Forum: Give parents respite by keeping special needs schools open throughout the year

SG Enable's call for caregivers to seek help when stressed from caring for children with special needs is a timely reminder of the importance of ensuring that caregivers have adequate rest and time outside of caregiving (Twins found dead: SG Enable urges stressed caregivers of children with special needs to seek help, Jan 24).

My family has an 11-year-old boy with moderate autism. He is not very verbal and does not yet possess independent living skills.

Therefore, we can definitely relate to caregiving stress. We do not have a domestic helper.

As much as we love our child, it's necessary for our extended family members as well as society to help to ensure that long-term caregiving is manageable and that the caregiving burden does not fall only on the parents.

Our child has attended Rainbow Centre Margaret Drive school since he was four. The hours he spends in school are a gift to us - he generally enjoys attending school, and we get a good few hours of respite. He also thrives on the familiar routine that school provides.

So it's indeed difficult for us (and many other households with children who have special needs) when the long school breaks come around in June and from November to December.

These special needs children get restless at home with nothing much to do, besides being glued to electronic gadgets.

Working parents cannot fulfil their job obligations properly and get almost no respite.

Special needs children are different. When routines are disrupted, hell can break loose and not every type of activity is suitable for them.

After-school care programmes may not be available or be suitable for every special needs child.

I hope special needs schools under the Ministry of Education can consider operating for some weeks during the traditional June and year-end long holidays. Perhaps the schools could operate for two weeks out of the four weeks' break in June, and for three weeks during the six-week year-end break.

I understand that the teaching staff need their break, but just like how childcare centres under the Ministry of Social and Family Development can operate throughout the year, I believe there could be a feasible way to get around this.

I hope the ministries can work together to share ideas and consider this option, which would truly be a realistic way of helping caregivers.

Elaine Tay Ee Ling

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