New initiative by MSF to integrate special needs children into mainstream schools

Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee speaking at the inaugural Early Intervention conference on April 27, 2018. PHOTO: EARLY INTERVENTION CONFERENCE

SINGAPORE - 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 undertaken by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) to better cater to the diversity of children currently participating in EIPIC (Early Intervention Programme for Infants and Children).

The EIPIC centres at Thye Hua Kwan (THK), SPD, a charity with a focus on 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 have trained early intervention professionals co-teach them alongside their pre-school teachers.

The EIPIC professionals also advise mainstream pre-school teachers on how to handle such children as they might not have had such training previously.

The results have been encouraging so far.

"Not only are pre-school teachers now better equipped to handle children with special needs, mainstream pre-school students are also picking up how to encourage the EIPIC child. We have seen how a child's mainstream classmates will encourage him to speak up and participate, because they see their teacher doing so as well," said Ms Low Hwee San, the acting divisional director of the THK EIPIC centre.

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

These initiatives were unveiled by Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee during the inaugural Early Intervention Conference held on Friday (27 April).

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

But he noted that the "needs of EIPIC children vary widely."

He said: "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."

This gap in EIPIC thus sparked the new pilot programme, which aims to allow for variation in the intensity of support provided to students with special needs, as well as flexibility to accomodate 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 intense support from staff. As the child progresses over time, however, he may require a different kind of support - such as guidance on how to interact with friends, Mr Lee said.

MSF will also be looking into greater standardisation for identifying children with special needs.

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