More pre-school slots for children with developmental needs in the next three years

Ms Sun Xueling (left) observing a lesson by Ms Rachel Lim (second from right), an early interventionist, at My First Skool.

SINGAPORE - A programme that provides specialised support for children with developmental needs in pre-schools will offer more spots.

There will be 100 places created over the next three years under the Inclusive Support Programme launched last year, said Minister of State for Social and Family Development Sun Xueling on Wednesday (June 22).

Currently, 38 children from seven pre-schools are enrolled in the programme by the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA).

The programme caters to children with developmental needs, aged three to six, who require medium levels of early intervention support, and integrates their early childhood education and early intervention in a pre-school setting.

Ms Sun, who was visiting a My First Skool centre at Blk 406 Woodlands, one of the pre-schools under the scheme, said: "We have seen how adjustments were made to the infrastructure, for instance, to the tables and chairs, which will better enable our children with developmental needs to learn alongside typically developing peers in the classroom."

Teachers also make use of tools and guides to enable the children to follow instructions step by step and learn effectively, she said.

At the My First Skool pre-school run by NTUC First Campus (NFC), modifications have been made to accommodate children with needs such as autism and speech delay.

It also caters to children with global developmental delay, a condition where a child takes longer to reach certain development milestones.

Ms Deniece Bidhiya, senior manager at NFC's child support services department, said low ceiling boards were installed in its two centres offering the inclusive programme.

This has reduced noise levels in classrooms, which helps teachers manage their classes better, she said.

An early intervention corner was also set up in each of the centres for therapists to have one-to-one sessions with the children, along with visual markers and pictures to help the kids follow instructions, she added.

Other additions include a wobbly chair to help children regulate their emotions or thoughts, so that they can focus better in class.

NFC currently has 11 children with developmental needs across two of its pre-schools - at Blk 406 Woodlands Street 41 and Blk 248 Kim Keat Link - since February.

It plans to take in at least five more children in the second half of the year.

On Wednesday, ECDA also launched a guide for parents and caregivers of young children up to six years old with developmental needs.

The guide was jointly developed with the Ministry of Education, KK Women's and Children's Hospital, National University Hospital as well as partners from the caregiver support, early childhood and early intervention communities.

The guide was developed following a recommendation from the Inclusive Preschool Workgroup to strengthen support for parents of children with developmental needs.

The workgroup was set up by the Ministry of Social and Family Development in 2019.

Ms Sun said that parents usually have to visit multiple websites to learn about support for their children.

"So through the publication of this parents' guide, we now have a one-stop guide for parents who want to understand more about the developmental needs of their child," she said.

She added that the resource outlines some of the challenges parents may face, the help channels they can turn to, and provides information on milestones like enrolling for primary school or special education schools.

There will be 100 places created over the next three years under the Inclusive Support Programme launched last year. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

Madam Nur Sa'adah Mohammad Razif, whose six-year-old son Fahmi is attending the My First Skool centre in Woodlands, found the guide informative.

"I previously needed to search across different websites to find the information I needed," said the 38-year-old, who works in the tech industry.

"There are also links in the guide to videos done by professionals who provide insight on child development, which is useful to know."

She added that Fahmi, who has speech delay and has been with the pre-school since February, has made improvements.

"Previously, he couldn't express himself well and often gave single-word replies. Now he's quite a talker; he's the loudest at home and can talk in full sentences," she said.

Before the programme, a bus took Fahmi from the pre-school to a different centre that catered for specialised support three times a week.

"It was disruptive as he missed lessons in the pre-school and the travelling also tired him," she added.

Ms Sun Xueling (left) with Mr Andrew Yap, 49, his wife Wong Sit Wai, 48, and their son Jia Kai, five, at My First Skool. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

Real estate consultant Andrew Yap, 49, transferred his five-year-old son Jia Kai, who has global development delay, from another My First Skool centre to the Blk 406 Woodlands centre after hearing about its inclusive programme.

"He had lost interest in school because he couldn't keep up with the other kids and couldn't understand his teachers," said Mr Yap.

"But now he has grown in confidence, and he enjoys time with his friends and learning with them. He can also speak in complete sentences."

"We hope that he can go to mainstream primary school, to be as normal as other kids," added Mr Yap.

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