ADHD and the Foreign Service Part Three: Between the Needs of the Service and the Needs of Our Kid, Guess Who Wins?

Last week I wrote about how we tried and failed to get a posting that would work well for our ADHD teenager. Now, about how we ended up bidding on Vienna.

Basically, after the other bids fell through, there wasn’t anything else left on the regular bid list for us. But a few weeks later, this one post that had accidentally been left off the list for some reason popped up. It wasn’t ideal, from either a career or school point of view. But Vienna being such a nice place, with a language that my husband actually had quite a bit of in college and was interested in mastering, and considering that the only alternative was to wait another year and start the whole bidding process AGAIN, we gave it a serious look. Plus, there was was an RMOP at post, so we could be reasonably certain that the teenager would be cleared for it.

I wrote to the RMO and the CLO, both of whom were upfront about the fact that school number one at post was not that great for special needs, but that some special needs kids did attend it. More research, sigh.

As usual, no one could really tell me anything about the other English-speaking schools at post. This has been nearly uniformly true for every post I have researched. For some reason, there is always a big school that “everyone” attends, and no one ever bothers to investigate alternatives. But, twice so far, we have been much happier with an alternative.

As I mentioned earlier, we sent my son to a British school in Prague after the school that “everyone” attended kicked him out, and he did great. And, years ago, when we were posted to El Salvador, the American school there refused to even interview my daughter for kindergarten because her birthday was two months late. Never mind that she could already read! So, I heard from a friend that there was another, newer school that was more flexible about admissions. My daughter went in for an interview, read Green Eggs and Ham to the admissions person, and boom, she was into kindergarten. She has never looked back, and we have never had any reason to question our decision to put her into kindergarten early. The American school was simply wrong not to interview her. Their loss!

My feeling about these big international schools is that they are kind of like big public schools in the States. They are the default choice, and fine for most kids. But, strangely (because expats in general are kind of quirky bunch and you would expect them to have quirky kids) they are notoriously unwilling to deal with kids who are square pegs for one reason or another. Really smart kids, arty kids, ADHD kids, kids with learning disabilities of one kind or another, kids who were born a few weeks too late for the cutoff date, kids who are combinations of the above. So, OK, these kids are a minority. They are a pretty darn big minority from what I can tell.

Of course, the person you are told to contact about the schools is the CLO. But I have never, not once, encountered a CLO who could tell me in any kind of detail about schools at post other than the one that “everyone” uses. I am not sure what the problem is. Is information about schools a part of the CLO job description or isn’t it? And, if it isn’t, why am I always told to contact the CLO?

I am just saying: is there something I am supposed to be doing differently? If so, maybe the CLOs should mention that and tell me who I am supposed to contact?

The Vienna CLO was at least able to refer me to a parent whose son was not admitted to the American school, and who attended another international school at post. So, good, there was at least one alternative. I researched both schools, asked the usual questions, and concluded that if one school didn’t work out, the other one probably would. Both schools received copies of the teenager’s complete psychological evaluation. The American school gave a cautious yes, while the international school said yes, as long as you pay for math tutoring. Fine, no problem.

And so we bid. And got the post.

This was at the very beginning of my son’s freshman year. No one, not even his therapist, predicted what a disaster the year would ultimately be. I discussed some reasons for this in my first post on the subject. A short recap would go something like this: the kid is immature, chronically sleep-deprived, growing fast, a little more attractive to the ladies than we would like him to be, and overwhelmed by big zoo-like public high school classes. And, now we know that he is not yet capable of handling the organizational demands of high school. (He actually did OK in 8th grade, and that was the report card that the schools at post saw when we made our initial inquiries)

Fast-forward to this spring. We knew that the American school would be a problem, and in fact, when my husband called to update them, they pretty much recoiled in horror when they heard that he had failed a couple of classes. It was clear that there wasn’t much point in filling out that application. We applied instead to the international school. They offered him a place, but requested his most recent grades. Oh dear.

So, I submitted the grades, along with some additional materials that included a note from my son’s therapist outlining some of the problems that were specific to this year, stating that with an adjustment to his medication he was starting to turn it around, and that he expected that my son would do much better in a small private school environment. While we knew that his grades were a problem, because this school had been more amenable to dealing with his ADHD in the first place, had had a copy of his evaluation for months, and had in fact, already offered him a place, we were pretty sure that they would still accept him, especially considering we mentioned that we were open to his repeating 9th grade if necessary.

Uh, no. In fact, they wrote back expressing “severe doubts” as to his admission. They said they’d get back to us in a week. Then, after that week passed, they said they’d get back to us after spring break, two weeks later! In early May. For a post that we are scheduled to arrive at in early July. As we are not, in fact, complete idiots, we concluded that it was likely that the school was just hoping we would go away.

We broke open a bottle of wine, discussed the situation, and decided to circle the wagons. Sometimes, crises in life force you to prioritize. I had looked at boarding school possibilities a few weeks earlier, written a few of them with a copy of the evaluation, and guess what, they decided he was an axe-murderer and politely said they wanted nothing to do with him (after thanking me for my honesty, sigh.) We had good reason to think that the only boarding schools that would accept him would be 1.) across the Atlantic from us and 2.) “therapeutic” schools where he would end up with kids that were even more screwed up than he is.

And so, as it turned out, my husband and I were on exactly same page. That would be the F*** the Foreign Service page. He’s our kid, and we aren’t packing him off to boarding school just because he hasn’t got his act together yet. Period. (May I take a moment here to be thankful for a husband who has his priorities in the right place. Very thankful.)

That was a couple of weeks ago. Since then, we have spread the word that we are ready to bag this assignment if our son can’t be educated at post. We don’t care who knows that. (See, I’m even blogging about it.) I got in touch with a new RMOP and a person in the Office of Overseas Schools, both of whom have been extremely sympathetic and helpful to the degree that they can be considering that we are in a period which is essentially after the fact. Having these people involved at the paneling stage would make a heck of a lot more sense, but there you go. However, I do wish that I had contacted them earlier just to get more information about how they could help me out. Mind you, no one actually told me to do this until we started raising heck. But my advice to anyone else in this situation would be to get in touch with O/OS earlier in the process, for informational purposes if nothing else.

I have also found out about another, smaller school at post that I had initially dismissed because I simply couldn’t get any information about it. Big shout-out here to Melissa, a blogger from Vienna. I wrote her asking if she knew anything about the school, and as it turns out she put me in touch with a parent at the school right away, who was very helpful! Love that expat mom network!

I wrote the third school, was completely upfront (as always) about the teenager’s evaluation, grades, etc. and to my delight they did not say no outright.They are also on spring break, but are supposed to get back to me this week. This school sounds like it might be a better fit for my him anyway, and it’s even located near the housing that we have been assigned to. So, fingers crossed.

School number two promises to get back to us no later than Wednesday (actually, they didn’t promise us that, they promised the O/OS person who called them on our behalf wanting to know what the heck was going on. Ha.) School number three also told me that they would get back to us this week.

So, maybe, just maybe, this will work out after all. If it does, we will never have to go through this again, ever. And, right now, that is my top priority: never doing this again!

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