For parents, facing concerns about a child’s development or learning can be scary and confusing; doing it in a country known for its bureaucracy and administrative maze of paperwork can be overwhelming. While parents and professionals agree that there is plenty of room to improve supporting and including children with developmental and learning disabilities in public schools, France has made improvements over the past 15 years since the loi de 2005 affirmed that all children have the right to receive an education and that parents have the right to be involved in developing educational plans.  Educational plans, financial support, and dedicated educational supports in schools are available for children diagnosed with a developmental, learning, or other disability. 

Developmental disabilities

Early detection and intervention are important to get necessary support for children with disabilities. Parents can bring up concerns with their child’s pediatrician who can do a brief screening and determine whether a visit to a specialist or specialized hospital for diagnosis is necessary. Parents of young children concerned with their development can go directly to their local PMI (service de protection maternelle et infantile), a useful resource which provides support for pregnant women and children up to age 6 and is the equivalent to Early Intervention services in the United States. These PMI centers provide free medical care including developmental screenings, and are connected to other services that provide support to children with developmental disabilities and their families. For children in a daycare, for example, the PMI can work directly with the crèche to determine that appropriate materials, supports, and adaptations are in place.

Learning disabilities

In primary school, when a child is having difficulty in the classroom, ideally teachers will recognize the need, speak with the parents, and try to provide extra support or modify or adapt the schoolwork. The first step for students struggling in class is to put in place a programme personnalisé de réussite éducative (PPRE). The PPRE allows the teacher to put a plan of action in place, with appropriate accommodations and support, directly in the classroom. The teacher may consult with the school director and the Rased (réseaux d’aides spécialisées aux élèves en difficulté), a team of special educators and school psychologists. It is important to note that not all public schools currently have a Rased team working fulltime in their building. 

If it is suspected that the child is not keeping up with the curriculum because of a learning disability, the school will most often suggest that the child have an evaluation by an orthophoniste, the equivalent of a speech therapist. To have the evaluation reimbursed by social security, parents can talk with their child’s pediatrician, who will prescribe the evaluation. However, it is important to keep in mind that any standardized assessments should, whenever possible, be done in the child’s mother tongue. It can be difficult to find anglophone specialists whose services are reimbursed by social security, though there are several in the Paris region. SPRINT, an organization for professionals working with children with special needs, can provide resources for anglophone parents seeking information or referrals to services for their children. 

Once the school receives the assessment, which will be reviewed and approved by a médecin de l’éducation nationale, a plan d’accompagnement personnalisé (PAP) is put into place based on observations by special educators and a school psychologist. This document will define measures decided on by the teacher, director, and Rased team that will allow the child to continue following the national curriculum. A PAP is reviewed every year and has a standardized form. 


A child with a developmental disability or severe learning difficulties that may require specialized services, in-school support, or any material or financial support may be referred to the Maison départementale des personnes handicapés (MDPH). This public agency officially recognizes a person’s disability which then allows the family access to additional services and support, both material and financial. Once an evaluation by the MDPH is requested by the family, a multidisciplinary team will meet along with the family to analyze the needs of the child using a standard form called the GEVA-sco. An enseignant référent will be assigned to the child and work with the family and school during the process and for future re-evaluations. Once the child’s diagnosis is officially recognized by the MDPH, a team will create a projet personnalisé de scolarisation (PPS), similar to an Individualized Education Program (IEP), is a legally binding document. A PPS is for children who meet the definition of a “handicap” according to article 2 of the loi de 2005 and whose dossier has been accepted by the MDPH.  Although the entire process can take over a year to complete, it can be hugely beneficial to children needing a place in an appropriate school structure, an aide in the classroom (known as an AESH), specialized equipment, transportation, or a financial stipend to pay for specialized services and therapies. Unlike in the United States and the United Kingdom where schools have on-site staff providing most therapies directly in the school, in France they are most often external and in private practices. Parents are responsible for arranging these appointments and taking their child to these therapies. 

Private schools hors contrat

If your child is in a private school hors contrat, first discuss with your child’s teacher any concerns about their learning and development. Smaller private schools may not have the resources to have a special educator on staff. However, the school director and teacher will likely refer the child to an orthophoniste. Parents can also ask the school director for references; most know of psychologists, speech therapists, and other professionals with whom they discuss questions and refer children. Finding a specialist who already has a relationship with the school staff can make the process smoother. 

If, after an assessment, the school determines that your child needs additional support during the day, the costs of these services like a classroom aide are usually at the expense of the family who hires the aide, unless they have completed the process with the MDPH. If a child is enrolled in a school that does not feel capable of effectively accommodating their needs, the school may refer the parents to the public system or a larger private school that has a special education department. However, there are organizations in the Paris region working to advocate for smaller anglophone and bilingual schools to include children with special educational needs. EKIPP advocates for and supports parents of anglophone children with diverse learning, medical, or physical needs. The Learning Collaborative provides a network of support and continuing education on child development and disabilities for teachers, as well as resources for parents and professionals. Message Paris also has many resources, workshops, meet ups, and forums for English speaking parents in and around Paris. Joining an association such as AAWE brings valuable support from fellow parents and helps you build a network of bicultural families.
You can also purchase a copy of the latest edition of the AAWE Guide to Education in France, with its glossary explaining terms and acronyms relating to special needs, schools, and education in general.

While the French system of special education is not yet as accessible and developed in every public school as in many anglophone countries, the system has a variety of supports available from assessment to intervention. No matter the age of your child, as soon as you suspect a possible delay or notice a learning difficulty it is vital to seek support from professionals. The earlier you are able to detect and intervene with appropriate supports, the better the outcomes for your child.

– Jill Clément

Further Resources

General Special Ed France

Quel plan pour qui

Resources from Wendy Atkinson, owner and founder of Cornerstone Therapy Associates, LLC, based in Ashland, Virginia

Detailed resources to help persons and parents struggling to deal with sensory issues or to meet sensory needs.

How to create the perfect sensory room

NHS Sensory Processing Hub

Ways to deal with common sensory issues

Jill Clément

Jill Clément has lived in France since 2011, working in international schools supporting children with special needs and training teachers on inclusive practices. She has a BS in psychology and education and an MA in child development with a focus in clinical developmental psychology. She lives in Paris with her husband and son.

The American Library in Paris’s Children’s and Teens’ Services Manager Celeste Rhoads compiled this curated selection of recommended reading for ages 0-12 with input from expert librarians around the world.

The list includes award-winners, well-loved books that have been around for decades, as well as contemporary classics whose characters and settings have already become part of the cultural lexicon. Parents and educators might be surprised to see several graphic novels included here, but these books should not be dismissed. Graphic novels are full of text that readers must decode and analyze, as well as exciting and complex plots, characters, and conflicts. They’re also engaging! If you are not yet familiar with Jerry Craft’s Newbery Medal-winning New Kid, it’s a great choice for readers age 8 and up (even for tweens and teens). In his Newbery acceptance speech Craft gives compelling examples of the importance of offering all children mirrors and windows in their reading.

All of the books listed here are available in English (including several well-known translated works). Here, you will find picture books, including Maurice Sendak’s 1963 Where the Wild Things Are, and the contemporary Wild Berries by Cree-Metis author, illustrator, and artist Julie Flett, as well as illustrated early readers (Such as Mo Willems’ We Are in a Book), and novels for school-aged children to read alone or with an adult. As with all best-of lists, there will likely be titles that surprise some readers— and half the fun of a selection of this sort is debating about what did or didn’t make it on! This list can be used as a tool for discovery, and a starting point for those of you who are unfamiliar with children’s literature, as well as the go-to spot for anyone of who would like to grab a sure hit to take home or a gift to give to the young reader in your life, but most of all, please use this list to engage with that young reader, and find out what type of book they are looking for.

  1. Actual Size: Written and illustrated by Steve Jenkins
  2. Ada Twist, Scientist: Written by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts
  3. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: Written by Lewis Carroll
  4. All the World: Written by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Marla Frazee
  5. Alvin Ho, Allergic to Girls, School and Other Scary Things: Written by Lenore Look, illustrated by LeUyen Pham
  6. And Tango Makes Three: Written by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, illustrated by Henry Cole
  7. The Arrival: Written and illustrated by Shaun Tan
  8. Bark, George: Written and illustrated by Jules Feiffer
  9. Bomb: The Race to Build – and Steal – the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon: Written by Steve Sheinkin
  10. A Bear Called Paddington: Written by Michael Bond, illustrated by Peggy Forthum
  11. The Berenstain Bears Forget Their Manners: Written and illustrated by Stan and Jan Berenstain
  12. The Big Orange Splot: Written and illustrated by Daniel Pinkwater
  13. The Borrowers: Written by Mary Norton
  14. A Chair for My Mother: Written and illustrated by Vera Williams
  15. Charlotte’s Web: Written by E.B. White
  16. The Crossover: Written by Kwame Alexander
  17. The Day the Crayons Quit: Written by Drew Daywalt, Illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
  18. Brown Girl Dreaming: Written by Jacqueline Woodson
  19. Bunnicula: Written by Deborah and James Howe
  20. Cinderella, and Other Tales from Perrault: Written by Charles Perrault
  21. Coraline: Written by Neil Gaiman
  22. Corduroy: Written and illustrated by Don Freeman
  23. Each Kindness: Written by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by E.B. Lewis
  24. Eat Your Peas: Written by Kes Gray, illustrated by Nick Sharratt
  25. El Deafo: Written and illustrated by Cece Bell
  26. Elmer: Written and illustrated by David McKee
  27. Eloise: Written by Kay Thompson, illustrated by Hilary Knight
  28. Esperanza Rising: Written by Pam Muñoz Ryan
  29. Extra Yarn: Written by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen
  30. Feathers: Written by Jacqueline Woodson
  31. Flora and Ulysses: Written by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by K. G. Campbell
  32. Georgie: Written and illustrated by Robert Bright
  33. Ghost: Written by Jason Reynolds
  34. The Girl and the Wolf: Written by Katherena Vermette, illustrated by Julie Flett
  35. The Giver: Written by Lois Lowry
  36. The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials): Written by Phillip Pullman
  37. Grand Canyon: Written and illustrated by Jason Chin
  38. Grimm’s Fairy Tales: Written by the Brothers Grimm
  39. The Gruffalo: Written by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler
  40. Guess How Much I Love You: Written by Sam McBratney, illustrated by Anita Jeram
  41. Harold and the Purple Crayon: Written and illustrated by Crockett Johnson
  42. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone: Written by J.K. Rowling
  43. Hatchet: Written by Gary Paulsen
  44. I Will Not Ever Eat a Tomato: Written and illustrated by Lauren Child
  45. Inside Out and Back Again: Written by Thanhha Lai
  46. Joseph Had a Little Overcoat: Written and illustrated by Simms Taback
  47. Just a Minute!: Written and illustrated by Yuyi Morales
  48. Knuffle Bunny: Written and illustrated by Mo Willems
  49. Last Stop on Market Street: Written by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson
  50. The Little Engine That Could:  Told by Watty Piper
  51. The Little Prince: Written and illustrated by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
  52. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: Written by C.S. Lewis
  53. The Lorax: Written and illustrated by Dr. Seuss
  54. Lost and Found: Written and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
  55. The Man Who Walked Between the Towers: Written and illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein
  56. March: Book One: Written by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, Illustrated by Nate Powell
  57. Merci Suarez Changes Gears: Written by Meg Medina
  58. My Happy Life: Written by Rose Lagercrantz, illustrated by Eva Eriksson
  59. The Name Jar: Written and illustrated by Yangsook Choi
  60. Nancy Drew: The Secret of the Old Clock: Written by Carolyn Keene
  61. Neighborhood Sharks: Written and illustrated by Katherine Roy
  62. Nelson Mandela: Written and illustrated by Kadir Nelson
  63. New Kid: Written and illustrated by Jerry Craft
  64. The One and Only Ivan: Written by K. A. Applegate, illustrated by Patricia Castelao
  65. One Crazy Summer: Written by Rita Williams-Garcia
  66. The Paper Bag Princess: Written by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Michael Martchenko
  67. Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief: Written by Rick Riordan
  68. Peter Pan: Written by J.M. Barrie
  69. Peter Rabbit: Written and illustrated by Beatrix Potter
  70. Pippi Longstocking: Written by Astrid Lindgren
  71. Please, Baby, Please: Written by Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee, illustrated by Kadir Nelson
  72. Press Here: Written and illustrated by Hervé Tullet
  73. The Princess and the Pony: Written and illustrated by Kate Beaton
  74. The Princess in Black: Written by Shannon and Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham
  75. Room on the Broom: Written by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler
  76. Rosie Revere, Engineer: Written by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts
  77. A Sick Day for Amos McGee: Written by Phillip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin Stead
  78. Stella by Starlight: Written by Sharon M. Draper
  79. Stellaluna: Written and illustrated by Janell Cannon
  80. A Tale Dark and Grimm: Written by Adam Gidwitz
  81. Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes: Written by Mem Fox, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury
  82. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing: Written by Judy Blume
  83. This is Not My Hat: Written and Illustrated by Jon Klassen
  84. The Runaway Bunny: Written by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Clement Hurd
  85. The Snail and the Whale: Written by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler
  86. The Snowy Day: Written and illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats
  87. This Bridge Will Not be Gray: Written by Dave Eggers, Illustrated by Tucker Nichols
  88. Toilet: How it Works: Written and illustrated by David Macaulay
  89. The True Story of the Three Little Pigs: Written by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith
  90. The Velveteen Rabbit: Written by Margery Williams
  91. The Very Hungry Caterpillar: Written and illustrated by Eric Carle
  92. The Watsons Go to Birmingham: Written by Christopher Paul Curtis
  93. Weapon: Written by Steve Sheinkin
  94. We Are in a Book: Written and illustrated by Mo Willems
  95. Where the Sidewalk Ends: Written and illustrated by Shel Silverstein
  96. Where the Wild Things Are: Written and illustrated by Maurice Sendak
  97. Winnie the Pooh: Written by A.A. Milne
  98. The Witches: Written by Roald Dahl
  99. Wonder: Written by R. J. Palacio
  100. A Wrinkle in Time: Written by Madeleine L’Engle

Celeste Rhoads

Celeste Rhoads is originally from John Steinbeck’s hometown of Salinas, California, where she read on the beach, in trees, on road trips, and everywhere in between. She moved to Paris in 2005, and immediately found a home at the American Library in Paris, volunteering in the Children’s and Teens’ Services Department.

Celeste was hired as the Children’s and Teens’ Services Manager in 2010 to oversee the Library’s collections, policies, and programs for ages 0–18.

Celeste has a master’s degree in Library Science from Rutgers University, where she focused on digital libraries, and children’s literature. She enjoys connecting people of all ages with great reads—especially contemporary titles. She has served on numerous book selection committees, including the Young Adult Library Services Best Fiction for Young Adults Commitee, and Great Graphic Novels for Young Adults Committee, and she has written for the BnF’s “La Revue des Livres Pour Enfants” about American children’s literature post-Sendak.

Might a bilingual education be the best preparation for a bicultural child, whose playing field covers more than one country? Perhaps, if you are in the position to take advantage of it. The reality is that some of us aren’t.

When in Rome Do as the Romans Do

As much as we may want to, we can’t pick up and move back to our home country. What to do?

The key is trusting an educational system. Sometimes it is hard to do this, I know. In France, my kids have suffered from long school days, inconsistent quality of teaching, and teacher absenteeism, despite carefully choosing our schools. I remind myself, however, that France, as a nation, scores high. Micro-managing takes power away from those responsible for delivering a result. Trust the French educational system and let its qualified people deliver.

And Find Common Ground

When parents from two different countries hold a different view of education, perhaps the best they can hope for is to find some common ground. I remember being horrified by the inhumanity of my son’s 0/20 on a dictée (my French husband didn’t bat an eye), yet delighted that each vacation his French teacher assigned an enjoyable short novel to read. We both agreed that valorizing reading was a good thing.

Jane Mobille and her son, photo courtesy of the author.

Accept that the French education system may be different from what you experienced, yet try to see the pluses. Then, figure out how you can support your child to compensate for the system’s minuses – for example, by: providing tutoring, ensuring an environment at home conducive to studying, being available to listen to your child when they need to talk, finding other ways to build your child’s self-esteem, meeting teachers to advocate for your child, or offering your child plenty of patience and encouragement.

Do note that the worst thing that we can do for our children is to undermine them by forcing our worldview on them. A non-French worldview is of limited use when studying in a Francophone system! It is confusing and can even give our children an excuse not to engage when things get challenging, prohibiting them from reaping one of the benefits of the French educational system: learning how to survive when the going gets tough. We must support our kids as needed without bashing their school system, because it is theirs, and their identity is tied to it.

Even you can learn to work with the French school system

Our then-12-year-old boy’s French math teacher got into the habit of calling him “et demi” or “1/2” when he did his daily headcount. I asked for a meeting and began it by telling the teacher that I appreciated his dedication – he was rigorous, even collecting his students’ notebooks to give them feedback on their note taking. Then I asked him to stop calling my son “et demi” because it was destroying his confidence and making him lose face in front of his classmates. The teacher was surprised and said he liked my son and was just teasing. I said I knew that he was the kind of teacher that could build a student’s confidence, and that I hoped that he would do that for my son. And guess what? He did!

When advocating for your child, avoid generalizing. Better to offer the teacher feedback on a specific event, and if appropriate, propose a solution. 

When the French school system is failing your child

Sometimes, trust, support, and advocacy may not be enough. If your child is still struggling in a French school, should you put your child in a non-French system? After all, in France, in addition to international schools, there are German, Spanish, British, American, Montessori, and Euro schools. The decision is – of course – full of nuances. Yet you must weigh the potential benefits to your child’s well-being against the impact of taking them out of the French system, in particular if they have a French parent. Full mastery of French, your child’s future network, and the lack of a French Bac diploma are all issues to consider.

Know that within the French education system, there is choice. There are public and private schools, Catholic and other religious schools. There are international schools and bilingual schools. There are bilingual and European programs within public, semi-private, and private schools. There are after-school language schools, schools for dyslexics, boarding schools, and international exchange programs. There are general, technological, trade, sports, art, and performing arts high schools.

Might most kids, in fact, be OK in any school system?

If you raise your children in France, and you learned that your child was offered a spot to attend Lycée Louis-le-Grand or Henri IV, you would probably jump for joy at the news – regardless of your nationality. Indeed, students at these prestigious French schools are on track to secure their spot among France’s elite. What if your child benefited from a bilingual education up until that point, could they make the transition into an elite French school?

Well, many transition in just fine. I know a Franco-Brit who thrived in his public high school’s bilingual program and decided to forego his place in a British university in order to enter a Henri IV prépa – and he is thriving.

A dyslexic Franco-American student attended French Catholic primary school and benefited from years of reimbursed French language therapy. He entered a bilingual public middle school program and eventually ended up in a US college with a scholarship. A Franco-British student attended a bilingual Montessori nursery school, and then spent the next 12 years in the French Catholic and public school system. Once graduated, she headed to England for a Foundation year and more, and is flourishing.

While this evidence may be anecdotal, it begs the question: from our children’s point of view, if they receive the appropriate support, does it really matter to which system they belong? Does it really matter how you skin the cat?

How parents can make the educational system work

Children in any educational system fare according to both their natural advantages and the emotional, academic, and logistical support they receive, which can mitigate the weaknesses of the particular system. Dear parent, please be honest. How are you engaging with your child’s education? If you have a child who finds school difficult, how are you accompanying them?
Are you in denial…about any number of things? Are you focused on your career and struggling to find time to deal with your child’s challenges; or, are you unwilling or unable to deal with them? Are you resistant to reorganizing weekends and vacations in order to provide your child with the structure, rest, and extra time they may need? Are you projecting your own “a priori” upon your child? Are you unwilling to go to conflict?

A “yes” answer to any of these questions may be what is failing your child, even more than the educational system. Dear parents, our job might be the hardest one out there. And we have just 18 years to get it right. Bon courage.

Jane Mobille, PCC

Jane Mobille is a Professional Certified Coach who counts young people and families among her clientele. She and her husband have raised three bicultural children in France. They have attended semi-private bilingual school, public nursery school, Catholic primary school, and public secondary school with international sections. Two of them struggled for many years before encountering success. 

This article was previously published on the INSPIRELLE blog.