Forum: Focus less on labels and more on helping special needs kids

I refer to the article, "Support available in schools for families caring for special needs children: Chan Chun Sing" (Feb 14).

As a social worker in the early intervention sector, I'm heartened by the initiatives and support programmes that our education system offers to meet the needs of children. These include greater emphasis on early detection as well as supporting children and their families in the transition from one programme to another.

Something that I learnt from speaking to most parents is that respect and understanding from the public towards their children go a long way.

With many developmental disorders being "invisible" by nature, there is this tendency to assume a child is normal, until he starts throwing a tantrum in public. While it's normal for one to react by staring, this can cause the parents to be even more embarrassed and self-conscious.

The journey of accepting that a child may have special needs is lifelong and difficult to navigate, especially at the start.

Hence, something we could do in this situation is to offer parents some space to manage the situation, while perhaps checking on them if they seem to be struggling.

With more early intervention services rolled out in pre-schools, there is a need to train staff better in early intervention, perhaps through collaborating with early intervention centres or upgrading through courses.

A common situation encountered by parents I've spoken to is being asked to transfer their child out of a pre-school because the teachers are not able to handle the child's behaviour.

This often leaves parents stranded with few options because other pre-schools may be full or also lack the expertise to manage the child. Parents feel more helpless, and may opt to care for the child at home.

While the conversation about children with special needs tends to focus on more severe cases, it is also important to view special needs on a spectrum.

Similar to how we all have our own strengths and weaknesses to different degrees, children also have their own preferred learning environment and may require greater support in certain areas - whether or not they are diagnosed.

If we can see beyond any label that a child is given and instead focus on enhancing strengths while managing limitations, we will surely get closer to helping children achieve their potential.

Jillian Tan Wei Ling

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