The new 9th edition of the AAWE Guide to Education in France features a directory of hundreds of bilingual and international schools.

By Anjali Morard

Our brains are constantly changing. Even as adults, we can learn new skills, meet new people, or, conversely, almost completely forget people we knew years ago and used to think about every day. Children’s brains are especially changeable, or “plastic” as neuroscientists say. This is why they can learn things, like new languages, so much more quickly than we adults can. And it’s also why their accents are better than ours. After childhood, it is much harder to pick up a language to the extent that you sound like a native speaker. 

We can see the difference between the brain of one person who learned two languages at the same time and that of another person who learned their second language later. Using fMRI scanners to see where blood flows in the brain, scientists have examined fluent bilingual speakers while they use each of their languages. In bilinguals who learned both of their languages at the same time and so, in essence, have two mother tongues, their languages activate the same part of the brain. They are called simultaneous bilinguals and have only a single “language center” for both of their languages. In contrast, those of us who have learned a second language later in life, called sequential bilinguals, will have two separate areas, a native language area and a second language area. 

Training your Executive Brain

Studies on these bilingual children who effortlessly switch between their languages show other advantages as well, stemming from this constant switching practice. Notably, their executive control is often better. Imagine your brain as a bunch of different people on a team, all talking at once. In order to get anything done, you need to have one voice speak for everyone, or at least push everyone in one direction – otherwise, it is chaos. Let’s call this voice “Brain Executive” – it prevents chaos from taking over. Brain Executive seems to hang out mostly in the frontal lobe of your brain. One of its jobs is to switch between tasks, for example, to let you read a recipe and cook dinner while at the same time monitor one child’s homework and keep the other child from hurting herself with that screwdriver she somehow found when you weren’t looking. People who have constant practice with language switching are better at these kinds of tasks. It’s like their frontal lobe control center is a muscle that they use all the time – it becomes strong and flexible. 

Over a lifetime, this exercise provides bilinguals with a “cognitive reserve.” It’s like storing away extra brain power for later. One way we can see this is through brain scans that show that bilingual older adults’ white matter shows slower aging. The white matter is the part that connects different brain regions together, allowing them to communicate efficiently. Plus, this cognitive reserve can actually delay the onset of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. In Alzheimer’s, plaques of nasty stuff form in the brain and contribute to dementia. Studies have shown that bilingual people can have the same amount of plaques as a monolingual person but, almost magically, they have fewer symptoms of dementia. Their cognitive reserve protects them – not forever, but it gives them up to a 4-year advantage. 

And what about us poor adult learners, late to the bilingualism game (meaning someone who learned a second language after age 10)? The good news is that anyone who frequently uses two languages is exercising these same task-switching muscles. Even if the effects do not end up being as hard-wired into the brain as they do when bilingualism starts in childhood, we still get benefits. There is even some evidence that late bilinguals who consistently use two languages are creating their own cognitive reserve. So, keep exercising that frontal lobe!  

For more, see this great interview with Ellen Bialystok who has done a huge amount of research on bilingualism and the brain.

Anjali Bhatara Morard profile photo

About the author

Anjali Morard is a scientist, musician, children’s author, and mom to three bilingual kids.

Chicago Skyline

Editor’s note: I wanted to write a quick introduction to this post because it differs in two ways from the usual posts in the Education Insights blog.
1 – It is not on the usual topic of Education in France but is instead a French person’s experience of education in the US – it’s nice to see things from the other side sometimes.
2 – It is in “franglais”; for the writer, this language combination helped him express his gradually becoming bilingual over time.

Let us know what you think in the comments!

My name is Samuel Marty. Je suis un étudiant français en deuxième année (sophomore) de Finance à North Park University, Chicago aux Etats-Unis d’Amérique et je compte bien obtenir mon BS d’ici deux ans !

Mon parcours n’a pas été simple. Tout d’abord, j’ai commencé par une année en tant qu’exchange student au sein d’une Host Family à Tuscaloosa, en Alabama ce qui m’a permis de devenir bilingue en anglais et d’obtenir mon diplôme américain de fin d’études secondaires. J’ai eu la chance de rencontrer beaucoup de monde avec qui je suis toujours en contact, notamment mes amis américains et ma famille d’accueil avec qui j’ai passé une année merveilleuse. J’ai découvert les États-Unis sous différents angles lors de nos voyages ensemble à Nashville dans le Tennessee pour Noël, ainsi qu’en Floride à Orange Beach pour Spring Break. Ma famille d’accueil m’a clairement fait vivre le rêve américain !

Après un an, j’ai décidé de poursuivre mes études universitaires ailleurs et j’ai donc quitté l’Alabama pour un College à Weatherford, dans l’Oklahoma. Cette nouvelle année m’a permis de m’améliorer, devenir encore meilleur en langue anglaise, et de travailler mon accent américain. J’ai découvert le système universitaire américain et… je suis tombé in love ! Par contre, je n’ai pas eu de coup de foudre pour l’Oklahoma, en particulier parce que l’université était en pleine campagne, loin de la ville, et je n’avais pas de voiture pour me déplacer. C’est la raison pour laquelle j’ai demandé un transfert à North Park University à Chicago pour terminer mes études et obtenir mon BS en Finance.

Chicago a été un véritable coup de cœur ! Depuis que j’y habite, ma compréhension orale et écrite de la langue s’est considérablement améliorée (au début je ne comprenais rien à ce que l’on me disait) et j’ai perdu l’accent français que j’avais au profit d’un accent neutre. Désormais, je me considère comme parfaitement bilingue. I can say now that I finally found my place in the US.

Everything wasn’t ideal at first, I’ve been truly disappointed with French agencies offering university programs in the United States. My experience with these agencies was a lack of honesty, transparency, and understanding of the American university system, resulting in additional costs throughout my experiences over the years, especially during my first year as an exchange student in Tuscaloosa. Unfortunately, my first host family provided me with inadequate living conditions, forcing me to sleep in a windowless garage without air conditioning during the summer months. Despite my efforts, the French agency I had used for the exchange program was unable to find me an alternative host family, leaving me to find one on my own.
As a result of these challenges, I have decided to establish my own company, “Authentic Student”, to assist French students in France who wish to attend universities in the United States. Through my company, I am committed to providing complete transparency, fair pricing, and comprehensive explanations of the American university system.

Toutes ces expériences ont changé ma vie en me permettant de découvrir mon véritable potentiel et mes aspirations. Les États-Unis ont été pour moi une terre d’opportunités inégalées qui m’ont offert la possibilité de poursuivre mes rêves qui auraient été inaccessibles en France. Ces trois dernières années ont étaient magiques, et je n’aurais changé mon parcours pour rien au monde. À l’issue de l’obtention de mon Bachelor of Science en Finance, mon ambition est de devenir investment banker, private equity à Chicago, New York ou ailleurs, selon les opportunités qui s’offriront à moi.

About the author

Samuel Marty is the founder of Authentic Student.

Austrian National Library Archive Image of School classroom

By: Barbara Moross,
Former Head of Lower School – American Section, Lycée International de Saint Germain-en-Laye

In France, education is mandatory beginning at age three, and parents are expected to enroll their children in the first year of Pre-school or Maternelle. The three years of Maternelle, Petite Section, Moyenne Section, and Grande Section, make up the first of three 3-year groups or cycles. The last year, Grande Section, is equivalent to American kindergarten. After these first three years, students move to a different building for their elementary school years.

The next five years, which correspond to American grades 1 through 5, are divided into two parts or cycles. The first cycle includes cours préparatoire or CP, cours élémentaire – 1ère année or CE1, and CE2, cours élémentaire2ème année. It is called the cycle des apprentissages fondamentaux, and its major goal is to give children a solid grounding in basic skills – “reading, writing, and arithmetic”. The next three years, cours moyen – 1ère année or CM1, cours moyen – 2ème année or CM2, and 6ème comprise the cycle de consolidation. Its goal is to solidify and build on the foundation that was laid in the earlier years.

1 – Cycle des apprentissages premiers

YearAgeCorresponding US Grade
Petite Section PS3 yearsPre-school
Moyenne Section
4 yearsPre-school
Grande Section GS5 yearsKindergarten

2 – Cycle des apprentissages fondamentaux

YearAgeCorresponding US Grade
Cours préparatoire – CP6 yearsFirst Grade
Cours élémentaire – 1ère année CE17 yearsSecond Grade
Cours élémentaire – 2ème année CE28 yearsThird Grade

3 – Cycle de consolidation

YearAgeCorresponding US Grade
Cours moyen – 1ère année CM19 yearsFourth Grade
Cours moyen – 2ème année CM210 yearsFifth Grade
6eme11 yearsSixth Grade
1st yr of middle school

In public and private sous contrat schools, children receive 24 hours of instruction each week. Some children who are experiencing difficulty receive an extra two hours each week of individualized instruction called aide personnalisée. At the end of each cycle, students take national exams to assure that they have acquired the knowledge and skills necessary to proceed.

Photo de Annie Spratt sur Unsplash

Cycle des apprentissages premiers – PS, MS, and GS

This three-year cycle has for its goal to make children want to go to school to learn and to develop their personality. It is at this level that children will learn together. They will develop their oral language and begin to discover writing, numbers, and other areas of learning. They learn by playing, thinking, and solving problems, practicing, recalling, and memorizing.

Cycle des apprentissages fondamentaux – CP, CE1, and CE2

During this three-year cycle, children learn to read, write, and spell. They are also introduced to some basic notions of French grammar and verb conjugations, which are necessary to be able to spell most words correctly. Reading should be taught using a synthetic phonics approach – children learn to recognize the spellings of sounds and synthesize or blend those sounds together to make words. However, some teachers prefer to use a modified version of this method.

In math, children are taught to work with numbers from 1 to 100. They first learn to add, and then to multiply and subtract. Division comes later. Initiations to geometry and the metric system are also covered. Practicing mental math as well as doing word problems is considered indispensable.

Of the 24 hours per week, roughly ten are spent on language arts, five on mathematics, and the other nine are divided among gym, art (which includes visual and performing arts) and art history, foreign language, social studies, science, citizenship education, and technology. It is important to point out that, unlike American schools, where there are special teachers for most of these subjects, the French instituteur or classroom teacher is often responsible for teaching everything.

Neatness (le soin) counts! From the beginning there is an emphasis on the presentation of one’s work. French teachers expect that even young children will pay attention and write clearly between rather narrow lines. Most children will be introduced to using a fountain pen in CE1 or CE2. Students learn to write in cursive in first grade and never go through a printing stage. Upper case letters, which can be complicated to replicate, are not taught until CE1.

It is important to recognize that the transition from maternelle to elementary school can be difficult for some children. They are expected to stay seated at a desk for long periods of time and listen to the teacher. In the worst cases, teachers might humiliate children by reprimanding them publicly. And although methods are changing slowly, France is far from the cutting edge of modern pedagogy. Attempts at differentiation of instruction and active, child-centered learning are being made, but they are not the norm.

Cycle de consolidation – CM1, CM2, and 6eme

During the first two years of this cycle, students are still in elementary school. Eight of the 24 hours of instruction each week are devoted to language arts and five to mathematics. The remaining eleven hours are split among the other subjects as above. The content presented builds on what the students have learned before. At this stage, students are expected to work more independently and gradually become autonomous. The goal is to prepare them for the departmentalized approach that they will encounter once they reach collège (middle school). For further detail in French on the national curriculum, consult

A Word on Homework

In 1956 an official French text was published stating that “Aucun devoir écrit, soit obligatoire, soit facultatif, ne sera demandé aux élèves en dehors de la classe.” (No written homework). This text was reaffirmed several times over the years in 1958, 1962, 1964, 1994, 2002, and most recently in 2020. Despite this directive, however, it is rarely the case that children have no written homework. Amounts vary among teachers, and from grade to grade, as well as from school to school. Mostly, children have things to memorize or study, but invariably there will be written exercises to complete as well.

This overview gives an idea of how the school system is organized throughout the country. However, as is the case around the world and through the centuries, your child’s experience will depend largely on the individual teacher he or she is assigned from year to year.

I pick up my son most days from school. It’s about a five-minute walk back, which means that he has time to broach approximately 600 subjects. He jumps from topic to topic in the same way that he walks home, which is to say plenty of stops and starts and unexpected zig-zags.

“You know what my two favorite days of the year are, Mommy?” We’d already talked about Legos, his English schoolwork, his teacher’s birthday, and the lack of dessert in his lunch, and we were only halfway home.

“No, what are they?”

“Well, my birthday is one, of course, and then also April 2.”

Why April 2?

“Because it’s World Autism Day! Maybe I should do my presentation next year on April 2, instead of in September.” 

This was his annual presentation on autism. It was one of the highlights of his year. And mine. It was an annual reminder of how far we had come. 

Photo de Sai De Silva sur Unsplash

When my son was 15 months old and not hitting certain developmental milestones, the pediatrician referred us to a structure for children under 3, which had resources for early intervention. When I asked about a diagnosis, I was told not to worry about it, that the important thing was to start the interventions now. We didn’t question what we were told – we were too concerned with getting him any help he needed as quickly possible. 

For the next year and half, he would receive both individual and group therapy, designed to help him gain physical and communication skills. 

“What about the autism diagnosis?”  I asked, during our last month there. “Is that something you can do here?”

“Well, yes…” the psychologist said slowly, “but the issue is that if we give him an official diagnosis, then he’s going to be labelled, and then judged by that label. So people won’t give him a chance, because once they hear the word ‘autistic’, they’ll immediately make assumptions.” 

I didn’t push the issue. I’d lived in France for nearly 10 years at that point, but this was my first child. I was unfamiliar with the school system, and completely clueless about how to proceed. 

I made an appointment with the director before the school year started, explaining that my son would be entering Petite Section, and that he’d had early intervention for a year and a half. I told her he knew all his letters, could count up to 100, and had memorized most of the Paris Metro map, but had trouble with interactions and communication. I gave her copies of the therapists’ reports and recommendations, and she told me she would give them to his teachers. It would be fine, she said. The teachers knew how to handle these sorts of situations.

It quickly became clear that it was not fine, and that the teachers had no idea how to handle these sorts of situations. 

A cafeteria worker told me that my son never ate. A playground worker told me he tried to avoid other kids. The teacher’s aide told me he spent recess time walking in circles around the yard.

I made an appointment with his teachers, and asked if they’d looked at the recommendations from his therapists. They had no idea what I was talking about. The director had never passed on the information I’d given her. 

“He should probably only go to school in the mornings,” one of them said. “Maybe just a couple hours per day.”

Cutting my son’s school attendance by 75 percent didn’t seem like a reasonable first step.

“What about support?” I asked. “On our end, we can look into more therapies, and a formal evaluation. What’s the school process when this sort of situation occurs, when it turns out kids need extra help?”

Apparently, permitting the kid come to school only 4 to 8 hours a week was the process. 

They also told me that I should send a dossier to the MDPH, the governmental department responsible for aid to people with disabilities. They would decide whether or not to grant my son an AESH, a person who provides one-on-one assistance. This dossier would take apparently 4 to 6 months to process, and mostly likely an AESH wouldn’t be available until the next year.

I scheduled an autism evaluation for my son, and more therapies. He dragged his feet in the morning when I walked him to school. One evening he burst out “School sad.”

I had another meeting with the teachers. One of them told me, “You know, the Education Nationale is going to be very difficult for him,” which at the time seemed like an offensive and premature judgment – he was only three! Now I see it more as a statement of fact. She was right. It was going to be difficult for him. The system is simply not set up for kids who diverge from their norm. 

So two months after he’d proudly put his stuffed dog into his new owl-covered backpack and found his name on the student list in his classroom, we withdrew him, and enrolled him in a private school. It was 20 to 25 minutes by metro, instead of 5 minutes on foot. It cost almost as much as our rent. 

But it was brand-new, and only had 19 kids. The teachers were kind to him, and encouraging. They asked us for advice, and communicated with us when there were problems. We saw the improvement almost immediately. He ate better; he was more relaxed. He was happy to go to school (“School not sad now!”) He could attend full-time while we sorted out the diagnosis, the MDPH dossier, and the accompaniment arrangement. 

Eventually I would learn all sorts of new terms and new acronyms. AESH. AEEH. EES. GEVASCO. I would meet some parents in similar situations, and others in situations that were exponentially more difficult. I would see how schools so often underestimated the capacity of kids with special needs. I would see how they put these kids into a system designed to make success almost impossible, and then they would blame the kids for their failure. 

And I would see what a difference it made when you found a school that worked. Public or private, it didn’t matter so much, as long as the people there operated with the assumption that every kid had the same right to be there. 

All that was later, though. The diagnosis, the paperwork, the accompaniment. For the moment, it was enough that school was not sad. 

Think back to when you learned to read. I don’t really remember it, do you? I just remember being able to read. I don’t remember putting any effort in (although I am sure my mother would remember the homework). This is pretty common in people for whom learning to read was just one quick stop on our educational journey. But what an important stop! It opened the world to all the other things we needed to learn. 

What is a reading order/dyslexia?

However, that is not the only experience of learning to read. For plenty of people, for plenty of reasons, learning to read was a hard-won battle. A reading disorder is one possible reason for children struggling to learn to read. So, how do you know if your child has a reading disorder? And if you suspect they do, what should you do about it? 

Dyslexia is a neurological condition that causes difficulties with learning to read and spell (so it will affect both reading and writing). Dyslexia is only ONE name for reading disorders – just because you do not meet the standard criteria for dyslexia does not mean you do not have a reading disorder. These problems are not related to intelligence. Bilingual people with dyslexia will typically have the same problems learning to read in all their languages. 

It is diagnosed by a psychologist (or sometimes a speech therapist) and is treated mostly by speech and language therapists (orthophonistes in France). In order to be considered for testing, children must have shown little progress after sustained normal literacy instruction. 

Dyslexia runs in families, so if someone in your family has been diagnosed with it, it might be something you need to be extra vigilant about. 

What might a child with dyslexia look like in the classroom or at home?

There are lots of red flags you can look out for early in order to identify children who might be at risk of reading disorders. First and foremost, it tends to present as a difficulty learning letter-sound correspondence despite a lot of normal instruction and reinforcement. That means knowing that ‘A’ says ‘ah’ etc. Teachers might report having tried different methods but nothing really making a difference. There may also be the classic sign of mixing up mirror letters or ones that look or sound similar (p/d/b/q, k/g or m/n). *It’s important to note that typical children do this too but remediate it with typical help in class.

You might also notice children who make the same mistakes over and over again despite teaching on the point. Sometimes, you may not be able to put your finger on it, but these are children for whom reading is a BATTLE. Children who have difficulty reading often compensate by making a fuss or even refusing to do literacy tasks completely – some goof off and use distraction techniques to make it seem like they just don’t care or are not trying. These are children for whom reading requires HUGE amounts of mental energy (they might be physically exhausted from literacy work) so sometimes, not doing it is just the best option.

Finally, it might be a child who, after huge effort, has learned to read (probably slowly) but still has difficulty understanding what they read.

How to Get Help

In France, it is the orthophoniste who treats will treat dyslexia. If you’re worried about your child’s reading and have already given all the ‘usual tricks’ a go, you should speak to your GP or paediatrican and ask for an ordonnance (referral) for assessment and treatment. After assessment, if dyslexia is suspected your therapist will offer you therapy sessions to help remediate, compensate and provide education to both you and your child. They might also have information on special classes and institutions set up to help people with severe dyslexia and accommodations that might be afforded children for school or exams. Waiting lists can be long, so call around and be persistent. Lastly, try not to worry ☺. Help is available and lots of very successful people have dyslexia (Richard Branson, Einstein and Walt Disney to name but a few), so with the right support your child will still have a bright future ahead of them!

-Marie Robert, SLT/Orthophoniste

Marie Robert is an Irish Speech and Language Therapist and children’s author, currently working just outside of Paris. She treats children from birth to 18 years of age. Marie treats a wide range of speech and language delays and disorders and specializes in treating developmental language disorder.

Sweet Home Alabama Part 2 – Jennifer Hua

This is a continuation of our experience sending our daughter to the US for a school year. You can read part one here.

There were still many niggling details left to take care of before Katie left for Alabama.  We informed her orthodontist in the spring that she was leaving for a year and the doctor decided to remove her braces in July, just before she left for the US, and then put them back on when she returned.

Another issue we had to deal with was Katie’s airplane ticket.  We were advised to buy a changeable roundtrip ticket.  Because we purchased the ticket in April, the computer system was unable to program a return date for beyond March of the following year. So, I had to remember to change her return flight a year later so that she could fly back in July, and for a fee, of course.  We were then only limited in that she had to fly back within 365 days of her original flight over to the US.

We also researched temporary travel insurance for her, but it was hard to tell into which category she fell, since she wasn’t a college student, or an adult.  We really couldn’t see a suitable policy for her situation.  Luckily, one unexpected benefit of having signed over guardianship to our daughter’s host family was that she then qualified to be covered under their employer-sponsored family medical insurance, so they simply added her to their policy! 

In the spring we discovered another quirk of the guardianship issue, due to a lack of communication with Katie’s host parents.  Since I had dropped her off at the family’s in late July, I blithely claimed her as a tax dependent on our tax return for that year, thinking that she’d spent the better half of the year with us.  However, over in Alabama, her host parents were told by their accountant that since they had acquired parental rights in mid-June, they should claim her as their dependent.  Needless to say, they were a bit taken aback to receive a letter from the IRS stating that someone else was claiming her!  As it didn’t change our taxation at all, I amended our return, attaching a copy of the court papers.  And, we agreed that they would also claim her for the following year.  I feel very grateful that we had such a good relationship with this family that this could be dealt with without it turning into a big issue.  We never bothered to rescind the guardianship order, figuring that Katie would soon be turning 18 and make it a moot point. 

Katie had a fantastic year in the US.  School, as you might imagine, was a piece of cake, compared to her rigorous French lycée, even given the language issue in the beginning (her English was good, but not yet fluent.)  She played her clarinet in the marching band, and was even elected prom queen in the spring!  Her family took her camping and boating, and on trips to Civil Rights era sites, Charleston, SC, and NYC.  She learned to play the guitar, and came home with the most charming Southern drawl.

Towards the end of her stay, she began to apprehend her return to the French school system.  The anglais bilingue office at the lycée had advised us to consider having her stay in the US for two years, so as to establish residency for Alabama’s state universities.  We thought about it, but weren’t ready to make that step yet.  Because her American cousins and many of her kayaking friends in Alabama were being schooled at home or online, Katie approached us with her idea of doing online school (CNED) after she returned to France.  She wanted more time to spend with her grandparents, do volunteer work, and enjoy life at her pace.  We discussed it and got advice from various people, but ultimately decided it was not a good idea, much to her disappointment.

The return to her French lycée was extremely difficult.  She landed in 1ѐre S, in a class of 44 students, most of whom she didn’t know since they were a year behind her.  It took quite a few months before she felt she fit in socially.  By Terminale, she had built up a group of friends, but was still suffering academically.  She had been a stellar student up through 2nde, but forgot much of her science and math while in the US, and struggled to keep up; the long school days and uncertainty of her future studies made for one confused teenager. Luckily, her teachers worked closely with us.

A few years later, we had the great pleasure to welcome her two American host sisters during the Toussaint vacation and show them the sights in Paris and in the French countryside.  I won’t forget driving through one picturesque village in the Vexin on the way to Giverny and being asked if people actually lived there!  The three girls even bought a drawn portrait of themselves together at Place du Tertre in Montmartre– real sisters!  We feel extremely grateful that this family has become true friends of ours.

I hope this may answer any questions you may have regarding logistics involved in sending your child to live in the US.  If you choose not to go with an exchange program, for school enrollment it is likely that your only options will be to transfer guardianship, like we did, or enroll in a private school.  And, I can’t over-emphasize getting in writing the conditions for re-enrollment upon return to France; I know of families that were refused re-enrollment in their zoned school because of overcrowding, and the fact that their child had temporarily left the system.  Despite the rough times since our daughter’s return, she doesn’t regret one minute having gone for a homestay; it is still by far the best way to experience the American culture.

About Jennifer Hua

Jennifer is a stay at home mom to four wonderful children, all now young adults, two of whom were born in France. She also volunteers with AAWE on the Board of Directors – Executive Committee as our Treasurer.

Sweet Home Alabama Part 1 – Jennifer Hua

My husband and I have four children, all of whom have been educated in the French school system. When I’d hear them complain about school, I always wished that they could experience an American school, with its electives, school spirit, and generally more positive relationship with the teachers. They were not having the fun learning experience that I remembered. I also wanted them to experience more of American culture than what they got during our annual three-week summer blasts to visit family in the US. When I was in high school, I was an AFS exchange student to Australia, and my French husband had likewise experienced family stays in England and Canada when he was younger, so we envisioned sending our kids abroad via a family stay, where they could attend the local high school.

When our third daughter Katie entered 2nde, she was very insistent from the start that she wanted to spend a year in the US. At her lycée, we were told that the best time to do an exchange would be between 2nde and 1ère, due to the Bac. If she were only gone one trimester, the school would consider admitting her back as a 1ère, but if she wanted to be gone a whole school year, then she would essentially lose a year here in France. Our lycée, which is private, was willing to hold a spot for her the following year. Other lycées may be different.

Katie did not want to stay with relatives; she wanted an experience more like what we had had. We could have gone the easier route of applying through an exchange student organization, such as AFS or YFU, but we didn’t see the need, since our daughter had a US passport, and we figured our network of family and friends would surely put us in touch with families interested in hosting her. We were offering an eventual reciprocal hosting here.  Plus, the cost of a program to the US was fairly prohibitive – nearly 12,000€. We started looking seriously for possible host families in December; I contacted old school friends, and some online friends. Since Katie was a kayaker, my sister in South Carolina also posted a notice on a regional kayaking board. One friend suggested that our daughter write up a letter introducing herself; I then distributed this to everybody I could think of.

We ended up with three to four good solid leads by the end of January, one being a university professor in Virginia who’d seen the kayaking board notice! After much deliberation and exchanges of emails back and forth trying to get to know the families, we talked them over with Katie, and in mid-February we decided on a family in Alabama that had two teenage daughters, one of whom was a serious kayaker. The mother taught French and English at the local high school. They happened to be friends of a colleague of my sister’s. We were able to meet the mother in Paris in the spring when she brought a group of her students to Europe.

In the meantime, we also contacted AFS, the Rotary Club, the US Consulate, the local high school near my parents’, and AAWE for any and all information that we might need, such as insurance and school enrollment requirements. We were trying to have all our bases covered, but we got quite a bit of conflicting information, which was very frustrating.  

Katie’s future host family quickly began running into difficulty getting her enrolled in their local high school.  The principal kept insisting that she needed a J-1 visa to enroll as an exchange student. I had to forward a written confirmation from the consulate in Paris that an American citizen with an American passport did NOT need a visa!  Basically, since she was not with an exchange program, the school would not enroll her unless she could prove Alabama residency. I have since learned that this is a very common problem.  The host family went to great lengths, up to meeting with the school district superintendent, to make this work, and after much back and forth it was finally decided that our only option would be to grant the host parents legal guardianship of Katie. Because this was Alabama, it would essentially be permanent guardianship. This was a huge step for us to take, but we really liked and trusted this family, and felt comfortable making this decision. We filled out a form that I’d downloaded from the internet and had it notarized at the consulate in Paris, stating that we were handing over our parental rights. Gulp. The host family then used this form when they went in front of the judge in Alabama family court to claim guardianship. This ended up costing us around $850 in attorney fees, plus $50 for the notarization. This whole process took until the end of May to finally get settled. We were on tenterhooks all these months, not knowing if Katie was going to be able to go or not. Finally, we were able to tell her that, yes, she was going to be able to spend a year in the US with a host family and experience an American high school!

I made up a Word document detailing all of her vaccinations in English, and attached a copy of her French carnet de santé to it. I had to fill out an Alabama health department medical certificate, which our pediatrician here then signed. The anglais bilingue office at our lycée prepared a school transcript, along with a description of how to read the French grading for the school.  She was now ready to officially start school. 

Look for Part 2 of “Sweet Home Alabama” in mid-April.

About Jennifer Hua

Jennifer is a stay at home mom to four wonderful children, all now young adults, two of whom were born in France. She also volunteers with AAWE on the Board of Directors – Executive Committee as our Treasurer.

ADHD in France: Getting a proper assessment and coordinating with your child’s school) – Part 2

In my last blog post, I went through the current state of ADHD knowledge and assessment in France. In this post, I will explain what is involved in an ADHD assessment, and what to expect from French schools.

The following steps are necessary for a thorough evaluation and diagnosis:
1. Interview with parents including the child’s full medical, psychiatric, social and academic history
2. Interview with the child
3. Completion of questionnaires and behavior checklists
4. Psycho-educational assessment (also called psychological or cognitive testing) is also usually advised. If you have gone to a psychiatrist, the testing will be done by a psychologist whom he/she recommends.
5. Classroom observation is also a plus, but it is not commonly allowed in French schools.

Once a diagnosis is made, the psychiatrist will discuss treatment options. Medications available in France are more limited than in the US; only methylphenidate and related molecules (Ritalin®, Concerta®, and Equasym®) are available. Since the first prescription has to be delivered by a hospital service, it is preferable to see someone affiliated with a hospital. A pediatrician, general practitioner, or private practice psychiatrist can then renew the prescription. Once a year, however, the prescription must be updated at the hospital. The psychiatrist will also, based on the information he or she has gathered, order a language evaluation by an orthophoniste (similar to a speech/language pathologist in the US), in order to determine if your child has any language learning issues, since these are often associated with ADHD. In addition, if there is any grapho-motor (handwriting) or visual-spatial problem, a referral for evaluation with a psychomotricienne or psychomotor therapist (similar to, but not exactly the same as an occupational therapist in the US) will be made. If problems are identified by the orthophoniste or psychomotricienne, therapies in these areas will be prescribed. The services of French orthophonistes are covered by French social security, but those of psychomotriciennes are not.

Some psychiatrists will recommend cognitive behavior therapy for the child, usually done with a psychologist or other counselor. They may also recommend guidance parentale or parent training. Recently, there has been increased recognition that these sorts of treatment are important.  One program, called Triple P (Programme de parentalité positive), has been translated into French and is available online. Unfortunately, while these kinds of treatments are almost systematically recommended in the US, they are still unusual in France. In addition, they are not covered by social security and so must be paid for out of pocket. Many international insurance plans pay for these services. Be aware that psychiatrists in France may still recommend classic individual play therapy despite its lack of proven efficacy.

If you are coming to France with a diagnosis of ADHD already established, keep contact, if possible, with your existing physician or psychiatrist. Since it may be difficult to get an appointment with a specialist here, and you are not yet sure of your child’s reaction to the new environment, this ensures some continuity of care. Once you get an appointment with a French psychiatrist, bring all reports, diagnostic evaluations and/or follow-up documents from your home country. While most French psychiatrists do not speak fluent English, they do comprehend written English. If your child takes medication that is available here, there should not be a problem in getting a French prescription. If the medication is not available here, you need to decide whether you want to try switching or if you will obtain refills during regular visits to your home country. If other services (language, non-verbal, psychological, etc.) are necessary or desired, your psychiatrist will probably be able to point you in the right direction. In English, contact SPRINT for a list of professionals who provide services in English to children with ADHD and their families.

Now we get to the difficult situation of school. French schools, overall, are poor at dealing with children with any kind of learning differences or behavioral issues. While a full discussion of this situation is beyond the scope of this post, this issue of accommodation for special needs in French schools, or the lack of such accommodation, will be discussed in other posts on this blog. For a child with ADHD, a standard French classroom can be a challenge, where learning is often neither multimodal nor behavioral, and academic expectations are high. French education professionals often pride themselves on treating all children equally, and might therefore balk at any individualized plan or at changing the rules for one child. Therefore, strategies and accommodations routinely implemented in US classrooms such as allowing a child with ADHD to get up when needed, to manipulate special “fidget materials,” to do fewer exercises in order to show comprehension, to get special “attention” signals from the teacher, and finally, to establish an individualized reinforcement system for good behavior or good efforts to control attention or impulsivity both at school and at home, are often seen as completely out of the question in a French school. French school psychologists are overworked and not present enough in classrooms to be able to help with such plans, nor do most of them practice such an approach.

However, sometimes, such special accommodations are possible and are successfully implemented.  It depends on the individual teacher and his/her desire to innovate or cooperate with parents or therapists. While it is obviously important to indicate your involvement and willingness to help, it is generally better to let the teacher come up with solutions, perhaps assisted by your gentle suggestions, rather than “imposing” ideas upon him/her. While active cooperation and consultation between parents, professionals and teachers is the norm in the US, French teachers consider themselves the “bosses” of their classrooms and often resist direction from the outside. In my professional experience, French teachers have come up with great plans for ADHD children and have very effectively implemented them; however, some do not consider this their role. On a positive note, I have found that for a subset of children with ADHD, the increased structure, stringent rules and high expectations in a French classroom are actually very beneficial and provide them with much-needed and clear limits and boundaries. 

As I mentioned in the first post, the French organization HyperSupers-TDAH France provides a great deal of useful information about ADHD on its website. The association has published brochures to better inform others about ADHD, including one specifically for teachers, and holds an annual meeting where new research on ADHD is presented. Furthermore, this group helps in advocacy and in promoting legislation concerning education and persons with ADHD and handicaps in general. In addition, HyperSupers-TDAH France has recently begun to support independent research projects. 

Organizations mentioned in the text: 

HyperSupers-TDAH France


Programme de parentalité positive


-Mia Vieyra

About Mia Vieyra

Mia Vieyra is an American clinical psychologist, who has a large private practice in Paris, where she has practiced since 1992. She sees children, adolescents and adults. One of her areas of expertise is the assessment and treatment of ADHD. She is a longstanding AAWE member.

Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) – Part 1

This is the first of a two-part series on ADHD in France. In this part, I will tell you the basics of ADHD and how it is perceived in France. The second part will be a more practical guide on what to do if your child has an ADHD diagnosis and you are moving to France, or if you already live in France and suspect that your child might have attention deficit problems. 

Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder is a neurodevelopmental diagnosis that children and adolescents commonly receive. It is increasingly recognized in adults as well.  The latest research indicates that there is no significant difference in numbers of cases between North America and Europe. However, there are major differences between the United States and France in how the diagnosis is made and how children with this problem are handled, both by the medical establishment and in school. In French, ADHD is called TDAH” (Trouble deficit de l’attention/hyperactivité)

Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder is characterized by problems with sustained attention, impulse control and activity level. Currently, there are three types of attention deficit disorders recognized by the psychiatric community:

  • ADHD predominantly inattentive type is diagnosed when the child is mostly plagued by difficulties with keeping his/her attention focused for a time and at a level thought to be typical of his/her age. This child is often seen as dreamy or “lost in space.” He/she may have difficulties paying attention in class and completing homework, following through on assignments or activities, and organizing and structuring work or other tasks. He/she is often forgetful, loses things and is easily distracted.
  • ADHD predominantly hyperactive-impulsive type is diagnosed when a child has great difficulty sitting still or has a level of physical activity which is thought to be significantly greater than the norm. This child is often seen as “bouncing off the walls,” fidgets, has trouble waiting his/her turn, talks excessively, blurts out answers, interrupts conversations, and is often described by teachers as being disruptive in class.  
  • ADHD combined hyperactive-impulsive and inattentive type is diagnosed when a child has trouble with both attention and is also hyperactive and impulsive. 

In all cases, to receive this diagnosis, the symptoms must have begun before the age of twelve years and persist for at least six months. Symptoms must be present in at least two spheres of the child’s life (e.g., home and school) and there must be significant disruption or interference with adaptive social, academic, or occupational functioning.

In France, historically, ADHD has not been recognized as a condition. Since child psychiatry was long in the hands of psychoanalytically trained psychiatrists, such behavior was seen as a manifestation of anxiety or of another emotional disturbance. Often this behavior pattern was considered to be the result of poor or inadequate parenting. However, slowly over the past 20 years, there has been increasing recognition among French psychiatrists and psychologists of ADHD as a valid diagnosis that requires proper identification and treatment. There are now, particularly among younger child psychiatrists and psychologists, many who understand ADHD, know how to diagnose it and are competent in prescribing or referring children for appropriate and empirically validated treatment modalities.

Energy is building and awareness of the needs of children with ADHD is growing throughout Europe. In terms of helping individual children in France, awareness of ADHD is growing, thanks largely to the efforts of advocacy groups. Lawmakers and school administrators are responding and are beginning to tackle the challenge of educating children with learning and behavioral differences. In 2015, “Guidelines to follow for children and adolescents suspected of having ADHD” was published by the Haute Autorité de Santé (the French Health Authority). You can find the document here in French. It provides recommendations for appropriate practice to help physicians identify cases of ADHD, recommend proper diagnostic and evaluation procedures, and indicates procedures for coordinating treatment among the primary physician and the treating specialists. Unfortunately, these recommendations are not always followed by French physicians. Be careful, knowledge of ADHD is evolving all the time, so you might find yourself talking to a physician or a psychiatrist with some knowledge but who still holds outdated notions about the condition.

If you want an evaluation or treatment at the hospital, the wait is often several months long; you will need a letter of referral from a physician before you can be put on the waiting list. Alternatively, you can call the psychiatry department at Hôpital Robert Debré and ask for a referral to a psychiatrist in private practice. Slowly, other major hospital child psychiatry departments are becoming more familiar and competent in dealing with ADHD.

If you suspect your child has ADHD, you should consult a competent psychiatrist. You may also, especially if you and/or your child are not yet fluent in French, make an appointment with one of many Anglophone psychologists trained abroad, who, unlike their French counterparts, are used to recognizing ADHD, and can provide counseling and make appropriate referrals if needed. You can find such practitioners on SPRINT, an interdisciplinary group of professionals who work with English-speaking children with special needs. For French speakers, HyperSupers – TDAH France, is a large parent support association with a volunteer network established throughout the country. The association website outlines the steps that should be taken to acquire special provisions for your child at school and your local association volunteer can steer you to the appropriate professionals and parent support group in your region. Another source of information and support is a parent association called EKIPP (Extraordinary Kids in Paris and Parents Too) which is a parent support and information network for parents of kids with various types of difficulties, including ADHD.

In Part 2 of this article, I will go through the proper procedures for a good ADHD assessment. Stay tuned!
-Mia Vieyra

About Mia Vieyra

Mia Vieyra is an American clinical psychologist, who has a large private practice in Paris, where she has practiced since 1992. She sees children, adolescents and adults. One of her areas of expertise is the assessment and treatment of ADHD. She is a longstanding AAWE member.