Forum: Continue support for special needs students at institutes of higher learning

It is wonderful that special education (Sped) is getting more resources (Special education teaching to get boost from $7.5 million gift by Lien Foundation, April 6).

At the same time, I agree with the Dyslexia Association of Singapore (Do more to fix gaps for special needs students in higher education settings, June 9) that Sped school students still face challenges when they graduate from school and enter institutes of higher learning (IHLs), as they lose access to the support services they previously had. Instead of celebrating the milestone that is graduation, students face anxiety for the future.

Transiting to higher education does not lessen neurodivergent students' support needs. Teaching them social and life skills is of little help if a support system and inclusive culture are not built into IHLs.

From talking to some autistic students in the Institute of Technical Education, I found that their biggest challenge is in making friends.

I have an autistic friend in university who feels ostracised and is verbally abused by his peers. I too felt ostracised back in my university days. Such loneliness makes the education experience a sorrowful one.

Schools and the Ministry of Education (MOE) need to train students at all stages on how to understand, empathise and interact with neurodivergent students, who need acceptance and friendship as much as everyone else.

I call for stronger collaboration between MOE's Special Education Needs Division and Higher Education Group to oversee IHLs' core functions like student support services and inclusion policies.

IHL counsellors need training on how to support neurodivergent students' unique needs, which differ largely from those of the general student population. Lecturers, tutors and professors also need to learn how to support such students.

I urge IHLs to consult autistic adults and alumni and conduct campuswide talks, training and campaigns on autism and neurodiversity for staff and students.

Neurodivergent students can also be paired with other neurodivergent senior students.

I yearn for the day when neurodivergent students have equal access and opportunities for a rewarding education experience academically, emotionally and socially.

Wesley Loh Hsien-Wei

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