Positive Parenting

ADHD Abroad: 5 Things to Consider When Moving Across the Pond

When moving outside the United States, take these five things into consideration to plan your ADHD treatment plan abroad.

Students with ADHD point to locations on the globe
Students with ADHD point to locations on the globe

When a family moves abroad, it magnifies the challenges of raising a child with ADHD. A move abroad invites major logistical, friendship, and educational transitions. Our kids need to be flexible, read social clues, and try to fit in, all of which they struggle with.

Further, expatriate families may have limited access to medical resources in their new host country. We are far away from the critical emotional supply lines of family and friends. We have to go to great lengths to create a physical and virtual support network for our family. Nonetheless, many families working with ADHD do move abroad and manage to thrive, despite the challenges.

Here are five things to consider before taking the plunge.

> Get your medical house in order. Before you leave, seek as much expertise as possible about the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD. Doctors in your new host country likely have less experience working with ADHD and discussing ADHD issues can be difficult in a cross-cultural context. Use expat forums and resources such as internationaltherapistdirectory.com to determine whether there are behavioral management counselors, psychologists, or occupational therapists in your host country. Get creative. Can you Skype with a counselor from home?

> Determine the availability of ADHD medication. If your child takes ADHD medication, check with other parents in the country, your embassy in that country, or the embassy of your host country whether that medication is available on the local market. If it isn’t available, ask whether there are restrictions on importing medicine. In countries such as Japan, the United Arab Emirates, and the Republic of Georgia, many ADHD medications are banned for importation. (If that is the case, do not mail medication to yourself. You will likely be violating the law.) When traveling with ADHD medication, check local restrictions beforehand, bring the doctor’s prescription, carry medicine in its original container and in reasonable quantities needed only for the trip, and pack it in your carry-on luggage.

> Find your tribe. Find out whether there is a special-needs community where you are headed. Ask the school and look for Facebook groups such as the ones on internationaladhdparent.org. Accept that ADHD may not be well understood in your new host country. Children and their parents may be stigmatized. Remain plugged into the international ADHD community and keep motivated through webinars and articles about ADHD parenting.

> Find an appropriate school. Most international schools do not have a legal obligation to provide individualized education programs (IEPs) or Section 504 classroom accommodations for children who have been diagnosed with ADHD. Determine whether prospective schools have a psychologist or guidance counselor on staff. Talk to that person about your child’s needs. Ask whether the school welcomes children with ADHD, conducts teacher training on ADHD, has a structured process to determine classroom accommodations, and ensures that teachers follow through. Bring medical files and past IEPs to show the school. Early communication empowers counselors and teachers to develop appropriate strategies to help your child. On the other hand, hiding ADHD out of concern that your child will not be accepted to the school, or ignoring signals that the school is not set up to support special needs children, will hurt your child later.
What can parents do if the school search turns up nothing? “If the local school is not a good fit for their child, a boarding school elsewhere that offers structure, learning strategies, and understanding of ADHD challenges can be an option,” suggests international education consultant Rebecca Grappo of RNG International.

> Embrace opportunities. Keep a list of the specific opportunities that living abroad may present, such as better family finances, more affordable healthcare, additional help at home, or a chance to homeschool your child. Your child may be able to pursue a new hobby or talent. Further, living abroad gives families a chance to build their child’s resilience, tolerance for delayed gratification, problem-solving skills, empathy, and cross-cultural understanding. Actively pursue this positive agenda for your child.