Tue, Oct 07, 2008 - Page 4 News List

Community Compass:FEATURE: Taiwan move can be hard with special needs kids

RESOURCES International schools in Taiwan play a prominent role in providing support for parents and children with special needs in the expatriate community

By Flora Wang  /  STAFF REPORTER

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Moving halfway around the world is never an easy decision. The decision is especially complicated for families with children of special needs because they are faced with the uncertainty of whether their children will be able to enjoy the same support network abroad as they did in their native countries.

Charles Garrett had similar concerns when he decided to take the offer to become deputy director of the British Trade and Cultural Office in Taipei in 2005.

“With our children, the main concern was education and whether they were going to be happy and settled,” Garrett said during a recent interview with the Taipei Times. “We have five children and it was the concern for each of our children. But it was more difficult to provide for our second child, who has Down syndrome.”

To make sure his teenage daughter would enjoy all the educational support she needed in Taipei, Gerrett and his wife began looking into schools very carefully.

“The fact that the [Taipei] European School (TES) here would be able to integrate a child with Down syndrome was a very important factor. It meant I could take the job in Taipei,” he said.

UNKNOWN NUMBERS

The size of the special needs population within the expatriate community in Taiwan is not known, nor is the number of specialists working within the special needs programs in Taiwan’s international schools, partly because some schools — TES for example — are concerned about confidentiality.

“We won’t give out that information [regarding the number of students with special needs or special education teachers],” said Zoe Gare, coordinator of special needs programs at TES. “There are some [special needs] children and the percentage of [the] children would be what we expect in any school in England or the United States.”

Other schools, like Taipei American School (TAS), are equally discreet.

“TAS treats all of our special needs’ children’s programs and situations with the utmost discretion. We do not believe that publicly discussing our students’ needs is beneficial to them,” TAS community relations personnel Frances Yu said in an e-mail on Sept. 8 in response to the Taipei Times’ inquiries.

Nevertheless, international schools in Taiwan, like TES, play a prominent role in providing support for parents and children with special needs in the expatriate community.

“We try to be as inclusive as possible,” Gare said, adding that most of the children follow regular curriculums with other students in class.

“We might have special needs teachers or assistants helping them in different ways to access the curriculum,” she said, adding that the curriculum is adapted for them according to the needs of the children.

Ruth Martin, head of TES’ British Infant Section, said the school would sometimes give the children special one-on-one sessions if they got upset or obstructed other children from learning.

In Taichung, schools like Morrison Academy offer programs targeting students’ learning needs in accordance with each student’s individual education program.

NO SPECIAL EDUCATION

In Kaohsiung, Kaohsiung American School, for instance, offers “enrichment programs and/or differentiation of instruction” for its students, but as the school’s Web site states, there is no formal special education program provided at the school.

Despite the schools’ offer of resources, for parents and children with special needs, obtaining help and support in their native languages in Taiwan may sometimes prove difficult.

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