More special needs kids get early support
IT HAS not been easy for Madam Li Zhao Xia, whose youngest son is autistic.
The 35-year-old cleaner used to receive frequent calls from his childcare centre teachers complaining about his behaviour, such as not getting along with other children, and not paying attention in class.
But that changed when she decided to enrol the four-year-old in a programme meant for children with special needs in May. He is now better behaved and has learnt to speak.
More parents like Madam Li are sending their children with developmental issues to the Early Intervention Programme for Infants and Children (Eipic).
Enrolment has nearly doubled from about 1,200 children in 2009 to 2,100 last year, said a spokesman for the Ministry of Social and Family Development, which administers the programme with the National Council of Social Service.
Launched in 2003, Eipic is a government-funded initiative which provides educational and therapy services, such as for those aged six years and below who are at risk of having developmental issues.
Last month, Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam announced in his Budget statement that subsidies for all Singaporean children enrolled in early-intervention programmes will go up to a minimum of $500 a month, from $300 now. Middle-income households will get a further 20 to 50 per cent subsidy.
"For children with special needs, access to early intervention in the form of therapy and educational support services helps greatly in developing their potential and their ability to be independent," said Mr Tharman, who is also Deputy Prime Minister, in Parliament.
Associate Professor Daniel Fung, president of the Singapore Association for Mental Health, noted that more children are enrolled in the programme because there is "a lot more awareness" through public education, and more information is available now.
The consultant psychiatrist added: "Parents are more well-educated and more sensitive to children's needs, because they have fewer children now. Pre-school teachers are also more aware in picking up symptoms."
Eipic is available in 17 centres run by voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs). Most children start the programme at three years of age.
Madam Li has two other children and her husband is an odd-job labourer. A counsellor had recommended the programme after she went to a VWO to seek financial help.
She said in Mandarin: "I've seen my son's condition improve and that's the most important thing."