For parents who have just discovered their child has learning differences or special educational needs, the key first step to coping successfully with the situation is to gather information. Knowledge empowers parents and prevents frustration. As soon as a problem is suspected, parents should arrange an assessment with a doctor, specialist or psychologist.
The next step is to join a parents’ association such as ASK – All Special Kids, Association Autisme Genève or Insieme. These offer parents emotional support and access to the knowledge and experience of other parents in similar situations. The organizations are very useful and help guide parents to the most appropriate local services and programmes. Importantly, the associations often offer their own programmes such as all-inclusive holiday camps, homework and social skills clubs, social outings and peer mentoring.
Over the past 10 years, the region’s international schools have made significant progress in responding to the needs of families with special needs. Ecolint has developed its well-received Extended Support Programme, Post-16 Programme and Learning Centre for those needing more help; Collège du Léman and Geneva English School have broadened their range of support services and strengthened their learning support departments; and Oak Hill school in Nyon, which works only with children with learning differences, continues apace.
Parents can also find support in the local state system, in terms of specialist centres and schools for children up to the age of 15. They should also look into available state allowances such as assurance invalidité (AI) to help pay for therapies. For higher-needs children and adults, allocation pour impotent will help pay for carer and housing costs.
La Fondation SGIPA offers pre-professional training for those aged 15-18 and, along with Fondation Aigues-Vertes and Fondation Ensemble, provides specialist work places (ateliers protégés) and sheltered accommodation (foyers). For recreational activities, children and adults with special needs can join the Association Sportive Schtroumpfs, (swimming, football, cycling, pétanque); Autrement Aujourd’hui (theatre) or Fondation Cap Loisirs (sports/creative activities).
ASK is holding an information day on Saturday 8 November at the Ecumenical Centre, 150 Route de Ferney. Families of children with learning differences can go along and listen to conference speakers Professor Stephan Éliez and Hilary Wood de Wilde from OMP’s autism centre; Yves Thézé, DG of Collège du Léman; Vicky Tuck, DG of Ecolint; and Lori Crowley, a parent of two children with special educational needs and the founder of the Ability Awareness programme. These speakers are highly respected in their fields. There will be a supervised kids’ corner, parent workshops and information booths hosted by local providers to enable parents to learn about available services and programmes in the region.
Jacqueline Martin, parent volunteer at ASK – All Special Kids