Special Needs and the Foreign Service Child

There are unique challenges inherent in raising a child with special needs, and this is especially true in the internationally mobile lifestyle of the Foreign Service. There has been a significant effort to increase the number of programs for children with special needs in American International schools around the world. However, the quality of these programs varies greatly from school to school, and even from year to year. While more children who have mild learning difficulties are adequately served in international schools, children with moderate to severe difficulties still encounter major challenges. In addition to the lack of available programs overseas, very often there is also a lack of other support or therapeutic specialists to serve the requirements of special needs children.

Parents are a child’s best advocate. The Foreign Service has procedures in place to help parents find the right resources and educational options for their child. For an in-depth look at Educating Your Special Needs Child in the Foreign Affairs Community, please watch this Foreign Service Institute (FSI) hosted recorded webinar  for information regarding the process of determining SNEA eligibility, the application process, required documentation and how families can make an informed decision in their journey to ensuring the best education path for their child at their next post.

Contact the Regional Education Officers (REOs) in the Office of Overseas Schools (OS) with questions regarding educating special needs children overseas. The REOs are professional educators and always available to advise parents. OS also has a parent resource page that contains useful resources for educating special needs children abroad. Please email OverseasSchools@state.gov for a list of international schools which have some capacity to support special needs students. Additionally, OS can tailor information on special needs based on a family’s interest in particular posts ahead of a discussion with the appropriate REO.

The Office of Overseas Schools recently developed a Special Needs Profile Infographic for each Department of State assisted overseas school with an overview of the school’s special needs support services, special needs support staff in the school, services available in English, and Literacy and Math support inside the school and in the community. To view each Special Needs Profile, go to the Assisted Schools Fact Sheet webpage, select a school, scroll down to the Special Needs section at the bottom of each fact sheet and select the Special Needs Profile link for the downloadable PDF.

In the Medical Services Office, the Child and Family Program will assist Foreign Service families with Special Needs educational issues.

The Bureau of Medical Services’ Child and Family Program (CFP) is a multi-disciplinary team of child and adolescent specialists that includes a Child Psychiatrist, Clinical Psychologists, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, and an Education Specialist. CFP also has a Nurse Consultant who serves as the point of contact for the Special Needs Education Allowance (SNEA). Each CFP specialist covers a geographic area encompassing one or more of the Department of State’s Regional Bureaus and works closely with the Office of Overseas Schools (OOS), the Global Community Liaison Office (GCLO), the Regional Medical Officer Psychiatrists (RMOPs), and other health care staff around the world in a joint effort to support USG families and youth with unique needs. See the Foreign Service Journal June 2023 Educational Supplement Edition  Q&A article with GCLO’s Education and Youth Specialist and MED/CFP and Allowances. The article discusses the changes since November 2022 to both the DSSR and FAM regarding authorization, eligibility requirements, and the appeals process for SNEA, required documentation, and SNEA rate calculations methodology.

Children and adolescents may be referred to CFP in one of several ways. Children of USG employees with special educational and or mental health needs are referred to CFP as part of the preemployment and medical clearance update review processes. CFP then works with parents and overseas MED Medical staff to ensure that adequate resources for the child’s specific needs are available and can be reasonably accessed during overseas assignment.  Educational Clearances and Post Approvals

CFP also determines eligibility and provides authorization for the Special Needs Education Allowance (SNEA). SNEA is designed to assist employees serving at foreign posts in obtaining educationally required services for their children with special needs that would ordinarily be provided in a US public school without charge. CFP’s Nurse Consultant and SNEA liaison, serves as a resource to families, overseas medical providers, and other agency or diplomatic staff with any questions or concerns related to SNEA or the medical clearance process for children with mental health or educational needs.

CFP encourages parents to visit CFP’s website which provides additional information regarding the clearance process, SNEA, and FAQs. You may also contact CFP directly at MEDCFP@state.gov.

The Child and Family Program
SA-1 Columbia Plaza – Room H246
2401 E St. N.W.
Washington, DC 20520-2256
FAX: 1-202-663-1456/1454

Special Needs Concerns

Use the links below to go to the related content on this page:

Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
Hearing Issues
Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder
(ADHD) and the College Student
Homeschooling a Special Needs Child
Learning Disabilities
Blind and Visually Impaired
Legal Rights
Cerebral Palsy
Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities
Classroom Accommodations
Parent Advocacy
College: Considerations and Resources
Parent Resources
Cued Speech
Parent Advocacy
Reading Readiness
Special Education Needs Seminar Videos
Early Intervention and Young Children
Twice Exceptional Students
Family Support
Written Resources Not On-line

Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorders (ADHD and ADD)

AD/HD and the College Student


Blind and Visually Impaired

Cerebral Palsy

Classroom Accommodations

The following links offer sample plans for accommodations and modifications that can be done in the classroom to help students with learning disabilities. Note: Many accommodations are specified in a student’s psycho-educational evaluation or Individualized Education Plan (IEP). This is not intended to replace those recommendations, nor are all recommendations appropriate for all children. This is only to suggest possible ways for teachers, parents, and students to form better partnerships by exploring those recommendations that might be appropriate.

College: Considerations and Resources

Cued Speech



Early Intervention and Young Children

Family Support

  • All Kinds of Minds  – A non-profit institute for the understanding of differences in learning. The Institute was founded by Dr. Mel Levine, a nationally recognized expert in the field of learning differences. The site has information for families, educators, and clinicians.
  • Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation  – A non-profit organization that includes information on identification issues and programs for LD, AD/HD and those who struggle with learning.
  • Family Education  – Strategies and skills-building techniques, information on AD and AD/HD including a parent discussion forum.

Hearing Issues

Homeschooling a Special Needs Child

Learning Disabilities

  • National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities – NICHCY’s website provides information about specific disabilities, special education and related services for children in school, individualized education programs, parent materials, disability organizations, professional associations, education rights and what the law requires, early intervention services for infants and toddlers, and transition to adult life.
  • Learning Disabilities On-line – Information for parents and other professionals, including topics such as Choosing a Tutor.
  • The National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) – Offers a variety of information and further links on the full range of learning disabilities. The website provides registration to an LD News Link for updates and includes information on advocacy, fact sheets on various aspects and types of learning disabilities, common concerns, a screening test for reading readiness, and interactive reading games.
  • Smart Kids with Learning Disabilities  – Helping parents help their children succeed; this organization also offers the Smart Kids with Learning Disabilities Youth Achievement Award, honoring the accomplishments of a young person with learning disabilities or ADHD.

Legal Rights

Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

Parent Advocacy

Parent Resources


  • GreatSchools.org  – Parent information on the first steps in addressing the needs of a learning difficulty, how to work with the school, managing needs.

Reading Readiness

Twice Exceptional Students

More about children that exhibit characteristics of being gifted and talented with learning disabilities:

Written Resources (not available for reading on line)

  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders , 4th Ed. – The professional manual that lists criteria for specific diagnoses, such as, AD/HD, various LDs, autism, and mental retardation. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association, May 2013.
  • The Guide to Private Special Education  lists and describes educational programs for elementary and secondary students with special needs. Guide listings include such information as student eligibility, admission requirements, therapeutic offerings, tuition and aid, and curricular details.

Washington Area Programs by Location

Note: Please be advised that the Special Needs Education Allowance available overseas is not available while on a domestic assignment.

All Washington area public school systems have special education programs for mentally, physically, and emotionally challenged children. Some still contract out some of their special education cases, but many have moved to academic integration, sometimes called inclusion, of the student into regular classes. For information on programs in the following districts, contact the appropriate office. School districts also have Parent Resource Centers that provide information and support to parents to help identify schools that can meet a student’s special learning needs.

Additionally, finding the right school and services that meet the special education needs of your child can be a challenge when returning to the U.S. from an overseas post. For guidance on where to go for resources, how to prepare before moving back to the U.S., understanding if your child needs a new educational evaluation, and what happens to their current Individualized Educational Plan (IEP)/504 Plan, check out GCLO’s article, What You Need to Know: Returning to U.S. Public Schools with Special Education Needs in the Foreign Service Journal’s December 2022 Education Supplement.

District of Columbia Public Schools

Office of Special Education, 202-442-5885

DCPS Parent Resource Center, 202-727-6436


Anne Arundel County

Division of Special Education, Anne Arundel County Public Schools, 410-222-5000

Howard County

Department of Special Education, Howard County Public Schools, 410-313-6600

Montgomery County

Department of Special Education, Montgomery County Public Schools, 301-279-3125

MCPS Office of Student and Family Support, 240-740-3000

Prince George ‘s County

Department of Special Education, Prince George’s County Public Schools, 301-618-8355



Director of Student Services, Alexandria City Public Schools, 703-824-6650

ACPS Parent Resource Center, 703-619-8000


Office of Special Education, Arlington Public Schools, 703-228-6040

APS Parent Resource Center, 702-824-0129

Fairfax County

Office of Special Education, Fairfax County Public Schools, 571-423-4100

FCPS Parent Resource Center, 703-204-3941

Falls Church

Office of Special Education, Falls Church City Public Schools, 703-248-5630

FCCPS Parent University, 703-248-5600

Loudoun County

Office of Special Education, Loudon County Public Schools, 571-252-1011

LCPS Parent Resource Center, 571-252-6540

Prince William County

Office of Special Education, Prince William County Public Schools, 703-791-7200

PWCS Parent Resource Center, 703-791-8846

Stafford County

Office of Special Education, Stafford County Public Schools, 540-658-6500

SCPS Parent Resource Center, 540-899-6000

Gifted Education

Gifted children have special educational and social and emotional characteristics, and the responsibility for educational planning falls upon the individual family. Parents need to become advocates for their gifted children by ensuring that each child’s particular needs are met throughout his or her educational career. Parents should gather information and plan ahead rather than assuming that a “good” school or school division will do all that is required for a smooth educational and social transition for each child.

There are allowances in place under the DSSR 270 Education Allowance that allow for supplementary instruction for gifted and talented students. Read more on the Allowances webpage Frequently Asked Questions on the Supplementary Instruction Allowance.


Traditionally, international schools have not offered a separate program for gifted students. Contact the Office of Overseas Schools for questions regarding Gifted and Talented programs and resources while posted overseas. For additional information on Gifted and Talented testing, please see GCLO’s Education FAQs Webpage under the Supplemental Instruction section.

Reentry to U.S. Schools

Schools in the United States offer a wide range of programs for students who are gifted in academic areas, the arts, leadership, and sports. It is not always easy, however, to navigate the many programs or to decide among private schools and various public school divisions. Also, a child may need to go through a lengthy identification process to qualify for certain gifted services, even if s/he has been identified as gifted elsewhere by a school or by a psychologist in private practice. Other magnet programs, such as language immersion, may have a long waiting list. The waiting list is usually open only to those actually living in the school divisions so planning ahead is not always possible for those moving back from overseas. Get in touch with your local school as soon as you know you’ll be coming back to the States.

Summer Programs

Participation in a special residential summer program for the gifted can be attractive to the Foreign Service family for several reasons. The time spent living and learning with US based students can help provide a cultural foundation for Third Culture Kids (TCKs) that will later ease a reentry.

Some programs require special testing such as the SAT in seventh grade or have other academic requirements for admission. Many have early application deadlines.

Please remember, there is no allowance available for summer instruction programs.

Area Specific Programs

District of Columbia Residents

Maryland Residents

Virginia Residents

  • Mary Baldwin College: Governor’s School for the Gifted – The Program for the Exceptionally Gifted, established in 1985, offers an opportunity for bright and accomplished young women between the ages of 13 and 16 to bypass all or some of their high school grades to pursue an undergraduate degree. PEG students live in a fully supervised, state-of-the-art residence hall with their true peers on the beautiful campus of Mary Baldwin College. (Staunton, VA)
  • Arlington,  Coordinator, Gifted and Talented Program, 703-358-6160

National Resources for Any U.S. Resident

Suggested Resources for Parents and Teachers

Social, Emotional, and Educational Guidance Needs of the Gifted

  • College Planning for Gifted Students – Sandra L. Berger
  • The Gifted Kid’s Survival Guide: A Teen Handbook – Judy Galbraith & Jim Delisle
  • The Gifted Kid’s Survival Guide: For Ages 10 & Under – Judy Galbraith
  • Smart Boys – Barbara Kerr & Sanford J. Cohn
  • Smart Girls – Barbara Kerr
  • Managing the Social and Emotional Needs of the Gifted – Connie C. Schmitz & Judy Galbraith
  • School Power: Strategies for Succeeding in School – Jean Shay Schumm & Marguerite Radencich
  • Perfectionism and Gifted Children – Rosemary Callard-Szulgit
  • What Do you Really Want? A Guide for Teens – Beverly K. Bachel
  • The Teenagers’ Guide to School Outside the Box –Rebecca Green
  • The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens – Sean Covey

Parenting the Gifted

  • Parent’s Guide to Raising a Gifted Child – James Alvino
  • Raising a Gifted Child: A Parenting Success Handbook – Carol Fertig
  • Expert Approaches to Support Gifted Learners – Margaret Wayne Gosfield
  • Designing Services and Programs for High-Ability Learners – Jeanne Purcell

Parent Advocacy: Talking with School Personnel

Parent Advocacy: Talking with School Personnel

Foreign Service children move with their families every two, three, or four years. They change schools, they make new friends, keep some of their old friends, and lose touch with others. They experience foreign cultures, learn foreign languages, and cope with transitions. Parents, while guiding children through each phase of this mobile lifestyle, need to be strong advocates for their children with school administrators, teachers, and other adults involved in their education.

Talking to Teachers: When and What

As for any new student, the first day of school and first impressions can have a significant impact on their attitude toward their new circumstances.  Here are some tips about when to talk to teachers and what to talk about to make that first impression and the rest of the school year positive for both your child and your child’s teachers.

  • Ask if the teacher can find a “buddy” for the student to help them learn the ropes. It doesn’t matter if the child is six or sixteen; no one wants to feel alone, especially during a transition.
  • Ask the teacher if it is possible to give your child seating toward the front of the room. When they are new, this helps them feel more a part of the group instead of marginalized toward the back of the room.
  • If the child is returning to the area and has previously attended a school, ask if the child can be placed in a class with a previous friend. This could be extremely beneficial.
  • Tell the teacher about your child. Provide the teacher with information about the child’s background and prior experiences. Teachers will hopefully note that Foreign Service children and the experiences they have to tell serve to enrich classroom instruction. One student wrote that she was watching “Lawrence of Arabia” as part of her World Geography class, and saw the scene where the army raced its camels across the desert for a prolonged period of time. Having lived and camped in the remote deserts of Arabia, this student knew a thing or two about camels and wanted to interject that if they didn’t slow down, both the army and the camels would die! This presented an opportunity for the teacher to draw out such information and allow the student to validate her experience.
  • Parents and teachers need to communicate any concerns they may have, in a timely way, and carefully watch for signs of stress or falling school performance. Don’t wait for a normally scheduled school conference. It is critical for parents and professionals to share information sooner rather than later.
  • Tell the teacher that your child has come from an American-International school overseas and may be unfamiliar with the new testing culture that is becoming a part of stateside American schools. They may be unfamiliar with testing procedures and strategies.
  • Ask the teacher to communicate any signs of stress that the child may exhibit.
  • Establish a rapport with the teacher so that you have frequent and productive communication to support the child’s transition.


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