Welfare

Understanding children with learning difficulties

Sep 2008    

PART 12: THE SOCIAL SERVICES MINISTRY OF THE METHODIST WELFARE SERVICES

Ms Sheila Koh, a psychologist, was brought on board Daybreak Family Service Centre to kickstart a new programme for children with learning difficulties.

‘PS-ACT or Psychological Services – Assessment, Consultation and Training was launched in January this year. There are only a few such services in a family service centre setting.

The aim of PS-ACT is to assist families island-wide who have children with learning issues but do not have the financial resources to seek professional help. The service focuses on children from Kindergarten 1 to Primary 6.

As there are many forms of learning and behavioural problems, my task is to pick up the concerns of the parents who come seeking for help but may not know the real issue with their children. Children with learning difficulties often misbehave because of their frustrations – often, their parents expect them to perform well beyond their capabilities.

When a child is assessed to have a learning disorder, I call for a consultation with his or her parents/caregivers and teachers. This consultation focuses on understanding the child’s developmental stage and behaviour. This is when I work with the parents/caregivers and teachers to manage their own expectations and equip them to cope with the child’s behavioural issues.

If necessary, I refer the child to an appropriate intervention programme. Talks and general training for parents and teachers on understanding the different learning difficulties in children are also conducted under PS-ACT.

Help for families
Generally, a child with learning  difficulties will display the following signs:
• Reading difficulties at lower primary level,
• Difficulty remembering simple spelling words assigned to lower primary students,
• Restlessness and inability to pay attention in class,
• Frequent copying mistakes,
• Failing grades in most academic subjects at lower primary level

If you notice such signs in your child, it would be helpful to get him or her assessed as soon as possible so that support can be given early. The three most common learning disorders found in Singaporean children are dyslexia, ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and autism. They each have unique characteristics but share some of the above symptoms.

A private psychologist may charge between $600 and $1,000 for a dyslexia assessment but at PS-ACT, the charge is only $350 currently. The rates are highly subsidised as the programme is meant for families in the larger community.

I hope that through PS-ACT I can make a difference in the child and his/ her parents. If a child feels understood, no matter what his/her issues are, he or she will be happier and generally less stressed, and this will also translate to his/her parents being happier and less stressed.

I am currently helping a young man who was kicked out of school recently. He came to PS-ACT and was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a mild form of autism. To people who do not know about the disorder, he may appear insolent, indifferent and has no social skills. Had his teachers probably known about his disorder he might not have been expelled.

One of his main problems is his inability to cope with school work deadlines; he gets overly anxious and stressed out. I hope to equip him to manage stressful situations and eventually undertake some form of study.

More and more Singaporean children are diagnosed with learning disorders. For example, four years ago, Pathlight School, for children with autism, only had 40 students, now it has 400. It has also been reported in the newspapers that 3 to 5 per cent of Singaporeans may be dyslexic.

The work of PS-ACT needs to be sustained so that those who cannot afford to pay psychologists in private agencies may also get help early.’

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