Most Singaporean parents think nothing of enrolling their kids in extra-curricular activities such as music, art, or sports. They hope to give their offspring a more holistic education outside of academic achievements. However, parents with special needs children often focus all their attention on early intervention and special education. It’s completely understandable, especially when their children may struggle to attain developmental milestones that neurotypical kids effortlessly ace.
Still, if you have a special needs child, it’s worth taking a step back to consider signing them up for enrichment classes too. Quality enrichment programmes designed for special needs children (or inclusive courses) can offer therapeutic benefits beyond what the class teaches. These may include strengthening motor, cognitive, and social skills, while boosting emotional regulation and confidence levels. They also teach essential life skills and may even augment academic learning.
1. Music and Piano – The Radiant Spectrum
Love music but afraid of the big, intimidating piano? Gently ease the child into the session first using bells, before playing the same tune on the piano to show that it is ‘friendly’ and produces the same tunes they love. This is just one of the innovative techniques used by teachers at The Radiant Spectrum, a full-fledged music education centre for children with special needs.
The benefits of learning the piano are aplenty, such as training focus, hand-eye coordination, and memory retention. Perhaps most importantly, it elevates a child’s sense of confidence when they succeed in playing a song they love. These benefits are especially crucial for children with special needs, as these are the very areas they struggle with.
The Radiant Spectrum uses an Individual Education Plan approach. During trial lessons, teachers assess each child before customising lesson plans to match. Each one-to-one lesson lasts 45 to 60 minutes, once or twice weekly. Principal and founder Samantha Soh assures that their music education is not a watered-down version of what neurotypical children learn. Her students, happily dubbed ‘The Radiant Children’, simply learn at their own pace.
One of their success stories is 10-year-old Andrew, who recently got a ‘Distinction’ in his ABRSM piano exam. In a short span of 11 months, and “despite his weaker fine motor skills, he is able to play tunes on two hands”, says proud mum Clara S. To celebrate his achievements, The Radiant Spectrum held an online concert for him in July 2021 (see highlights above).
Where #16-16 International Plaza, 10 Anson Road
How much From $90 per lesson
2. Percussions – Drum Prodigy
Children with or without special needs, who haven’t learnt how to control their emotions, often hit out when they’re upset. Instead of reprimanding and pushing back, help them channel this energy into something positive. Drumming is a healthy outlet to release stress and its rhythmic nature helps regulate emotions. An alternative form of non-verbal expression, it can help those with a range of communication difficulties.
Drum Prodigy’s Percussion Programme is a rhythm intervention programme designed for persons with special needs and youth-at-risk. It is suitable for anyone with intellectual disabilities, physical impairments, developmental delays, and behavioural issues. The programme combines one-to-one and group classes for Early Years (3-6 years), Junior (7-12 years), and Youth and Adults (from 13 years).
Weekly classes last 30 to 45 minutes and students learn to play percussion instruments using hands and mallets. Instructors use music intervention to tackle problems like impulse control and attention deficit, while students improve sensorimotor skills and social interactions. The results are amazing — check out this video of Drum Prodigy girls drumming to ‘Billie Jean’ (above)!
Where 620 Hougang Avenue 8, #01-268
How much From $50 per lesson
(See also: Nothing but Pride for her Two Sons with Autism)
3. Creative Art + STEM – Artzillions Art Studio
STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. These are learning blocks our 21st-century children need. But as we all know, it’s art that soothes the soul. This is something children with special needs particularly need, as they may struggle with regulating emotions and relating with others. Singapore’s first art learning with STEM programme, Artzillions combines both to create STE‘A’M.
No matter your child’s ability, the goal is to stimulate curiosity and learning via experimentation and play. Keeping class sizes to no larger than four students, special needs children can learn alongside neurotypical children. Each lesson lasts 90 minutes, once a week. One-to-one classes for children who need extra attention are also available. The curriculum involves a wide spectrum of art media from oil pastels and acrylic paint to clay and printmaking.
Every year, Artzillions also works with special needs artists to create and exhibit their paintings for sale (above). The artworks have also been used to produce merchandise, helping to generate income for the artists and raise funds for elderly with dementia. Your child could be one of them too!
Where #02-07 Crowne Centre, 557 Bukit Timah Road | #02-11 The Midtown, 1187 Upper Serangoon Road | 77 Lucky Heights
How much From $45.80 per lesson
4. Kungfu – Ch’i Life Studio
Kids love imitating the slick moves of Chinese martial arts role models from Jackie Chan to Mulan. And that’s great! The ancient practice of kungfu or wushu is all about developing physical agility and mental fitness. It also offers an outlet to release nervous or pent-up energy and replace it with positive energy. Children with special needs can definitely benefit.
In fact, since Ch’i Life Studio was founded by actor-father-Master Robin Leong in 2002, it has helped dozens of special needs children excel not just in kungfu, but all aspects of life. All Kungfu Kids classes are inclusive, grouped only by age, as they believe all children should learn together. The Parent and Child class is another option.
While incorporating fun with discipline, coaches tailor training methods to suit individuals. Students as young as two years learn basic self-defence techniques including stretching, punching, kicking, blocking, and tumbling. Best of all, they develop confidence, coordination, and camaraderie. Today, Ch’i Life Studio boasts over 10,000 children in its Kungfu Kids programme from Singapore to Shanghai, Beijing, and the USA.
Where #03-03 Claymore Connect, 442 Orchard Road
How much From $35.95 per lesson
5. Swimming – AquaFins
Besides learning essential water safety, swimming helps train equilibrium, coordination, and builds core strength. Buoyancy also relieves stress on the muscles and on the mind. Often, just being in the water can be soothing for special needs children and help wash away their stress. AquaFins offers Singapore’s only aquatic programme for special needs children that is endorsed by the National Council of Social Service.
The person behind AquaFins is Danny Ong, former head coach of the Singapore Disability Sports Council and team manager for Team Singapore during the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games. His mission: to promote water safety and competency for all, especially for persons with special needs. The Fins Ability Package is a small group class that covers water safety, water competence, rehabilitation, and swimming. For one-to-one lessons, sign up for the Fins Package. The coach will assess your child and devise an Individual Aquatic Plan according to their needs.
Watching Yip Pin Xiu take twin golds at the recent Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games was nothing short of inspirational. So if you are a parent of a special needs child, take heart, and consider taking to the pool.
Where Hougang Swimming Complex | Jalan Besar Swimming Complex
How much From $30 per lesson
6. Gymnastics – Tumble Joy Gymnastics
Babies have been doing somersaults since before they were born. And rolling over at about four months is a developmental milestone all parents look forward to. But whether your child is a natural Simone Biles or needs some extra help, gymnastics has much to offer. It improves flexibility, balance, and coordination, and builds strength. Children also develop determination, courage, confidence, and social skills along the way.
Besides nurturing future competitive gymnasts, Tumble Joy Gym also offers Therafit, a carefully structured programme to support special needs children. Led by Coach Edwin, who has a Specialist Diploma in Teaching and Supporting Children with Special Needs, it is geared towards maximising energy output and activating overall muscle groups. This helps stimulate the brain and decrease hyperactivity, aggression, anxiety, and meltdowns.
The Therafit programme also aims to improve body awareness, coordination, posture, balance, and flexibility. It is suitable for children on the autism spectrum, or have other intellectual or physical, developmental difficulties. By conducting it in small groups with a high coach-to-student ratio, the children also learn to interact socially. Accompanying parents find support in one another too. Each sensory-rich lesson is an hour long.
Where #B1-11/12 Festive Mall @ Our Tampines Hub, 1 Tampines Walk
How much From $46.80 per lesson
“If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.”Samantha Soh, principal & founder of The Radiant Spectrum
Featured image: The Radiant Spectrum