Picking out the most suitable school for your child can be daunting, particularly if there are some specific needs you’re looking for to make your child’s education a comfortable one. Children with special educational needs (SEN) do need extra help as they undertake their studies. This can be provided either by mainstream schools or by Special Education (SPED) schools.
We understand making the decision is a crucial one as primary school makes up six whole years of your child’s learning journey, so here’s a guide to enrolling your child in the school that will suit him or her best. Registration for primary schools begins 3 July.
#1 Getting your child assessed for SEN
According to the Ministry of Education (MOE), a child is considered to have SEN if s/he:
- Has a disability
- Requires different and/or additional resources beyond what is generally available for same-aged children
- Shows either: (1) More difficulty in learning as compared to the majority of same-aged children, (2) Difficulty using educational facilities catered for the majority of same-aged children, or (3) Some areas of impairment, in terms of social, academic, physical, or sensory functioning
Unsure if your child requires additional help for his education? The first step is to discuss with your child’s caregivers and teachers about his needs, then get your child professionally assessed. Should your child be enrolled in a mainstream school, parents can approach psychologists from the Ministry of Education through the child’s form teacher—if not, they may approach psychologists from government or private hospitals.
The professionally-conducted assessment will include interviews with the child, his parents, and relevant parties as well as analysis of findings from different sources. The subsequent report will detail the following:
- Your child’s profile on strengths and difficulties in physical development, communication, social-emotional functioning, and learning
- A clear diagnosis of your child’s SEN, for you to better understand his needs
- The specific learning needs of your child
- Recommendations for support and intervention, if required
#2 Understanding your child’s needs
After receiving the report, it would be prudent for parents to conduct their own research into the specific needs, which can be broadly categorised into speech, language, and literacy; social, emotional, and behavioural; and sensory and physical. In addition to the common literacy and behavioural needs such as attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), intellectual disability, and dyslexia, physical disabilities such as visual impairment and hearing loss are also included under SEN.
There are specific difficulties associated with each type of SEN, for instance, children with dyslexia will find reading, spelling, and writing to be challenging. For children with ADHD, difficulties will be in inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Despite these guides, note that needs vary per child, so it is important to ensure that the support you’ll provide suits your child’s individual needs.
#3 Figuring out a support plan for your child
For your next step, consult the professional psychologist about the kinds of support you can employ for your child’s education and needs. These discussion points can be broken down into the following sections: diagnosis and treatment, home-based support, and education placement.
Questions parents can ask include the following:
- What are the therapy options available?
- How should I explain SEN to my child and family members?
- What strategies can I use at home?
- How can I help my child improve basic life skills?
- What school options can be considered?
- Are there programmes available in mainstream and SPED schools?
- What strategies can be implemented in school?
#4 Your child’s recommended school placement
Based on these results and discussion with the professional, a recommendation may be made based on your child’s level of adaptive and cognitive abilities. Adaptive refers to the ability to handle daily necessities (such as eating) independently, while cognitive refers to the ability to think, remember, and formulate ideas.
Two types of placements will be recommended—one for mainstream schools and the other for SPED schools.
#5 Mainstream school placement
Children recommended for mainstream schools are assessed to be able to cope with the required demands—specifically adequate adaptive and cognitive abilities for large group settings and the current syllabus of education. Only mild support for one or two areas is required. There are 57 primary schools with barrier-free accessibility for those with physical disabilities, and a number of other schools with SEN support.
Support in these schools include:
- Teachers trained in special needs and allied educators that can help your child with mild SEN integrate with the school
- Specialised support programmes for different learning needs
- Learning support programme for Primary 1 and 2 students in literacy and numerical subjects
- Dyslexia remediation for Primary 3 and 4 students
#6 SPED school placement
If your child requires more personalised support, a SPED school will be recommended. He will benefit from the additional support in developing adaptive skills or a customised curriculum for his education. There are 19 government-funded SPED schools in total, run by 12 Voluntary Welfare Organisations.
Support in these schools can vary but in general, they each have:
- Smaller-class sizes with specialised in-class support so individual attention can be paid to students
- Specialised personnel including speech and language therapists, psychologists, and social workers
- Special physical facilities for vocational training, occupational therapy and more
- An Individualised Educational Plan for each student for his unique learning needs, featuring six core learning aspects— academic, social-emotional, daily living, vocational, the arts, physical education and sports—as well as character education
#7 Research each school and other considerations
Before committing to any recommendation, parents should definitely do their own research on each school—even if they provide the support your child needs, they may still not be the best fit for other reasons. While visiting websites will help, going for the designated open houses and speaking to the staff will also give you a feel of the environment and help you assess if your child will make the most out of his education there.
If you have options, other considerations should also be made before picking out a school. Some factors to think about include:
- The school’s distance from your home to make for a shorter travelling time
- Your child’s interests and if the school provides them
- The school’s mission and vision, culture, and availability of parent-support groups
#8 Getting other forms of support
Post-diagnosis may be a difficult time for parents, as they now come to terms with their child’s SEN. As such, you can approach various support groups of like-minded individuals or those going through the same experience to find out more about supporting both your child and you throughout the schooling. In-school parent support groups can be an avenue but there are groups for more disability-specific communities as well—an example is SPARK, for parents of children with ADHD.
Other services for supporting your child include the following:
- Children Health Services, such as the Child Guidance Clinics, KK Women and Children’s Hospital, and National University Hospital
- Community-based agencies such as Family Service Centres
- SG Enable, an agency dedicated to enabling persons with disabilities, with referral services, grants and training for employment, and more
- Voluntary Welfare Organisations, each catering to specific disabilities (Autism Resource Centre, Dyslexia Association of Singapore), Early Intervention Programme for Infants & Children, SHINE Children and Youth Services.