Yasmin is Italian, and she has been living abroad since she was very young. She presently lives in London. She is mother of two children, Courtney and Liam. Liam is a child with special needs, and in this interesting interview Yasmin tells us about her experience of expatmother.
Can you tell us briefly about your expatriation history?
When the children were 3 (Courtney) and Liam (2.5) we moved from London to Holland. We first lived in Haarlem and then moved to The Hague. After 4 years we returned to London for a year and half and then at the end of 2006 we relocated to Antibes in the South of France.
Where do you live now, and what is your occupation?
We live now in London and I am an EAL (English as an Additional Language) and SpLD (Dyslexia) specialist teacher. I work part time at the German School in London and for the local Authority (Surrey).
You have a son with special needs. Would you like to tell us about him and about your expat experience with him?
Liam is 12.5 now and his condition, High Functioning Autism, only appeared in the South of France when he was 8. We had an attempted burglary at the house and he saw the burglars. From that moment it was like the Pandora box was open. He had a surge of anxiety and he became OCD and anger appeared. We tried to find help on the Riviera but as he was attending a private English school and did not speak French we could not find therapists to intervene with him. At first we thought he had a mental illness and only when I returned to London after 6 months to have him assessed he was diagnosed with Autism.
How did you feel in the various countries where you have lived, as far as schooling and general welcome are concerned?
In France Autism is still something that is solved in putting children or adults in a mental health unit. Only recently in Paris and Lyon groups are forming to support families.
My choice was to return to the UK where Autism is well known and catered for. You have a choice of staying in mainstream schools with support or go the route of a specialist private school. For both to receive help you need a statement and have the local authority agree to fund the school (if you choose private); they are very expensive, from pounds 130.000 to 180.000.
I decided that Liam would not benefit mainstream. Classes are huge and therapies are few and difficult to access. I went for the independent private schools. We had to fight and take the local authority to tribunal but it was worth it. He has been for 2 years in a weekly boarding school and since September in another school where he is boarding termly. Their needs change as they grow.
Although he is at the top end of the spectrum, therefore bright, his behaviour is challenging and as a family it had become increasingly difficult to cope with him.
What do you think parents of children with special needs need in order to decide whether to accept a posting in a country they know nothing or almost nothing about?
Before you move abroad with a child that has a disability you really have to do your homework. Many countries do not have the facilities or experience to support a child and the family. It can be very difficult for a family because sacrifices have to be made and your dreams have to be put on hold.
Do you think the expatriation experience has been positive for your son?
My son did not benefit from moving abroad because his condition was not detected. If we had stayed in London as he started school probably it would have been noticed and early intervention would have been beneficial for him. Most international schools abroad do not have the expertise to cope with a range of disabilities.
I am glad I returned to London because now he is looked after properly and he hopefully will have an independent future as his skills improve.
Thanks a lot Yasmin and best whishes for Liam’s future!
Interview by Claudia Landini (Claudiaexpat)