Easing long wait at Sped schools

By 2019, children above six-years-old and below 15 with special needs will have to attend school.

Meanwhile, several of the 20 special education (Sped) schools here are struggling with waiting lists. This is especially the case with the three schools catering to autism-only children.

While 75 per cent of the 1,770 children per cohort with special education needs can attend mainstream schools, the rest need a place in a Sped school.

Parents say the waiting time can be from six months to two years. This comes as more children are diagnosed with autism in Singapore - 822 pre-schoolers in 2015, compared with 361 in 2005.

This struggle for a place came to light after one father's Facebook plea. Aqil Nabil Maulid's father had waited a year for a place in Eden School in Bukit Batok for his eight-year-old son, only to be told to wait another year. Eden specifically works with children diagnosed with autism.

The Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (Minds) later offered Nabil a place. His parents had no clue Minds works with children with autism. However, housewife Crystal Ng, 37, has ruled out Minds. She prefers to wait for a place at Eden for her seven-year-old. "I want the best school for him, the best teacher for him," she said.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) said parents contribute to longer wait lists and waiting times for admission by fixating on a single school.

Certainly, the other Sped schools can build capacity to take in more children with autism. At present, 13 Sped schools take in these children, alongside those with intellectual or physical disabilities. These schools have been training their staff and revamping classrooms to handle children with autism.

Autism-specific schools also need to hire more teachers to cope with greater demand.

Minds chief executive Keh Eng Song said it is better to have the child in school, and socialising, than sitting at home on waiting lists.

To ensure early intervention, parents need to buy into the "every school a good school" philosophy for children with learning challenges.

Kok Xing Hui

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 25, 2017, with the headline 'Easing long wait at Sped schools'. Print Edition | Subscribe