes talented, committed individuals and a community who believe that all children have this educational right, as it is a collective endeavor. Inclusive schools encourage students to show their learning through their strengths while building upon their challenges.
ISB will join a small number of international schools around the world who serve the full range of learning needs when they accept their first cohort of students with intellectual and developmental disorders in August 2017. “Our approach is unique in Bangkok,” explains Cindy Warner-Dobrowski, Director of Student Services. “Students will receive highly individualized support to address their unique learning and developmental needs and be full and valued members of our community. Our experienced, school-based multidisciplinary team targets functional academics and life skills, and facilitates opportunities for students to learn alongside typically developing peers to the maximum extent appropriate.”
ISB is a member of Next Frontier Inclusion, an organization that promotes and protects the interests of children who learn in different ways or at different rates by supporting international schools working towards inclusion. Their goal: an inclusive school in every city in the world. With close to 100 member schools across the globe, the momentum of inclusion is growing. “Having collaborated with many international school leaders over the years, I have clearly seen a shift in the thinking in regard to accepting and supporting students who learn differently. For a growing number of schools the shift has been from ‘Should we?’ to ‘How should we?’” (Pelletier, 2014)
This is encouraging news for families such as Charlotte’s. Her family is no longer living in Bangkok, however she is excited about the progress at schools such as ISB. “I can’t help but look at the program being created at ISB and feel a tremendous sense of longing. For parents who have the opportunity to send their children to an incredible school like ISB where both typical children and those with special needs will be welcomed and will thrive, it is a gift like no other. Those families have truly won the lottery.”
Pelletier, K. (2013, April 19).
Who Are Our Schools For? The Case for Inclusion.
Retrieved October 20, 2014.