Students with autism, parents and teachers adapt to changes brought by Covid-19

President Halimah Yacob poses for a group photo with staff, students, parents and board members of Eden School during her virtual visit on June 19, 2020.
President Halimah Yacob poses for a group photo with staff, students, parents and board members of Eden School during her virtual visit on June 19, 2020.PHOTO: MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION
A group photo of President Halimah Yacob with staff, students, parents and board members of Eden School during her virtual visit on June 19, 2020.
A group photo of President Halimah Yacob with staff, students, parents and board members of Eden School during her virtual visit on June 19, 2020.PHOTO: MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION

SINGAPORE - The reopening of schools since the circuit breaker was lifted on June 2 has given caregivers like Mrs Emily Mcintyre much-needed breathing space.

The 52-year-old, whose 15-year-old son, Callum, is autistic, told President Halimah Yacob on Friday (June 19) that the four hours Callum spends in school every day has allowed her time to rest, catch up on housework and run errands again.

"It was quite tough, not easy, but I had to keep trying to get Callum to understand (the situation). When he needed a haircut, it was difficult to explain to him the closures," said Mrs Mcintyre, who takes care of her son full-time.

She was among the staff, students and parents of Eden School who discussed their experiences during the Covid-19 pandemic with Madam Halimah when she paid a virtual visit to the school via teleconferencing from the Istana.

Eden School caters to 400 students with autism between seven and 18 years old. Like all other schools, it too had to close and move to home-based learning (HBL) when measures were put in place to stem the transmission of Covid-19.

As students with autism are especially disrupted by changes to their routines, both teachers and parents had to mentally prepare them for multiple changes induced by the pandemic, and think of ways to engage them in a confined home space.

For example, before HBL started, teachers at Eden used storytelling to help them visualise staying in place, and explained how it would be a while before they could visit recreational facilities like arcades and swimming pools again.

The HBL period also required teachers to take a different approach with their lessons. Mr Ellis Phua, who teaches students with severe autism needs, said that he turned his attention to parents during HBL as he prepared videos that taught them how to practise hands-on skills with their children through preparing simple meals or doing household chores.

He noted that the inability to leave the house or take breaks outdoors to regulate their behaviour was especially stressful for the students, and challenging for their parents.

Another teacher, Ms Jolene Tan, said that different online platforms were used to engage students during HBL, depending on their needs. Those who require less support could use Zoom, while those who prefer more interaction with their classmates found the virtual whiteboard platform HeyHi engaging.

Vice-principal Stanley Chan said parents played a crucial role in making HBL effective.

 
 
 
 

"The school's engagement with parents (during the circuit breaker) was unprecedented. It was especially helpful when students could apply skills picked up in school in the home environment with their parents' help," he said.

Another parent, Madam Ruszia Ali, echoed his sentiments, and said that she spent time during the circuit breaker cooking and baking with her 10-year-old son, Hafiz, who enjoyed mashing potatoes.

Madam Halimah said she was very encouraged by the visit, and hearing that most of Eden School's students had adapted to the transitions well. However, she noted that not every student had exclusive access to a computer at home for HBL, and said their wish to each own a computer was "reasonable".

Concluding her visit, she said: "I hope that as a society, we will continue to support children with autism and special needs because they have a place in our society and we have a duty and responsibility to support them and their families in making sure that they realise their full potential."