Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Singaporeans 'don't walk the talk' on special needs kids: Lien Foundation’s Inclusive Attitudes Survey

Poll findings show they are tolerant towards, rather than accepting of, these children
By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 31 May 2016

Singaporeans support the idea of inclusion but do not walk the talk, a survey has found.

While most people believe that children with and without disabilities can study together, only half of parents polled are comfortable with having a special needs child sitting next to their own child in class.

Furthermore, only one in 10 Singaporeans is confident of interacting with special needs children.

These were some of the findings of a survey, released yesterday at a press conference, which asked more than 1,000 people for their experiences of inclusion in daily life and early education. The survey was commissioned by local philanthropic house Lien Foundation.

The findings suggest that Singaporeans are tolerant towards, rather than accepting of, special needs people, said Lien Foundation programme manager Ng Tze Yong.

"Singaporeans embrace the idea of inclusion, but there is a gap between what we think and what we do," he said.

Inclusion means ensuring that everyone, including those with disabilities, is given opportunities to realise his potential in the same environment.

"Building handicapped ramps, parking spaces and toilets is the easy part. We now need to move beyond that to dismantle the obstacles in our minds and the barriers in our hearts," Mr Ng added.

Asked about the current level of acceptance and degree of social interaction between the public and special needs children, more than half of the respondents said Singaporeans are willing to share public spaces with such children, but not to interact with them.

Only 8 per cent of those polled feel that Singaporeans are willing to go the extra mile to make a special needs child feel welcome.

Yet nearly half of them believe that new laws are needed to promote the rights of such children.

For instance, eight in 10 of them believe it should be compulsory for such children to go to school. They are now exempted from the Compulsory Education Act.

One possible reason why special needs children, such as those with learning and behavioural difficulties or physical disabilities, are not accepted fully in society is the lack of interaction between the public and such children.

For over a third of respondents, such children are not part of their social circle. Only a quarter of parents surveyed report that their children are friends with them.

However, the survey also found that Singaporeans' uncertainty about interacting with special needs children falls when the frequency of interactions rises.

Given this correlation, Dr Kenneth Poon, a clinical psychologist and researcher,said there should be more opportunities for interaction so that friendships and shared interests can form. He said: "Pre- schools are a great starting point to seed this process of change."

Mr Tang Hui Nee, assistant director and head of community services at KK Women's and Children's Hospital, said that it would help if there was more public education, and people had more exposure to such children. Three in four respondents said being informed in advance about the special needs of a child will help them be more understanding when disruptive behaviour happens.

To better understand the needs and challenges of the special needs community, a separate survey of 750 parents of children with special needs is being done and the findings will be released next month.

Key findings, Part 1

• 30 per cent agree that Singapore is an inclusive society.

• 64 per cent believe Singaporeans are willing to share public spaces but not interact with the special needs community.

• 50 per cent of parents are comfortable with having a child with special needs sit next to their own child in class.

• 49 per cent believe new laws are necessary to better promote the rights of children with special needs.

• 10 per cent are confident of interacting with children with special needs.

Early inclusive interaction breeds greater empathy

Over the years, the Government and voluntary welfare organisations have made numerous efforts in raising public awareness about people with special needs.

However, the messages might not have been enough, or they might not have touched the hearts of the majority.

Survey findings reveal an evident need to promote better understanding of children with special needs and to create more opportunities for interaction, so that we can cultivate greater acceptance of those with different abilities in our society ("S'poreans 'don't walk the talk' on special needs kids"; Tuesday).

We need to share more on what an inclusive education can bring to everyone. An inclusive education is not only for the benefit of children with special needs. It also brings all the students together in one classroom, regardless of their strengths or weaknesses, and seeks to maximise their potential.

Studies have shown that interaction with children with special needs prompts typically developing children to become more understanding of their counterparts with special needs, and develop positive attitudes towards them.

When children get to interact with others of different abilities at an early age, they are more likely and willing to accept and include peers with disabilities.

Teachers, parents and caregivers also play an important role in showing the young ones what it means to accept people who may appear different from them and what inclusion means.

We want the next generation of Singaporeans to be brought up with good values and many virtues.

Empathy developed during childhood is likely to carry on throughout their lives. When children grow up in an inclusive environment, they would, in time, become adults who are open, caring and compassionate.

We should continue with efforts that encourage interaction among children with and without special needs. For example, we could build more inclusive playgrounds and pre-schools, where typically developing children learn alongside children with special needs.

In addition, we need to reach out and understand one another better.

We are happy that the National Council of Social Service has echoed SPD president and Nominated MP Chia Yong Yong's call in Parliament for a national disability education campaign, so that we can build a caring and resilient society as one people.

Abhimanyau Pal
Executive Director
SPD (formerly the Society for the Physically Disabled)
ST Forum, 4 Jun 2016

Inclusive Attitudes Survey Part 2

Wanted: Legal boost for rights of special needs kids
Most parents of such children polled also want better pre-school education for them
By Priscilla Goy, The Straits Times, 5 Jul 2016

Most parents of children with special needs want new laws to promote the rights of their children, and better pre-school education for them, a survey has found.

The survey polled 835 parents with special needs children aged nine and below and was commissioned by the Lien Foundation, a philanthropic house.

Findings released yesterday showed that close to three-quarters of parents polled agreed that new laws are necessary.

The poll also asked parents about challenges faced in raising their special needs children, and how the public acts towards them (see chart on key findings). Of parents with children in pre-schools, fewer than half felt their children had adequate support from the pre-schools - be it from teachers, the curriculum or facilities available (see chart).

Close to half of the parents of pre-schoolers also said it was difficult to enrol their children in pre-school, usually because there were pre-schools that were unwilling to admit the child, or because of inexperienced teachers.

On a broader level, 77 per cent of the respondents supported the idea of inclusive education, an approach that caters to both children with and without special needs.

The Lien Foundation said laws could help promote inclusiveness and suggested that the Compulsory Education Act, which makes primary school education a must, be extended to special needs children.

It said in a statement: "This would set a baseline of access to education for these children and ensure a commitment to their education needs."

Its chief executive Lee Poh Wah said Singapore is an exception among places that came up tops in education rankings, such as Hong Kong and South Korea, "because unlike them, we have yet to introduce laws to support inclusion in education".

Lien Foundation programme manager Ng Tze Yong added that the committee behind the 2012-2016 Enabling Masterplan - which guides the development of policies and services for people with disabilities - had recommended that children with special needs be included under the Act by 2016. But no update on this was given in a progress report released in April, he said.

Parents of children with special needs, while noting that it could be more inconvenient for their children to attend mainstream schools, said they wanted their children to socialise with their typically-developing peers.

Ms Sally Kwek, 39, founding editor of an online parenting magazine, moved her nine-year-old daughter out from a primary school - after staff asked that she hire a shadow teacher to help the child cope, which was too expensive to do so - to a special education school.

"She has friends, but she's less exposed to what life will be like when she grows up in the real world. That in itself is also a disability," she said.

Children with and without special needs stand to benefit from more inclusive education, she added. The former would better understand what is socially acceptable; the latter would learn how to respond to people with disabilities.

Weight-management coach Lawrence Ng, 44, who has a son with autism, hopes teaching can be differentiated to suit children's varied learning styles.

For Mr Izaan Tari Sheikh, 32, an executive director in a bank, his able-bodied daughter learns alongside special needs children in a pre-school. He said: "I have not seen the teachers showing any less attention to my child than to those with special needs. She also seems to show more concern for others."

Key Findings, Part 2
By Priscilla Goy, The Straits Times, 5 Jul 2016

• 28 per cent regard Singapore as inclusive

• About half felt their key service needs were being met - in transportation (58%), medical and dental (55%) and childcare (54%)

• 43 per cent wanted more financial help from the Government, and close to 60 per cent of those with a monthly household income of $7,000 to $9,900 felt this way

• Four in 10 think their special needs children spend too little time in the community outside school; among these, 31 per cent said it is difficult to spend time in public spaces as they feel judged by others

• Around one in three have heard adults directing insensitive remarks at their special needs children

• Almost half said their special needs children do not have friends without disabilities

• 61 per cent said they or their spouses are the primary caregivers; among this group, two in five quit their jobs to take care of the child

Lien Foundation Inclusive Attitudes Survey: Part 1 & Part 2

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