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Learning difficulties: More help now

  Monday, 09 l 05 l 2011  Source:  The Straits Times   
By: Goh Kai Shi

early-intervention-specialistA DECADE ago, parents of children with learning difficulties had few opportunities to arrange extra coaching for them. Nowadays, these children – who may have trouble reading, concentrating and even interacting with others – can receive help at centres that provide assessment and intervention programmes. Some youngsters find it hard to learn because of disabilities such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and dyslexia. For others, the difficulty is caused by factors such as a lack of preschool experience and poor foundational learning.

Centres such as the Cognitive Development Learning Centre and Bridge Learning allow both groups of children to learn to overcome some of the problems they have with learning. Mr Chia Lee Hwe, founder of Cognitive Development Learning Centre, noticed that there was a group of “forgotten children” while he was part of the advisory committee for a primary school. They were children who did not have severe enough learning difficulties to be sent to special needs schools, but who could not cope well with mainstream academic work.

Mr Chia set up the school in Buona Vista in 2009 because he felt that existing mainstream ones had too few teachers trained in special needs. It aims to provide additional “tutoring” that blends behavioural management and academic work. The people behind both Cognitive Development Learning Centre and Bridge Learning, which was set up in 2003, have noticed a steady increase in demand for their programmes. Ms Areena Loo, executive director of Bridge Learning in Choa Chu Kang, attributed the rise to factors such as a greater awareness of learning disabilities, and possible changes such as parents giving birth later in life. “Also, some parents have tried tuition for years and realised it doesn’t work for their children no matter how hard they try, as learning difficulties need specialized early intervention,” she said. Both centres have diagnostic assessments that determine what programmes best suit the child. Individualised plans can then be developed.

Mr Lee Siang, chief operating officer of the Dyslexia Association of Singapore, said children with dyslexia need extra help and tuition as even those with high intelligence often have difficulty learning to read, write or spell. The association has educational therapists to teach these students. Some children with autism may benefit from extra coaching, said Ms Paula Teo, senior manager of programme and services at the Autism Association (Singapore). This is due to the difficulties that children with the developmental disorder – which affects social and communication skills – have in organising and processing information. In terms of academic work, Ms Teo feels that “teaching strategies should always be individualised to cater for the specific nature of the autism”. This helps to ensure their individual needs are met.

Mrs Eunice Tan chose to sign her son J-en up for the individualised programme at Bridge Learning. The 38-year-old banker said J-en, who was five at the time, showed incomplete signs of both ADHD and Asperger’s syndrome – a type of autism – although he was never formally diagnosed. Worried that he would have problems coping with primary school, she started him at Bridge Learning, where he learnt to be more conscious of his behaviour. He is now in Primary 4, where he is doing well, especially in mathematics. “His teachers’ feedback is that he is quite well-behaved, and he is coping well in a mainstream school,” said Mrs Tan. There is so much demand for intervention programmes that Cognitive Development Learning Centre is planning to expand to four centres within the next few months from its current one.

Bridge Learning has consistently been adding to its pool of teachers. It will launch a certification in early intervention studies to increase the pool of teachers trained in this area. Well-trained teachers with a heart are what help these children to improve, said Ms Loo. Mr Bryan Ong, director of Cognitive Development Learning Centre, said: “Ultimately, we recognise that every child is unique and talented regardless of any learning disabilities or difficulties. We want to make sure that we help them to be the best that they can be.”

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