New programme to pair up special needs students with peers from mainstream schools

SINGAPORE - A new programme which aims to boost the confidence of intellectually disabled students by providing more opportunities for social interaction was launched on Saturday.

Get the full story from The Straits Times.

Here is the press release from the National Council of Social Service (NCSS):

The National Council of Social Service (NCSS) will be rolling out a programme that pairs up students with mild intellectual disability with their peers from mainstream schools to encourage integration and build friendship. The 'Buddy'IN' programme, first-of-its-kind in Singapore, hopes to boost the confidence of participating students in socialisation to help them integrate in community settings and prepare them for life after school.

Students with mild intellectual disability have few opportunities to engage in activities outside their homes and schools, and socialisation with peers outside of these familiar environments is often limited and minimal. Yet greater peer interaction is crucial and advantageous to the teenagers' development socially. Through such interaction with their buddies in Buddy'IN, the students with intellectual disability can pick up social cues and learn age-appropriate social behaviours.

Buddy'IN will be piloted with students from the Association for Persons with Special Needs' (APSN) Delta Senior School (DSS) and the neighbouring Institute of Technical Education College West (ITE CW). DSS will identify 10 students for the Buddy'IN programme whilst.

ITE CW will nominate 13 students aged 17 and 18 for the programme - 10 of the students will be buddied up with students from DSS while the remaining three will document the interaction between the buddies. NCSS will train the ITE students in offering mentorship to persons with disabilities. The training sessions include games and role play to foster empathy in the students for persons with special needs and teach them how to interact with their buddies.

The pilot run of Buddy'IN will last between six to nine months and the programme requires each pair of students to spend at least 80 hours together in this period and work on a 'graduation' project together. Besides working on the project, they are encouraged to participate in healthy social activities such as going to the movies, leadership camps, visits to places of interests and meeting with each other's families and friends, which will provide common ground for conversations.

Buddy'IN will also create awareness and acceptance of persons with disabilities in the community, starting with the participating students from Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs) and their immediate social circles. Through doing activities together, the students will be able to understand better the challenges persons with disabilities face in day-to-day life and the importance of creating an inclusive society.

"We hope Buddy'IN will forge life-long friendships between the buddies that last beyond their school years into adulthood, and that the buddies will learn from and inspire each other," said Ms Tina Hung, NCSS's Deputy Chief Executive Officer and Group Director for Service Planning and Development.

Buddy'IN will also be implemented with other SPED schools and IHLs such as polytechnics and other ITEs.

NCSS 'We Are Able!' Conference 2014

Buddy'IN will be officially launched at the inaugural 'We Are Able!' Conference on 18 January 2014 at Concorde Hotel Singapore, where Madam Halimah Yacob, Speaker of Parliament and Advisor to NCSS, is the Guest-of-Honour (GOH) for the event. The conference, themed 'Enhancing Possibilities, Celebrating Abilities' this year, is part of NCSS's similarly titled year-long campaign that aims to create an inclusive society for persons with disabilities. Please refer to the attached for the programme.

A highlight of the programme is the keynote address 'It's all about Possibilities and Abilities' by Mr Tony Christiansen. Mr Christiansen, 55, is a renowned inspirational speaker from New Zealand who lost both his legs in a train accident at nine years old. He will be sharing with the audience his life story and insights on what can be achieved despite disabilities.

Members from the community, including visually-impaired Ms Caroline Casey from Ireland, Founder of Kanchi, will also share their experiences, achievements, challenges and passion to inspire others to celebrate their own special abilities and contribute actively to the community. They will also highlight the importance of partnerships between the people, private and public sectors to achieve the vision of an inclusive society.