The special needs education sector in Singapore offers a range of options for children who need extra attention. Some cater specifically to children with a particular disability. Others, like Pathlight, offer opportunities for children with special needs to learn within the mainstream education system.
Homemaker Annette Chua, 36, is aunt and guardian to 11-year-old Thaddeus Chua, who attends Pathlight School. She says that being in Pathlight has benefitted the boy, who found integrating into his ex-primary school challenging.
“In Pathlight, his teachers provided constant encouragement and created strategies to help overcome his fear of making new friends. He also gained confidence in building friendships with his peers and enjoys attending school. Pathlight has given Thaddeus a ‘new life’!”
Here’s a list of schools that either offer special education (SPED) or inclusive programmes.
Preschools and Early Years
AWWA Early Intervention Centre
AWWA runs an Early Intervention Centre for children aged six months to six years old, offering intervention services for five to 12 hours per week. With planned classroom activities as well as daily routines in the centre and at home, it provides learning opportunities in a specialised and integrated environment to children with moderate to severe disabilities. www.awwa.org.sg
“Xyrene was with AWWA since she was about a year old till she was six. Initially, I enrolled her there because it’s near our house. As time went by, I found that the programs, the facilities and the teachers there were great. They even have pool therapy and a very spacious play area for the kids. I’m very thankful to the teachers, therapists and the social workers there. They are caring and very willing to give their best to all the special needs kids regardless of their condition.” — Grace Lee, 40, sales executive and mum to eight-year-old Xyrene Sng, who has Down syndrome.
Ilham Child Care
Ilham Child Care Pte Ltd and Ilham Child Care (East) Pte Ltd are inclusive preschools with trained teachers catering to children from 18 months to 6 years old. Both schools accept special needs students. The schools believe in ensuring equal learning opportunities for children from all walks of life with its unique #yourchildneverwalksalone program. Here, special needs students, students from a lower income background, and children of single parents are given an internal subsidy borne by the school in order to lower their school fees. This ensures that every child enjoys the same learning opportunities regardless of their financial background, through the school’s holistic preschool program which comprises eight free enrichment classes, four languages, a free primary one prep program, and free soccer classes. www.ilhamchildcare.com
“Ilham has helped Jaris in so many ways. Jaris walking journey starts from Ilham. He learns to recognise numbers and alphabets without any guidance. He shows more empathy with his siblings and shows emotions more now. He now showers independently, dress up by himself and eats on his own. We are really grateful as a parent to see him progressing fast.” — Marlia, mum of Muhd Jaris bin Mohd Hairi in K2 at Ilham Childcare (East) Pte Ltd
Singapore’s first inclusive pre-school was started by AWWA in partnership with Lien Foundation and SG Enable. The Toddlers Program (Little Explorers) is for kids aged 18 to 36 months, while the Kindergarteners Program (Little Investigators) is for four to six-year-olds. Each child enjoys personalised learning according to their needs and interests. In addition, independence and self-directed learning is encouraged. The aim is to help children develop positive skills and traits, as well as provide a strong foundation for life. www.kindlegarden.com.sg/
(See also: Coping with your Child’s Special Needs Diagnosis)
Melbourne Specialist International School
Launched in 2014, MSIS programmes are open to children from age three, to adults aged 21. The school uses a three-pronged approach to education, with educational and therapy services within the school. This means that teachers, specialists and therapists collaborate to address the specific needs of each student, and embed therapy in all classroom activities. The curriculum is guided by the Foundation to Year 10 Victorian Curriculum Framework, with a visual and performing arts-inspired approach, as well as therapy services to help special needs students reach their full potential. For example, dance, drama, music, and the visual arts are used to teach functional English and Mathematics, as well as daily living skills. https://msis.edu.sg/
“MSIS had a lovely family atmosphere, surrounded by leafy trees in a quiet part of town. The school has a specially-equipped gym that’s ideal for our son Patrick who has weaker motor skills. Wheelchair access was important to us and the ground-floor layout and pathways between learning areas meant Patrick wouldn’t need to struggle with stairways. The facilities are excellent, the teachers are approachable and passionate; honestly we didn’t find another school that offered the same quality of service and care.” — Thomas Way, whose 12-year-old son Patrick is a student at the school
White Lodge Preschools
An international preschool and childcare for children aged 18 months to 6.5 years, White Lodge are advocates for an inclusive education and provides all children with a right to attend school. Children with additional needs are fully integrated with their typically-developing peers in a supportive environment. White Lodge doesn’t attempt to provide a special education setting, but instead aims to offer a supportive environment where children with additional needs can use and develop the skills they have learned from speech therapy, occupational therapy and other support programmes. Small class ratios of 1:6 ensure that every child receives adequate attention. https://whitelodge.edu.sg/
For Mild Intellectual Disability (including students with Autism Spectrum Disorder)
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At seven, when most children would have been able to read, Irfan Iskandar could not even recognise a single alphabet, much less spell his own name. That was 2 years ago, when he first started at APSN Chaoyang School (CYS). With the guidance of teachers there and also the APSN Student Care Centre which he attended after school, Irfan started learning basic Literacy and Mathematics. Since then, the 10-year-old has advanced into simple budgeting and reading words. Knowing how it feels to be left behind in class, Irfan occasionally lends a hand to classmates who are academically weaker than him. Keep it up, Irfan! #learningtoread #learningmath #lifelonglearning #inclusivesg #apsnpathway #apsnsg
Run by the Association for Persons with Special Needs (APSN), APSN Chaoyang School takes in children with mild intellectual disability and mild autism aged seven to 12. Offering only primary-level education, students proceed to APSN Katong School or APSN Tanglin School for their secondary education. APSN Katong School is the only APSN school that runs both the primary and secondary curriculum. https://www.apsn.org.sg
Grace Orchard School
Open to children aged seven to 18, Grace Orchard School is for students who have been Mild Intellectual Disability (MID) or Mild Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). It’s specifically for children with an Intellectual Quotient (IQ) of between 50 and 70. The Learning Domains include literacy, numeracy and science, the arts, as well as physical education and sports. Daily living skills such as dressing, feeding, personal hygiene, performing simple housework and shopping for groceries, are also taught. The curriculum also includes Character and Citizenship Education (CCE), inspired by the school’s values of love, integrity, perseverance, responsibility and respect. Students are also provided with occupational and speech therapy to improve their abilities, if needed. https://go.edu.sg/
This school offers special education for children aged seven to 21 with mild intellectual disability (IQ level: 70 – 50) and/or autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Students aged seven to 12 are taught the Basic Programme, which offers a foundation in literacy, numeracy and science. At the same time, they develop motor skills and self-management abilities. For kids aged 13 to 16, there’s the Career Programme, which prepares them for vocational skills training and/or employment. The school also has a dedicated ASD Programme. Here, children are taught in a more structured classroom setting, with smaller student-teacher ratios. Here the emphasis is on nurturing independence, and social and social-communication skills using a multi-disciplinary approach. http://mettaschool.edu.sg/
Moderate to Severe Intellectual Disability (including students with Autism Spectrum Disorder)
Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (MINDS) runs four SPED schools. These are Fernvale Gardens, Lee Kong Chian Gardens, Towner Gardens, and Woodlands Gardens schools. All four schools offer three programmes: Junior, Senior and Special Programmes.
The Junior Programme is for kids aged seven to 12 and involves language development (vocabulary building, speech, reading and writing) and basic money and time skills. Children also learn housecraft skills such as cutting soft food, peeling, washing and how to make a simple meal (such as a sandwich) for themselves. Also included are arts and crafts, music, P.E. and swimming activities.
The Senior Programme for children aged 13 to 18 focuses on employment and vocational skills. Teachers supervise the pupils’ social behaviour during weekly travelling lessons, where children get to learn how to buy things at the supermarket or take public transport. They also learn independent living skills like housekeeping, food preparation and cleaning. This programme prepares pupils to lead an independent life and also incorporates leisure skills such as music and craftwork.
The schools’ Special Programme caters to the educational needs of the low-ability pupils aged seven to 18. The pupil-to-teacher ratio is small so that each child gets the attention they need in order to flourish. And the aim is to teach the students basic independent living skills such as dressing, feeding and grooming themselves, while also stimulating them with other activities like physical education, music and movement, and arts and crafts. www.minds.org.sg/SPED.html
For Children with Autism
Offering special education to children with autism aged seven to 18, Eden’s goal is to “provide an educational experience that will empower our students with autism to live productive and fulfilling lives with the greatest degree of independence that they are capable of achieving”. Academic subjects taught include English and Mathematics, as well as social and language communication skills and work readiness skills like independent functioning, and self-management skills such daily living skills and management of emotions. www.edenschool.edu.sg/
“Eden School has been very helpful for my son, Elden. The teachers teach him how to follow schedules, routines and work systems. In the past, he had difficulties accepting change and would throw tantrums when there were sudden changes to his routine. What he has learnt at school has made him improve a lot in this area and this makes it easier for me to manage his behaviour at home. The teachers and I share strategies with each other in managing and supporting Elden. In addition, setting goals with Elden’s teachers help me provide the support needed for Elden at home to complement his learning in school so as to achieve the best results. ” — Mdm Susy, 47, kindergarten assistant teacher, mother of Elden Lim, 16-year-old student at Eden School
Pathlight is the first autism-focused school in Singapore to offer a blend of the national curriculum (excluding Mother Tongue) leading to Primary School Leaving Examinations (PSLE) and the GCE ‘N’ and ‘O’ level examinations. It also teaches life-readiness skills for students on the autism spectrum and related learning disorders. It caters to students aged seven to 18 years in a structured, small group learning setting. The non-academic curriculum comprises specialised courses in IT, gymnastics, as well as social & thinking, daily living and project management skills.
Pathlight follows a Satellite School model for its secondary school which allows students to interact socially with students from these selected mainstream satellite schools. This provides for purposeful integration and allows students to apply classroom learning of social skills to the real world. It also helps to build awareness of people with autism among mainstream communities, leading to a more inclusive society. www.pathlight.org.sg/
St. Andrew’s Autism School
St. Andrew’s Autism School is part of Autism Network Singapore (ANS), a platform for Social Service Organisations serving the autism community and other stakeholders to raise awareness and mobilise support for the autism cause. The customised curriculum here emphasises social-emotional learning, communication, functional literacy and numeracy, as well as daily living and vocational skills. Students also get a holistic development thanks to programmes such as expressive arts, adaptive physical education, and Co-curricular Activities (CCAs). Also, staff assess students at regular intervals, with help from professional staff such as speech and language therapists and psychologists, and caregivers are provided with guides and support in the use of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) at home. www.saac.org.sg/
Over the past few years, she has been exposed to more vocational-type training like gardening, cooking and harvesting fruit to make jam – that’s made her more used to such everyday activities. I appreciate some of the experiences she has had through school, such as an outing to the zoo, weekly outings to practise buying food or buying things in a supermarket following a simple list, taking part in a school concert (she played a drum), and being in Scouts as her CCA, where she and the other St. Andrew’s Scouts once joined in a neighbouring school’s scout campfire. They have also been for a nature walk, earned badges and taken part in job week.” — Jill Lim, 48, part-time book editor, who has a 15-year-old daughter in the school
Multiple Disabilities and Autism
The SPED programme here is facilitated by a teaching team, and supported by a multi-disciplinary therapy team. The Junior Programme is for seven to 10-year-olds, the Middle Programme for 11 to 14-year-olds, and the Senior Programme is for kids aged 15 to 18. Each student gets an Individualised Education Plan that integrates therapy services, co-curricular activities, technology, and character and citizenship education. This results in a well-rounded education experience that goes beyond each student’s disabilities. www.rainbowcentre.org.sg
Providing special education to children aged seven to 18 with multiple disabilities and children with autism, AWWA School aims to maximise the potential for independence and improve the quality of life of students with special needs. The school also has a satellite partnership with Bowen Secondary School, through which students from the schools hold joint recess, morning workouts, co-curricular activities and National Day observance ceremonies, which have helped students from both schools to forge friendships and learn about compassion and respect. School and community integration activities also take place, during which children and youth with disabilities and low vision get psychological intervention, and independent living skills training. https://www.awwa.org.sg
Genesis School For Special Education
Genesis provides educational services to students with special needs. These include autism, Asperger syndrome, attention deficit disorder, Down syndrome, language delay, language disorder and developmental delay. Kids can start with the Early Intervention programme, then move on to Pre-School, Kindergarten, Primary and Secondary School. Life Skills and Pre-Vocational classes are also available. The programmes don’t just focus on academic development. In fact, the multi-faceted approach to learning means there’s also an emphasis on other areas. For example, children are guided in cognitive, social and emotional development, fine/gross motor skills, and self-help skills. www.genesisschool.com.sg/
“We chose Genesis School because we could see the passion of the staff and teachers who are dedicated to bringing out the best in each and every special need student. Our son Javier has progressed rapidly under their care and guidance and is now undertaking mainstream education in Pathlight School.” — John Koh, 44, Singapore Airlines Cabin Crew, whose son Javier has mild autism and attended Genesis’ early intervention programme
For the visually-challenged and hard-of-hearing
Formerly Singapore School for the Blind, and renamed as Singapore School for the Visually Handicapped in the 1980s, this has been known as Lighthouse School since 2007. It caters to two groups of children aged seven to 18 with sensory impairments: visual impairment and hearing loss. The National Curriculum Programme adopts Singapore’s National Primary School Curriculum. The Customised Curriculum Programme is an Individualised Education Plan (IEP) where students get training in areas such as numeracy, literacy, communication and daily living skills. All students are supported by experienced teachers with skills in braille and sign language.
The only SPED school offering a mainstream curriculum through its inclusion programme with mainstream primary schools. All students are included in classes at Canossa Convent Primary School (CCPS) for the first three years of school. Thereafter, upper primary students continue with their mainstream schooling either at CCPS or MacPherson Primary School. Canossian School’s teachers provide in-class support and co-teach with their mainstream counterparts. In addition, on-site audiological support is provided for students with hearing loss. Students also participate in adventure camps, sports programmes and learning journeys organised by mainstream partner schools.
Header and Featured images: White Lodge