New initiative integrates special needs kids into mainstream schools

An initiative has been launched with the aim of integrating special needs children into a mainstream school setting.

It is one of several in a pilot programme by the Ministry of Social and Family Development to better cater to the diversity of children who are taking part in the Early Intervention Programme for Infants and Children (Eipic).

Eipic centres at Thye Hua Kwan (THK); SPD, which helps people with disabilities; and the Asian Women's Welfare Association are working together with the ministry to trial these new initiatives.

Under the new initiative, special needs children in Eipic centres are taught by professionals trained in early intervention alongside their pre-school teachers.

The Eipic professionals also advise mainstream pre-school teachers, who may not have had training on how to handle such children.

Results have been encouraging so far.

"Not only are pre-school teachers now better equipped to handle children with special needs, mainstream pre-school pupils are also picking up how to encourage the Eipic child," said Ms Low Hwee San, acting divisional director of the THK Eipic centre.

"It has been heart-warming to see how even young pupils model after our Eipic staff, and encourage their classmate with special needs to join in class activities."

These initiatives were unveiled by the Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee at the inaugural Early Intervention Conference yesterday.

The current child-support model adopted by Eipic uses a one-size-fits-all approach, said Mr Lee.

But he noted the "needs of Eipic children vary widely".

"Some of them may respond better to intervention provided in the mainstream pre-school setting, while others may require more intensive and individual intervention at the beginning."

The new pilot programme aims to allow for variation in the intensity of support provided to pupils with special needs, as well as flexibility to accommodate the growth of a child with special needs over time.

For example, a child may not be able to follow instructions in the beginning, and require more support from staff.

Over time, however, he may require a different kind of support - such as guidance on how to interact with friends, Mr Lee said.

This also means children who have made sufficient progress in Eipic can be integrated into mainstream schools, he added.

Ms Low said: "This new initiative goes beyond benefiting children from our Eipic centres. By enabling Eipic professionals to work collaboratively with mainstream pre-schools, we can increase inclusiveness in the mainstream pre-school setting.

"This is what an inclusive society is all about."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 28, 2018, with the headline New initiative integrates special needs kids into mainstream schools. Subscribe