Provide options for deaf children's education

I empathise with Ms Betty Ho Peck Woon's experience of having to take her son out of a special education (Sped) school because of the lack of flexibility in accommodating his special needs ("Ensure special ed schools well prepared for changes"; Tuesday).

Indeed, tackling accessibility to Sped schools has to go beyond just ensuring no lack of places or finances ("Bringing out the best in Sped kids"; Tuesday). It has to also ensure new mindsets that allow options, as every child with special needs is unique.

In the past, the Singapore School for the Deaf provided education for children under age six, using the Total Communication approach, which includes the use of sign language.

Currently, only the Canossian School provides pre-school education for deaf children below six.

However, it uses the Natural Auditory Oral approach. This approach, as stated on the school's website, does not use any formalised signs and asserts its belief that the introduction of sign language or sign-assisted communication before spoken language is well established will seriously interfere with the development of speech and language.

Thus, deaf children who are unable to benefit from this approach, even when equipped with hearing aids or cochlear implants, have little access to education at pre-school levels.

This represents the missing link that will funnel deaf students to designated primary and secondary schools which provide the sign language option.

Experts have suggested that learning sign language while maximising the use of residual hearing is beneficial, and in some cases, when used for a short time pre-implant, serves as a bridge to spoken language.

Denying the use of such an approach may impede language acquisition and development in young children who are forced to acquire speech regardless of their ability.

I urge the Ministry of Social and Family Development (which oversees pre-school education) to allow the Total Communication approach as an essential alternative, and to provide support for families to also learn sign language.

Even with the best of technology, there will be deaf children who need to learn sign language.

There are challenges in acquiring sign language, both for deaf children and their parents.

But let's not deny them this option, as no one size fits all. Only in this way can we succeed in "bringing out the best in Sped kids".

Tang Siew Ngoh (Ms)
Honorary Secretary
Disabled People's Association

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 10, 2016, with the headline 'Provide options for deaf children's education'. Subscribe