Help for special needs kids in mainstream schools

Montford Secondary three (normal academic) student Eidren Loy, (right) 14, who has autism, playing chinese chess with his classmate Mr Domingo Raymart Paul, (left) 16, and being watched by Madam June Yeo, 52, Allied Educator (Learning & Behavioural Support), at their school on Feb 16 2015.

When Montfort Secondary School normal academic student Eidren Loy emerged second in the school's academic ranking last year, he did not show any feeling.

But his allied educator June Yeo was "very proud of him".

Madam Yeo, 52, who provides learning and behavioural support to children with special needs at Montfort Secondary, says: "It's hard enough for a child with autism to cope in a mainstream school, but to be able to do better than so many of his peers academically, that's something worth celebrating."

Eidren, now 15, is one of 13,000 students with mild special educational needs in mainstream schools, or about 2.7 per cent of the total student population. Those with more moderate and severe symptoms are supported by special education schools.

In mainstream schools, students with dyslexia form the largest group of students with mild special educational needs. As they have a very good chance of overcoming their literacy difficulties with early intervention, the ministry, in 2012, piloted the School-based Dyslexia Remediation programme for Primary 3 and 4 pupils in 20 primary schools.

Under the programme, now expanded to 42 more primary schools with more in the pipeline, students attend a 45-minute literacy session four days a week after school. They are taught by allied educators specialising in learning and behavioural support.

There are about 400 allied educators across primary and secondary schools since they were introduced under the system 10 years ago.

Armed with a diploma in special education from the National Institute of Education, they are trained to provide learning and behavioural support to students with special educational needs, such as dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and autism spectrum disorder. They also teach these students social and behavioural skills and, when necessary, counsel them on emotional issues.

Madam Yeo, who works closely with 20 such students under her charge, says: "It's tiring because the job scope is wide. Besides dealing with the special needs student, you need to liaise with his teachers, parents and external parties such as psychologists to ensure that he has holistic care."

Part of her job requires her to ensure the student has a smooth transition from primary to secondary school and from secondary school to higher education.

A former manager in a travel company, she took a "significant" pay cut to make the career switch in 2006. So far, she has no regrets. The mother of three says: "It's satisfying when you see the students make progress and they all do to varying degrees, be it socially or academically."

Eidren finds Madam Yeo's office a "safe place". He drops by almost every day during his break to play chess by himself or with another student.

He says of Madam Yeo: "She helps me to do things like take a deep breath when I have difficulty in class. She is kind, patient and helpful. She is like a mummy to me."


This article was first published on March 1, 2015. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.