Making Space for Special Needs in a Mainstream Preschool

At various points in a parent’s caregiving journey would come the anxiety and dilemma in deciding the...

child’s education and intervention pathway.

For many, their first crossroads come by when the child approaches pre-school starting age.

What pathway is best? Mainstream, special education or homeschooling?

Mdm Lee Seu Hong, 39, enrolled her daughter, En Ning (now 5) into a nursery programme at Sunnytots Schoolhouse, a mainstream pre-school at Yishun. She was 3 years old at enrollment. En Ning has special needs and multiple medical challenges. We spoke to both Mdm Lee and the principal of Sunnytots, Mdm Sally Goh, to understand the decision process from the parent and school’s point of view in accommodating the child at school.

A Mother’s Decision

Mdm Lee’s daughter, En Ning battled with multiple medical challenges at birth but gradually improved in her growth and development throughout the years. She has Antley Bixler Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder which affects her breathing, gross motor development and general growth. 

“We were very worried and scared when En Ning was born with multiple challenges and diagnosed with Antley Bixler. She has a narrow upper airway which affects her breathing, hence at just two weeks’ old, she had a tracheostomy operation done. Basically, a breathing tube is placed in her trachea to help her breathe,” shared Mdm Lee. 

Amongst other medical issues affecting her heart and kidneys, En Ning also has a left club foot, and elbow rigidity (fixed at 90 degrees) which affects physical movement. 

Mdm Lee further explains, “As her unique craniofacial structure makes the mid face rather flat, she needs regular eye checks half-yearly to monitor if the pressure on her eyes stays acceptable. En Ning also has some hearing loss due to development defects in her middle ears. She currently wears hearing aids.”

En Ning is enrolled in an early intervention programme at Rainbow Centre - Yishun Park School since she was a year old. Her mother later supplemented her schooling experience by enrolling her into a mainstream nursery class at Sunnytots Schoolhouse when she was just three years old. 

It was difficult mainstreaming En Ning due to the extra care she needs, but Mdm Lee persisted and found a receptive pre-school. 

Mdm Lee says, “I called up Sunnytots to enquire about school placement and shared with the principal about my child’s condition. I asked if the school could allow a caregiver to support En Ning as the teachers are not trained in caring for a child with medical needs.” 

The school had no issues with accepting children with special needs as they were already exposed to two other students with special needs at the school. 

We asked Mdm Lee why she chose to send En Ning to a mainstream pre-school. 

“En Ning’s early intervention teacher suggested that we expose En Ning to mainstream pre-school to get a richer educational experience and to socialize with neurotypical peers of her age. She explained that the early intervention programme will not be able to fully provide academics or socialization experience so supplementation with time in a mainstream environment can give En Ning a richer learning experience,“ explained Mdm Lee.

We learnt that although reading was a challenging skill for En Ning to pick up due to her hearing challenges, she has learnt how to write her alphabets and numbers. 

When asked to name the benefits of mainstreaming En Ning, Mdm Lee says, “Exposure to how other children play and learn has helped En Ning learn how to toilet independently, brush her teeth and follow instructions at school.”

En Ning currently goes to Auditory Verbal Therapy (AVT) and speech therapy classes at National University Hospital to continue working on sound recognition skills and will be taking a school readiness and psychological assessment test this year to ascertain if mainstream primary schooling is the right pathway for her when she turns 7 in 2019.

Mdm Lee shares with us that in the event that mainstream primary education is deemed unsuitable, she intends to enroll En Ning at a special education (SPED) school specialized in supporting children with hearing impairment and which offers a mainstream curriculum for children with multiple disabilities. However, if the psychological assessment shows readiness for primary school, Mdm Lee is prepared to hire a shadow teacher for En Ning so that she can be better supported in class.

“I am very grateful to Sunnytots, its principal and teachers for giving En Ning a chance to learn alongside her neurotypical peers and for taking good care of her at school. To the parents of En Ning’s schoolmates at Sunnytots, I would also like to thank them for being open-minded and inclusive, allowing their children to accept En Ning’s differences and let her learn alongside her friends. I hope that in years to come, Singapore can have a more inclusive environment in mainstream schools for children and youths with differences,” opined Mdm Lee.

Indeed, it takes a village to educate a child and a receptive heart is a start.


Leave a comment

Question of the Month

  • Q: What are the various compressive suits available and in what way do they help a child with special needs?

    A: There are various compressive suits available worldwide, just do a google search on compressive suits for therapy and a long list will appear. Each suit has different properties, is made of different materials and claims to have certain benefits. For example: compressive suits for children with autism are supposed to improve sensory input. Compressive suits have also been used for children with poor balance and proprioception (knowing where your limbs are in space). However, not all suits are suitable for all children. Compressive suits can cause increased difficulty in breathing, worsen scoliosis or hip dysplasia if not fitted properly.

    Please consult your therapist for an assessment before use.

    Janell Lee
    Paediatric Physiotherapist

Video Spotlight

Credit: A video by Channel 5

Credit: A video by Trixie Chua & Celine Kim for Special Seeds Singapore.

Go to top