It is hard enough to live as a family in a foreign country, but to do this with a learning disabled child can make your time as an ex-pat particularly challenging. It is important to find a good school and above all to know you are not alone.
Even though we speak the same language my family found England to be culturally very different from America and particularly different from Southern California where we come from. For the first few years in London, much of our time was spent getting used to the accent and learning the lingo. Because my son's disability was language-based, he had twice as much work to do. First he had to understand what was being said, usually not a problem, and then he had to formulate a response, a difficult task indeed. This skill did develop with time.
Finding a school where your child is happy can be a difficult task. In the city of London, there are a number of schools that provide services for special needs students. We found a school that our son has enjoyed and more importantly, made progress at. It is called Centre Academy and it is located in SouthWest London.
The school is international and has students from all over the world. Because of this, the transition for my very Southern California son was somewhat eased. There were other students who were also adjusting to life in a foreign place. The school capitalizes on its diverse student body and staff. It incorporates multi-cultural concerns and issues into assemblies and lessons.
The school requires that prospective students spend a trial week before a final admission decision is made. This week allowed the staff to get to know my son. It also allowed me some time to judge, through my own observations, how well my son might get on at the school. We all agreed at the end of our trial week that the school just might be a good fit for everyone. That certainly has proved true.
The school employs a full-time speech and language therapist and occupational therapist. There is a full-time counselor on staff as well. The homeroom teacher serves as the students mentor and watches over the general well being of the students in their mentor group.
As a parent, the greatest advantage of Center Academy is that it provides a professional support system for my son, under one roof. It really has taken a village to educate and raise my son. Our extended family has been a source of tremendous support. However, as he grows older, the input and support from an experienced school staff are what has made such a difference.
The staff at the school work together to identify each child's learning difference. They then try to accommodate that difference. My son can have months of very good progress and weeks of slow or no progress. This can be frustrating for teachers and parents. It becomes less frustrating when the staff takes the time to understand each child. Our experience has been that Centre Academy staff takes that time.
Of course every school has its own weaknesses and problems. This is the reality of running a school. Centre Academy is no different. Having said that, I do think that the school puts the students first and work hard to create an excellent learning environment.
Having the school arranged, made settling into London much easier for us. The school schedule gave us regularity and structured our weeks. This certainly helped my son to adjust to life abroad more easily.
We live close enough to school to walk. The London drivers and the weather always make this morning and afternoon event even more exciting. Walking has certainly helped us learn more about the area we are in. In London, you can still find areas that can feel like a small town. There are local shops that you frequent and get to know the people who work there. This contributes a great deal toward the regularity that some learning disabled children require.
The ultimate benefit of a good school, like Centre Academy, is the knowledge that there are other parents like us struggling and hopefully succeeding. Living abroad has enriched our lives and we have found a great school to support our efforts.
Centre Academy can be found on the web at www.centreacademy.com