Firstly, I would acknowledge Mrs Kong’s concerns about Nicky’s situation. I would share with her that “Down syndrome is a genetic condition caused by the presence of an extra chromosome 21. A baby born with Down syndrome has three copies of chromosome 21 instead of the usual two” (Down Syndrome Association Singapore Web site, 2009). Children with Down syndrome may have some degree of mental retardation, different facial features and heart defects and other health problems. March of Dimes Web site (2007) states that the “severity of these problems varies greatly among affected individuals”. I will also share with her that I believe all children are unique individuals with different strengths. They are able to learn and acquire new skills and knowledge. Hence, I feel that with the necessary assistance, knowledge and collaboration among teachers, family and other professionals, together they can develop Individualized Educational Plans (IEP) to help Nicky progress. Children with Down syndrome can do many things which other children can do. However, they acquire the skills at a later time. March of Dimes Web site (2007) mentions that many of the affected individuals are able to read and write and some even graduate from secondary schools and move on to post-secondary programs. I feel that it is important to provide opportunities for Nicky to interact with other children and acquire new skills and knowledge in order for the child to enhance her development and thus future. I will emphasize that early interventions will benefit Nicky’s development and growth as they allow Nicky to develop in a stimulating environment with developmentally appropriate activities and materials at an early age.
I would suggest that Mrs Kong could discuss with her husband if they would want to enroll Nicky into the centre's toddler class. If they were to enroll her, I would be glad to accept her as I feel that all children should be given the opportunity to learn and grow in a regular classroom. I will also work with Nicky’s doctor in order to learn more about her condition. In addition, I will ensure her that I will update her on Nicky’s progress in class. After three months, we would meet up and discuss if Nicky should remain in the class or would it be better if she attends a special education school.
I would advise Mrs Kong to make an appointment with the doctor for further assessment as soon as possible to get concrete evidence for the diagnosis. I would also suggest that she asks the doctor for the chromosome result as there might be mistake in the test which thus leads to irrelevant diagnosis – it may not be Down syndrome (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence Web site, 2005). In addition, I would share with Mrs Kong about how a diagnosis for Down syndrome is conducted. According to the March of Dimes Web site (2007), the blood sample of a baby suspected of having Down syndrome will be sent to a laboratory to examine “the chromosomes (called a karyotype) to determine if the baby has Down syndrome and what genetic form of Down syndrome the baby has”. A karyotype is used to diagnose Down syndrome as it provides information on the total number of chromosomes present (About.com Web site, 2009). I feel that it is necessary to provide this information for Mrs Kong so that she would have a better idea of the diagnosis.
I would share with Mrs Kong that the education of children with disabilities is provided in special education (SPED) schools. According to Ministry of Education (2009), “as at January 2009, there are 20 SPED schools run by Voluntary Welfare Organisations (VWOs) receiving funding from the Ministry of Education (MOE) and the National Council of Social Service (NCSS)”.
The SPED schools provide modified educational programmes and training for different disability groups which aim to develop the potential of all students and help them to be independent and contribute to the society (Ministry of Education, 2009). There are various SPED schools which cater to the different specific special needs such as Spastic Children’s Association School which caters to children with physical disability and the Canossian School caters to children with hearing impairment. There are also other special schools that cater to children with a range of special needs including children with Down syndrome such as Kits4Kids Special School, Genesis School for Special Education, Dover Court Preparatory School, Kids Cove and St. Clare School for Special Needs. However, only Kits4Kids Special School caters to toddlers with special needs.
According to Ministry of Education (2009), “Besides receiving classroom instructions conducted by their teachers, pupils also receive help and training from paramedical professionals such as psychologists, speech therapists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists and social workers”. Teachers can then form a team with the parents and professionals to share, discuss and plan how they could help the children with special needs improve. This is essential as I believe that the collaboration among teachers, family and professionals related to the child with special needs would allow them to plan strategies which include the child and promote learning and development. With this collaboration, the teachers would be able to plan more effective Individualized Educational Plans (IEP) for the children with special needs.
According to Dickins (2009), “Inclusion is a process of identifying, understanding and breaking down barriers to participation and belonging”. It is important for a child to feel that he or she belongs to the class; even adults need to feel belonged. Lim and Tan (1999) states that “Inclusive education is based on the fundamental belief that everyone should learn, grow and work with others of similar and diverse backgrounds in regular school, work and community environments.” Although inclusion is seldom being practiced in Singapore, we, the early childhood educators, are working towards it. There are a variety of mainstream schools which include children with special needs. Some examples are NTUC Childcare, Yishun 1, Raffles Montessori Pte Ltd, Aces Montessori Kindergarten, Little Woods Montessori Preschool, etc.
Besides all these, I would recommend Mrs Kong to visit Singapore’s Down Syndrome Association (DSA) as they provide many services for children with Down syndrome as well as support for their family “to enhance their knowledge and capability” (Down Syndrome Association Singapore Web site, 2009). An example of their service for children in DSA is Social Interaction Skills Support which provides social skills training to prepare the children with Down syndrome with age appropriate social interaction and communication skills (Down Syndrome Association Singapore Web site, 2009).
In conclusion, I would encourage Mrs Kong to be positive about Nicky’s situation as the child needs lots of support especially from the family. In addition, Singapore is working towards inclusion which I believe that all children will benefit from. Hence, Mrs Kong need not worry about the lack of schools for Nicky. Also, I would encourage Mrs Kong to approach me or any other professionals if she needs help.
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Neo Yee Lin