In Need Of Attention


“I DON’T like your farm.”

Derrick was my most handsome autistic student when I was teaching English at Delta Senior School circa 2010. He was responding in a thank you letter for his homework after a school visit to a farm in Kranji. His tagline stood out for its honesty and comedic summary skills for a 16-year-old. 

Straight-up, boy…

I had a chat with Candy Chia, who specialises in early intervention programmes where she worked alongside psychologists for 3 years at a Montessori School in the past. In fact, the late Maria Montessori created a programme for special needs children that can benefit them at a very early stage. Candy has been working at the St Andrew’s Autism School for the last 13 years and she’s also a private therapist.

About 2% of Singapore’s population fall under the autism spectrum. With the majority of 98% being “normal” people, not many journalists statistically even write about how we can adapt and learn from the special needs minority.

Regardless, whether attending a special needs school or not, special needs children do challenge the education system to improve for the benefit of everyone.

Candy: Intervention in special needs schools is quite structured using the reward and consequences method. As a private therapist, I intervene with the play method and child-centred creative learning approach which is popular in the US and Australia. All children learn at different rates and the educational needs of individual children require fine tuning even at mainstream schools. 

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High functioning autistic students who bear the enigma of the X chromosome can surpass their peers when they do get into the University.

“The special needs success stories involve mostly parents with the means for private intervention such as occupational therapy, engaging a physiotherapist and speech therapist, which makes a difference by giving an extra push.

“It is costly at S$120-S$250 per session, per hour. A mainstream primary school classroom of 35 cannot tailor-make Mathematics for a University proficient 10-year-old special needs child.”

The PSLE system might need to make special arrangements for such a scenario because the child is specifically gifted in one particular area.

I know of a boy who, upon hearing a song once, went to the grand piano and played the same tune to perfection,” Candy recalls. “But he refused to be taught. How do you develop his talent? Even the Yamaha Music School didn’t know how to teach him. Fortunately, there are a lot of ways in the private sector to overcome such challenges.

In truth, special needs children can bring us much joy.

“There are autistic traits in everyone,” Candy states. “It’s just that special needs children manifest them 100 times more. Accept the children for who they are. Some are very gifted with photographic memory. With one glance only, an autistic boy from the US can draw the entire map of Singapore.

“There is a 12-year-old autistic girl who struggles academically but can cook so well. The whole school orders braised duck from her. She learned the recipe after watching it on TV once, and perfected the recipe.”



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