“It does not matter how many eyes are staring; remember to keep your eyes focused on what truly matters – your child.”

Little R, who is 4.5 years old, was identified to be in the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) spectrum in May 2017. Mummy Ms.Foo tells us about how she realised her son had learning differences. And why she chose to enroll him in an inclusive preschool in Singapore.

When did you first realise that your son had different learning needs? What were the signs and symptoms?

I first realised he had different learning needs when he was turning three years old. R was better in some areas like motor skills, numeracy and literacy but lagging in others like social, emotional and language development.

These signs that he had different learning needs were even more evident through various scenarios, such as when I had close interaction with him, or through his atypical reaction to a simple situation or question, in certain environments, and social or learning time that might be out-of-the ordinary.

In R’s case, both his teachers and I could identify it easily.

Who did you consult, and what was the advice you received? Did your son go for therapy?

The Child Development Unit of KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH) identified him to be on the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) spectrum in May 2017, which about one out of 150 children in Singapore are diagnosed with.

In October or November 2017, it was recommended that he attend speech therapy and occupational therapy while waiting for enrollment into the Early Intervention Programme for Infants & Children (EIPIC).

This programme provides early therapy intervention and individual developmental programmes to equip children with skills for admission into school. He attended three OT at KKH before enrolling at EIPIC in February 2018.

We were surprised to hear that R had learning differences, because he seems so at ease among strangers. He is also able to follow instructions well. In what respect is his learning and cognitive ability different?

R is at ease with adults as most of the adults around him are able to accommodate him. I also often bring him out, hence he is not fazed or stressed by strangers and crowds.

However, he has added needs in terms of language comprehension and expression. For example, he couldn’t understand the question “What is your name?”, though he could respond to his name being called.

He may not understand the question “What colour is this?”, but he can label colours i.e. pointing to a black bag when I say “black”. He can also repeat phrases well, and label items on his initiative.

Another way that shows he has a different cognitive ability is when he couldn’t tell me easily when he was hungry. Instead, he would cry or walk to the kitchen to look around. Questions which require him to express himself, or recollect from memory were a challenge.

Socially, he did not talk to his friends. He would play beside them, and be interested in their play, but not approach to participate in the social play.

How did you come to know of Bright Path inclusive preschool in Singapore? How has R’s experience been so far?

R was previously from one of the Busy Bees’ group of preschools, and I had heard about the new inclusive preschool that Busy Bees started.

I was keen to give Bright Path a try as the school has assistive support from psychologists, an excellent teacher-child ratio, so R would have optimal amount of attention and utmost care, and most of all, the Bright Path staff are passionate about children.

I was spurred to sign him up as I had confidence that Bright Path could make a difference for R with all these factors.

Now that he has been here for two months, his previous teachers, family members and I can see a significant difference in his ability to speak in fuller sentences, request for things, and expressing what he wants and does not want.

Of course, he still likes to label and repeat phrases, but those are also more complex now.

Julia Teo, Deputy Director of Operations, Busy Bees, tells us that, “With R, one difficulty that he experiences is with writing. When he first joined, he would refuse to write.”

“We included writing activities in his daily lessons starting with tracing one alphabet letter, then gradually increasing the difficulty to his full name and to keys words and phrases as part of his lessons. Often to develop hand skills in children, we encourage children in creating visual art pieces.”

“However, this process is further complicated by his aversion to varied textures. As such, we used alternatives in his daily routine such as in serving his own food using tongs to develop his hand skills. Hand-over-hand support was initially required for both serving his food and in writing.”

“As he increased the control in his hand use, we minimised our support and increased the difficulty. Now R is able to write phrases when provided with boxes.”

Why did you opt for an inclusive preschool in Singapore and not a special needs school?

I like that Bright Path has therapy embedded within its curriculum, marrying both needs that I would like for R to have.

Therapy at Bright Path is not like the usual method which relies on the method of conditioning a child into certain behaviour, and I also disliked the connotation of it being in a sterile, clinical setting.

Additionally, Bright Path offers full-time day care on top of this holistic early intervention and education programme, which helps to ease a burden off me as a working parent so I don’t have to juggle transport and timing logistics.

Bright Path as an inclusive preschool, is at its heart still a preschool, but with specialized therapists who can support R’s added needs.

I know he can learn, and I want to maximise his potential, at his own pace, which Bright Path offers. Rather than forcing him into ordinary preschools, I rather take it one step at a time as he develops.

Julia adds, “Therapy services are brought into the classrooms such that children can work on skills that they may require more assistance with, without drawing upon additional attention.”

“This in turn safeguards children’s self-esteem, which encourages participation. Additionally, this minimises the time spent in transitioning children from classrooms to therapy rooms and reduces the time required by therapists to build rapport or to understand each child’s disposition.”

“Therapy inputs are incorporated into the lessons such that through the activities, children are provided the opportunities to either work on their areas of needs or to enhance their existing strengths.”

What are the challenges you foresee for R in Singapore?

Regardless of learning difficulties or not, there will be challenges in terms of learning to be independent and fending for himself, and being a contributing member of society. This is the same for all other children in Singapore.

What is your advice for parents of children with added needs?

Be open to accepting that your child has different needs. In fact, all children have different needs, talents, likes and dislikes.

Do not let your fear of societal judgement towards what is termed “special needs” or “learning difficulties” be an obstacle in your journey of providing your child what he/she needs to maximise their potential.

The longer you procrastinate from seeking early intervention and specialised education for your child, the tougher it will be to change things in the future. 

It does not matter how many eyes are staring; remember to keep your eyes focused on what truly matters – your child.