An Expat Special Needs TCK Parent

I recently re-read “6 Secrets Special Needs Moms Know But WON’T Tell You.” If you IMG_3649haven’t read it, go over and at least scan the list. It’s good and fairly accurate. I say that because I feel the same and I’ve heard the cheers from other moms out there. Like this mom, who was also inspired from this same article to write “Special Needs Parents“.

As an expat though, I think at times some of these truths could ring louder…and here is why.

1. Expats are mobile. We move, or our friends move. Like it or not, it is the nature of “expatland.” If we are the one moving, then it is finding new doctors, therapists, schools that have special education, housing that is safe for the child with special needs, and making new friends ~ and I’m not even getting into the emotional side of transition. If it is our friends that move, then new friends join the circle. Always changing…

2. Loneliness: Mobility can add to loneliness. The friend who understands your child, who forgives you for having to cancel the fifth coffee date that month because of something related to your child, the friend who always makes you laugh is no longer there. The time and energy it takes to invest in making new friends is exhausting ~ making one feel like it isn’t worth it at all. To add to this lonely feeling, going out in public and feeling the stares, the odd looks, or hearing the whispers is tough. This is normal in any country, but if you live in a country where the parents of children with special needs are believed to have “bad blood”, then one may not even want to go out.

2. Alone-ness. Not too many parents of children with special needs live overseas, so feeling “I’m all alone” haunts the mind of the parent. The internet forums for specific needs are a great resource for parents, but having someone in person who can relate to those struggles of living overseas is better.

3. Marriage. YES, this is so important and sometimes seems difficult. The divorce rate is very high for families of children with special needs. Couples have to work at their marriage to make it last. Most go on date nights every week, take weekends away without the kids, or even let the kids stay with grandparents for the week to have a second, third, or fourth honeymoon. As an expat, it can be difficult to find people to watch your children, especially if your child has special needs. People are not always comfortable and parents may have issues with finding people they fully trust – see #1 & 2 above.

So, why do we do it – live in “expatland?”

I can’t say for the other parents of children with special needs, but for our family I can say that we live here because it makes the most sense. It is not because we are against living in the US or in Germany or because we are hard-set on being expats. Nine years ago when Jie Jie was diagnosed, we were ready to figure out how to live in the US if we needed to. With no hesitation every doctor and therapists told us to return. So, we’ve taken it one year at a time.

We look at our whole family, not just Jie Jie’s needs. We look at our other children and their needs. We also look at what God is wanting us to do. Two years ago my husband quit his job as principal at the “American Christian” school to focus more on the nonprofit organization that he helped start called Taiwan Sunshine, which supports families of children with special needs. So, for now, this “crazy” expat life makes sense.

Next week I’ll share a few ideas to help fight those expat “heartaches” of being a mom to a child with special needs child.

Your Turn: What do you find difficult as a mom/dad to a child with special needs while living overseas? Even if you don’t have a child with special needs, what do you find difficult? Really I do want to “hear” what you say. Go ahead and comment below.

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14 thoughts on “An Expat Special Needs TCK Parent

  1. Thanks a lot for posting this. It’s really important and helpful for parents of children with special needs who live in another country, or are expats etc.. I don’t have children with special needs but one of my daughters needs speechtherapie and I can tell that it’s really difficult, even in an international town like The Hague, to find a good therapist. Usually international schools provide an expert – and ours does too – but: are these experts for multilingual children? Often they focus on one language. And for my friends who have children with special needs: they often struggle also with language. Now, EAL (english as additional language) can already be a struggle, but how is this all organized for their children? And some schools don’t even accept children with special needs who need constant help in the class…

    • Thanks for commenting. Yes, therapy is difficult especially language therapy. Yes, I do think most therapist focus on one language. I believe this is because the most common belief/theory is that children with special needs should just focus on one language. Though I am by no means an expert in this, I am finding that with our daughter she is able to communicate in two languages. English is the stronger, but she understands and speaks Chinese as well.
      As for schools, there are few international schools that offer full special education classes. Most offer learning needs, but not much more. The reason for this is the cost, which understandable. Most families homeschool and use some sort of tele-speach online therapy.

  2. Unfortunately, homeschooling is not allowed in every country. There are also speech therapists who are specialized in bilingual (sometimes even multilingual) children, but if one of your languages is a minority language it can be very difficult to find one. Here in the NL, Tiny Eye is very good: (I’m sorry, the site is in Dutch…). They provide help via online classes, so for Dutch children abroad, this is a great help!

    • That’s right, homeschooling isn’t allowed in every country. I’m even married to a German, so I should remember that! I think I was having one of those dead brain moments last night. HA! My daughter’s ST is ending in June here, so I just started researching the online classes. Tiny Eye also has an English website and I will check them out. I’ve looked at another group called Canto Speech Therapy, but I’m not sure if they have other “offices” in other countries.
      Now you have me curious to find out….

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  9. Hi – late entrant to commenting on this blog and post. Can you tell me what if any online forums exist for parents of expat kids with special needs? I am researching this topic currently for our podcast Two Fat Expats. I also have a child with plenty of labels and every time we move I feel very alone in setting up the education structure and support. We just moved to Germany 😉

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