Lifelong Learning Programme

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Success Stories

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Foreign students and disability: recognizing learning disabilities beyond the language problem
High Secondary School
Integration of immigrants students
My name is Luciano Luongo and I've been working for the integration of foreign children in the schools of Prato - Chinese students in particular - for about twenty years. I would like to talk about a very special case, a Chinese student. You may think there is nothing strange in this, as in Prato there is the largest Chinese community in Italy, and that – in percentage – Prato is the first Italian city as far as the presence of foreign pupils in schools is concerned. Massimo, a Chinese boy who was born in Italy, a few months after his birth was brought to China to be raised by his grandparents, as so many Chinese people who work in Italy often do. At the age of eight years old he came back to Italy and was integrated in the third grade of primary school. Family problems affected his schooling, which was interrupted several times and the poor results in language learning were motivated by the irregularity of frequency and continuity in the studies in our country. The teachers of the middle school, because of his difficulties, suggested him to continue his studies at a Vocational Institute. When the boy was in the ninth grade, after the first tests of knowledge and Italian language, he showed poor language and logical-mathematical skills - the latter being quite unusual for a Chinese boy. After further discussions, it was found that the boy also had difficulties with the Chinese language, which, however, he had studied in Chinese schools. After a debate with the people responsible for the support and psychological counseling service of the school, we got to the conclusion that the student had learning difficulties and some cognitive delay. For the first time we had the case of a Chinese boy who needed to be certified for “Special Needs”. It is not easy, among foreign students, to spot those who have specific difficulties, or those who have "specific learning disabilities", or those who are even mentally handicapped, because language difficulties mask the discomfort. In the case of Massimo the intervention was immediate, and, thanks to my ability to speak Chinese, I have earned the trust of the boy. The next step was to inform the family, the biggest obstacle. Chinese families do not accept to have a "different" child , especially if male and firstborn. In China, children with disabilities study in schools created just for them and having a child like that is a “black mark” for the family. Also, thanks to my personal mediation, we had the first talks with parents, we explained the situation to Massimo's parents and offered the possibility that their son would have a better chance of making progress with a special education teacher. The family finally agreed to submit their son to neuropsychiatric examination and the doctor discovered learning disabilities and mental retardation. Throughout the procedure I had to follow the parents in various health offices to complete the paperwork, because the parents do not speak Italian. So we ended up with the first case of a Chinese boy recognized as "differently abled", a success for the sake of the child, for the family and for the school. The latter now can support Massimo in his personal training and allow him to achieve significant educational goals, as well as to contribute, in a targeted manner, to his integration with classmates. In the event that we had not resorted to the certification of the student as “Special Need”, the case would have been simply classified as early school leaver.
- Give evidence of the possible explanation of the success
The success of this case is due to the identification of learning difficulties in the foreign pupil. Recognizing a differently abled or DSA (Specific Learning Disabilities) in a foreign student is neither easy nor frequent, just because the pupil's learning difficulties are often ascribed to language difficulties only.

- Analyse the interaction between the different actors involved
The interaction between the components of student-teacher-parents was the key element to the solution of the problem. The student has found a teacher who has gone beyond his linguistic difficulties, focusing, instead, on his learning difficulties. The teacher also had the function of linguistic mediator, being able to communicate in Chinese language, perceiving how the boy also had difficulties in his mother tongue. Linguistic mediation was crucial also in the relationship with the student's family in order to gain their trust.

- Describe the action of educational policy, either at local, regional or national level (If relevant)
At the school level the support of linguistic mediation has been activated, and the element of success is that the mediator and the teacher were the same person.

- Identify and describe the transferability potential of the experience
The experience is significant and can be easily repeated. Actually, schools should seek the support of linguistic mediation and provide for the training of teachers on the specific topic of integration of foreign students, as well as follow welcoming procedures based on "best practices".

20 December 2014

Final Partners’ meeting

The fourth partners’ meeting took place in Florence (IT) on 15 December 2014. The meeting had the objective to check the activities carried out since the third meeting of the project and share and assess the in progress results. A special focus has been dedicated to the presentation of the strategies to solve the case scenarios.