To ensure that children with special needs are able to receive quality education, there are various early intervention programmes available to provide parents and children with the required resources and support. This article will provide a few examples, and a comparison of the programmes.
Early Intervention Programme for Infants and Children (EIPIC)
Early intervention (EI) centres provide a holistic programme emphasising on developmental, functional, motor, social, cognitive, language, communication and self-help skills. They seek to maximise, equip and improve a child’s developmental growth potential and skills in the specific domains. This programme is known as EIPIC, and it prepares children, ages 6 and below, for admission into either a mainstream or Special Education School.
These centres are equipped with professionals such as speech therapists, occupational therapists, educational therapists, and social workers who assist both children and parents. Some examples of professional services provided within the programme include speech and occupational therapies. Visit SG Enable or contact the specific EI centres for more details on the services provided.
Since July 2019, new programmes have been introduced. This includes the Development Support (DS) Plus and EIPIC Under-2s.
The DS Plus programme is for children with mild to moderate developmental needs and who have made progress under EIPIC. Professionals from EI centres will work alongside preschool teachers, co-teaching the child for up to twice a week in the preschool setting. This serves to provide greater support for the child to adapt to mainstream preschool environment and curriculum so that they can continue learning within a larger class setting.
EIPIC Under-2s is meant for children under the age of two with moderate to severe developmental needs. This programme focuses on the training of parents and caregivers so that intervention strategies can be effectively carried out in the child’s daily routines within the home setting. Examples include: how to communicate using flash cards or visual cues, and other strategies. EIPIC Under-2s requires the attendance of the parent or caregiver. At the age of 2, the child will then transit into EIPIC.
As mentioned above, different professional services may be available depending on the EI centre chosen. Three common and most mentioned services include speech therapy, occupational therapy, and behavioural therapy. These services can also be obtained through private organisations. Depending on the organisation, sessions can be held at the centre or in home setting.
Occupational Therapy (OT)
The main goal of OT is to help the individual improve his or her quality of life whether in the home, school or workplace setting. Occupational therapists assist the client in picking up, maintaining and improving their capacity to perform day-to-day tasks so that they can be as independent as possible.
Occupational therapists will first evaluate the individual’s current level of ability, looking at several areas. Some aspects include:
Daily living skills: Toilet training, brushing teeth, etc.
Fine motor skills: Cutting, handwriting, etc.
Gross motor skills: Walking, jumping, climbing stairs, etc.
Play, problem solving, social skills
Managing sensory processing issues
Thereafter, the therapist will create goals and strategies to allow the individual to focus and work on key skills.
Speech therapy (ST)
The main goal of ST is to assist individuals in communicating through more useful and functional ways. It addresses challenges with language and communication, serving to help improve verbal, nonverbal and social communication. These challenges are common for individuals with autism, and ST can improve their ability to form relationships and function in their daily lives.
Some areas that ST assists in:
Articulation of words
Trouble with conversational skills such as eye contact and gestures
Reliance on echolalia
Before speech can be attained and improved on, there are other skills that individuals must first acquire. Examples include social awareness and tuning in to verbal and non-verbal cues from other people in their environment. Hence, ST does not simply work on speaking but also focuses on essential skills that will help assist in speech acquisition.
Behavioural therapy functions on the premise that all behaviours are learnt. The main goal is to promote desirable behaviours and reduce unwanted or inappropriate ones. Ultimately, the child should develop behaviors that are required to learn independently and effectively in the long run.
Behavioural therapy is a direct method of addressing behaviours by showing the child the immediate results of their actions. With the use of reinforcers, behavioural therapists are able to assist children in shaping and modifying their behaviours, and reducing the frequency of disruptive or undesirable behaviours. For example, a child is not given his favourite toy as he is screaming. When he calms down and receives the toy, he learns that calming down will get him his toy instead of screaming.
While ST and OT are useful tools to assist children with autism in their challenges with speech and daily tasks, behavioural therapy addresses inappropriate and often disruptive behaviours that may otherwise hinder their progress. As such, I find behavioural therapy to be crucial to the overall improvement of a child's progress; it sets the foundation from which other therapies can work from. For example, building compliance, attention and receptive language ensures that the child is able to achieve most gains from EIPIC, OT, ST programs as well as the school environments.