Learning difficulties, special needs or behavioural issues in Singapore: how to get your child assessed

Feeling like your child might need a little extra help but not quite sure where to start? Here's everything you need to know to help them get assessed..

As a parent we are always on the lookout for behaviours and milestones not met when it comes to our kids’ development. It’s only natural to be concerned if your child is struggling with reading, is having a tough time interacting or making friends, or maybe showing inappropriate responses that you just know are not quite right. But what should you do if you suspect your child really does have some learning difficulties or behaviour issues that need addressing? The first thing is this: don’t panic! Every child is different and while some do need the supportive environment of an early intervention and inclusive school, most are able to tick along just fine in either local or international school with a bit of extra help and learning support. If you do feel that your child needs to be tested then the good news is that Singapore has a wide-range of diagnostic specialists that can carry out official assessments, as well as some fantastic schools in Singapore that support children with special needs.

Early signs that your child may have learning difficulties, special needs or behavioural issues

No two children are ever the same. They all learn at different rates and in different ways, and there is nothing worse than comparing your own child to the child genius your Facebook support group mum-mate is always bragging about. It is perfectly normal for your child to achieve early years targets in their own time. But if you are worried at all about your child’s development, and these disorders and signs do resonate with you, then it could be the first step to getting the intervention that your child needs to help make their learning experiences as positive as possible. Learning issues are often grouped into three categories initially.

  • Speech and/or language disorders
  • Slow or little progress with reading, writing and/or maths skills
  • Problems with motor skills, memory and/or coordination.

It is not unusual for children to have a combination of the above categories (but also super important to note that kids with learning probs generally have average to above average intelligence – they are not stupid, and please never, ever let anyone make them think that they are).

If you are worried, then don’t wait: the earlier you get the right help, the easier it will be for your child to reach their full and amazing potential. You just need to find the right learning style for your little one, and getting an assessment for learning difficulties, special needs or behavioural issues will highlight the areas that your child might need some support with, which in turn will make for a more positive schooling experience for all.

Common learning difficulties, special needs or behavioural issues

Dyslexia: A language-based disorder in which a person has difficulty learning to read, interpret words and letters. It can also affect writing, spelling and sometimes speech.

Dyscalculia: A mathematical disability which hinders the ability to make sense of numbers and maths concepts. Generally the logic of mathematics may as well be in a foreign language. I should know: I am convinced I have this (testing wasn’t really a thing back in my day: I just failed).

Dysgraphia: A condition that causes issues with written expression. For many children with dysgraphia, just holding a pencil and writing letters on a line is a serious struggle. Handwriting tends to be messy, and many have problems with putting thoughts onto paper cohesively.

Auditory Processing Disorder (APD): This is a sensory disability whereby a person has trouble understanding or processing language despite normal hearing ranges. Basically, the ears and brain don’t co-ordinate fully which leads to difficulties in computing what is being said (made worse in noisy places). My son has this. It is fair to say that it takes him a long time to process a verbal instruction (more so than just usual teenage inertia).

Visual Processing Disorder (VDP): This is not a problem with sight, but an issue with how the visual information is processed and interpreted by the brain. The eyes are taking in the info, but the brain doesn’t automatically make sense of what it’s being told.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Inattention, hyperactivity and impulsive behaviour are often signs of ADHD, which is a disorder in the part of the brain which regulates behaviour. It is the most commonly diagnosed disorder in children. It is not the result of poor parenting, low intelligence or laziness (accusations often assigned by people who should perhaps learn a little more about such conditions before pointing fingers).

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD): ASDs are a developmental disability that has been caused within the brain. A person with ASD typically has difficulty with social and communication skills.

Getting your child assessed

Get this done as soon as your niggles turn into fears: you may well be wrong, but if you are right then the earlier you go down the assessment route, the earlier you can put together a game plan to help everyone. There are plenty of diagnostic centres around Singapore for you to turn to, and most of them offer counselling services and support workshops should you need guidance.

VA Psychology Centre: The children’s division of the VA Psychology Center, STARS Children’s Clinic, offers a range of diagnostic assessments as well as support services. We love that the centre uses fun support including art therapy and anger management workshops (that involve making brains out of styrofoam!). The team are committed to not only helping you and your child, but also create relaxing sessions that will put everyone at ease. It also offers services in German.
VA Psychology Centre, 41 Sunset Way, #02-06 Clementi Arcade, Singapore 597071, p. 6235 9602, e. info@vapc.sg; www.vapc.sg

Kaleidoscope: Kaleidoscope will work closely not only with your child, but also with parents and other professionals involved in your child’s wellbeing. The clinic is designed to put kids at ease and has four fully equipped kiddie gyms as well as toy laden therapy rooms, all put together to provide emotional, developmental and social needs for your little one. Kaleidoscope offers a wide range of services under one roof and its therapists work in close collaboration to address the needs of the children that they assess, and will carry out assessments for learning difficulties, special needs or behavioural issues.
Kaleidoscope, #07-05/06, The Grandstand, 200 Turf Club Road, Singapore 287994, p. 6468 8991 or 6468 8039, e. info@kaleidoscope.com.sg; www.kaleidoscope.com.sg

NUH Neuroscience Clinic: The Department of Psychological Medicine caters to a wide range of psychological needs, including those of children and adolescents. It provides inpatient, outpatient and community programmes for Child Psychiatry including learning disability, school refusal, behavioural issues as well as cost-effective consultation services for your child. Your kiddo will be seen by a psychiatrist for a diagnostic interview, and the rest of the family will also be involved in the assessment process.
NUH Neuroscience Clinic, Kent Ridge Wing, Level 4, Singapore 119074, p. 6773 4913; www.nuh.com.sg

Dynamics Therapy Centre for Kids: With over 12,000 sq ft of space including fully equipped state of the art Sensory Integration (SI) gyms and rooms specially designed for speech therapy, social skills training and fine motor skills exploration, the kids are going to love this place! Diagnostic assessments are made using a set of international criteria, and the centre has an open door policy which means you can be as involved as you like in the testing and support sessions.
Dynamics Therapy Centre for Kids, 583 Orchard Road, Forum Shopping Mall, Singapore 238884, p. 6100 9235, e. inquiry@dynamics.com.sg; www.dynamics.com.sg

Mind Matters Psychology Practice (MMPP): Experienced and qualified psychologists conduct detailed evaluations and provide a comprehensive range of services for kids and teens to support their their cognitive, social and emotional development. Goal directed therapies are encouraged to help support your child and get them on the right path for a successful learning and personal journey.
Mind Matters Psychology Practice, 1 Scotts Road, #15-02 Shaw Centre, Singapore 228208, p. 6838 1830, e. mindmatters@mmpp.com.sg; www.mmpp.com.sg

Handling the diagnostic test results

Once your little one has been tested for learning difficulties, special needs or behavioural issues, the results will be laid out for you – usually in a report form which your testing centre will go thoroughly through with you – and it may feel quite overwhelming initially. Your child’s symptoms are no longer part of a Google search, and there maybe some sadness to deal with on your part as a parent when you see in black and white that your child is struggling. But no matter what that report says, it does not, and never will, define your child. Your child already had dyslexia before the report was written, but now you know how to help. Your child had an auditory processing issue before a test told you so, but now you can both feel less frustrated. And your child was awesome before the assessment, and will continue to be awesome after the assessment: even more so now that you are on the right path to help. You’ve got this, parents.

Here’s more resources you might find useful:

Counselling for children and families in Singapore
Down syndrome: Celebrating differently abled people in Singapore
Soek Ying Koh, mum to Ryan, and founder of Mustard Tree, talks about raising a child with autism
Children’s books on diversity

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