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Need for road map, community input in special education

Two recent articles ("The heartbreak of caring for an autistic child", June 18; and "She taps into her grief to help others heal", last Sunday) highlight the helplessness and hopelessness that parents of children with special needs are extremely vulnerable to.

These often stem from concerns relating to seeking appropriate educational placement for their children, as well as the lack of ongoing and appropriate support for their children's developmental journey, from early childhood into adulthood.

It does not help that often, choices for educational placement are extremely limited and limiting, in terms of appropriately developing the unique abilities some of these children have.

Navigating the educational pathway can be confusing and stressful for parents, especially when different organisations offer similar programmes.

This is exacerbated when parents do not get family support or understanding, or when educational placements do not work out.

In the context of this, two considerations are essential.

First, a road map is needed for educating children with special needs, from early intervention through to the post-18 years.

It should map out pathways of functional goals for children with special needs that lead eventually to their participation in community life.

Having such a road map demonstrates to parents of children with special needs that as a society, we are committed to the same standards of accountability, consistency and continuity of learning that are accorded to children in mainstream education.

Second, the role that "community" has in special education has not been sufficiently explored and effectively utilised.

A community paradigm of special education goes beyond classes of students making regular trips to the local supermarket to learn money sense or how to ride on public transport.

Rather, it entails members of the community - the waiter, the baker or the sales assistant - contributing to the design of the special curriculum and playing a role in co-training skills at appropriate stages of curriculum delivery.

Members of the community can, thus, shed the role of passive onlooker, to actively work alongside those with the lifelong responsibility of caring and supporting individuals with special needs.

Lucy Pou Kwee Hoon (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 26, 2016, with the headline 'Need for road map, community input in special education'. Print Edition | Subscribe