According to data from KKH and National University Hospital (NUH), from 2010 to 2014, there was a 76 percent increase in the number of children diagnosed with developmental delays, learning difficulties and autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in Singapore. For parents of these children, it’s not easy to envision a bright future for their child, and it can be a daily struggle to help their children reach their full potential. However, early identification of developmental issues and a strong support system to intervene can help these children to excel and overcome their difficulties.
SBCC Child Development Centre (a member of Healthway Medical Group) is one of a few Early Intervention Programme (EIP) centres that provide assessment and therapeutic services for children with developmental and learning delays. The programmes and activities at EIP centres are aimed at equipping children with key foundational development skills such as communication, literacy and social interaction, and helping them to maximise their independence and developmental growth potential.
To shed light on this topic, we spoke to Ms Chia Min Lee, Early Intervention Programme Manager of SBCC Child Development Centre.
Q: Are children with developmental delays really that different from other children? Are they unlikely to have a bright future?
Children with developmental delays are different from other children in that they require more attention and support in order to meet their developmental milestones. Children with mild developmental delays may not seem very different from their peers and can progress well with the help of early intervention professionals to guide them towards their developmental milestones.
Being diagnosed with a developmental delay does not mean that the child does not have a promising future. About 80 percent of children with special needs, such as dyslexia, ADHD, or mild autism, go on to study in mainstream schools. For children with moderate to severe developmental disabilities who are unable to attend mainstream schools, there are special education schools that are able to provide the support that they need.
The early intervention team at SBCC Child Development Centre works with each individual child’s learning needs in order to ensure that each and everyone develops holistically and can have a smooth transition to the next school setting such as a primary school after they have graduated with us.
Q: How does early intervention help children with developmental delays?
The years between birth and primary school are an optimal developmental window, and establishing a strong foundation during this time helps to maximise the child’s potential.
The Early Intervention Programme at SBCC Child Development Centre encompasses educational and therapy support services to equip children who have special needs with key foundational developmental skills in areas such as language and communication, social and emotional skills, cognition, adaptive daily living skills and motor skills. We support children and their parents in the children’s growing years by developing them holistically and building up their confidence so that the child is ready to join other educational settings.
Our teaching philosophy is to support children in gaining crucial developmental skills required for life. As a child-centred programme, we focus on fostering connections between the child, their family members, their teachers, as well as their peers. Our curriculum is aligned with Singapore’s MOE’s Nurturing Early Learners Framework; a framework with acknowledges child-centered practice and is formed around young children’s interests and developmental needs. SBCC teachers also work closely with parents to enhance the children’s learning and independent skills both in the centre and at home.
Q: Does early intervention provide support for parents and family members as well?
Raising a child involves the whole family, and it is no different for children with developmental delays. Early intervention programmes place significant emphasis on support and education for the entire family as a vital part of ensuring the child’s success and growth.
While our programme is child-centred, we aim to help parents to gain a better understanding of their child’s needs and at better managing them. The teachers and therapists at SBCC Child Development Centre work closely with parents of children with learning needs to come up with Individualised Education Plans (IEPs) for each child, outline personal goals and objectives to build school readiness skills. Parents will be able to apply what they have learned from our Early Intervention Programme even after their child graduates from the programme.
This is done by regularly involving parents in a child’s learning process. The teachers at SBCC Child Development Centre document classroom and therapy sessions and update parents on the child’s progress fortnightly. They also provide suggestions for parents to continue the learning at home and conduct Parent training and Holiday Programmes to support the learning process.
Q: How do I know if early intervention is appropriate for my child?
Every child has the ability to learn. Special Education Professionals will be able to assess and develop the appropriate and necessary goals and skills to help each child reach their full potential.
Every child’s Health Booklet contains a checklist of developmental milestones that allow parents to keep track of their child’s development. The Health Promotion Board also provides complimentary resource kits on child development so that parents, healthcare professionals, and early childhood educators can better monitor a child’s development. If you find that your child is falling behind, it is best to discuss your concerns with your child’s doctor who will be able to advise you on whether early intervention is appropriate for them.
The SBCC Child Development Centre also provides psychological and intake assessment services for children with developmental delays. Parents can come to SBCC Child Development Centre on their own or through referral by medical professionals to get an appropriate assessment for their child’s developmental and educational needs.
Q: How can I teach my child to interact with children with developmental delays?
As parents, it is important to first understand that every child is unique and has their special strengths. This understanding will help model empathy and inclusiveness towards everyone, and your children will learn this from you. Encouraging compassion and empathy by highlighting things that your child has in common with persons with developmental delays also helps them understand that everyone learns at a different pace, and shows them how to support their peers when needed.
Children in Action (CIA) is an initiative by the National Council for Social Service that brings children with and without special needs together through activities held at inclusive playgrounds in order to foster greater awareness and acceptance of children with special needs from a young age.
Teaching children social skills is part of the learning programme in SBCC’s Early Intervention Programme. Teachers and therapists facilitate play sessions and other classroom activities with the children to apply appropriate social and interactive skills, such as turn-taking skills and functional communication skills for non-verbal children.
Q: How can society be more understanding and inclusive towards their children with developmental delays?
There has been significant progress made in creating an inclusive society in the past few years, and this is largely due to greater awareness, understanding and adaptability. As we continue to build on this, the partnership between the government, educators and the public remains a vital part of creating an inclusive culture for children to grow up in.
Going to school is important in helping children with learning needs to fulfil their potential by developing their abilities and strengths, and it also helps them develop their social skills. For those who require more help, there are Special Education Teachers are trained to look into, develop and build on each child’s strengths and skills. Their support to parents is essential and important too as they journey with parents the learning growth of each individual child.
To ensure the best quality of life for children who do not grow out of their developmental delays, the Enabling Masterplan is a five-year plan that presents a set of recommendations to improve the quality of life of persons with disabilities, support for caregivers, and build a caring and inclusive community. One such recommendation to enhance inclusivity is strengthening opportunities for interaction between students from mainstream schools and special education schools.
First published in 2007, the latest edition of the Enabling Masterplan is the third in its series and covers the years from 2017 to 2021. Since the introduction of the Enabling Masterplan, significant progress has been made towards improving inclusivity in Singapore. Starting with the 2019 Primary One cohort, children with special education needs are now included under the Ministry of Education’s compulsory education framework.
To find out more about SBCC Child Development Centre, please visit their website at https://www.sbcc.sg.
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