Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Interesting findings on ASD

Take a look at @PsyPost's Tweet: New findings on Autism

Smaller Environments benefit learners with speech delays in Malaysia

For learners who face difficulties in speaking but who are NOT speech impaired, it  seems that in developing countries, it is better for them to be placed within smaller classroom environments. This has been my experience over the last 17 years. They seem to thrive within a more controlled and small environment rather than within large mainstream classrooms. This is probably because of the lack of specialist in class support within the mainstream system,

Another benefit of smaller environments is that, the opportunities for facilitated communication to take place happens more easily and effectively, again due to the small numbers of students. Issues such as bullying and making fun can also be controlled, in a smaller environment thereby helping to increase motivation of learners as a whole group.

We all know that increasing motivation is the key to successful implementation of intervention strategies. If we are not able to motivate, learners will not be willing to try something new, something different, something challenging. They will not want to learn to talk. They will not understand the power of words spoken.

So parents, as long as you are sure that a particular provision has trained and skilled specialists, then do not worry about placing learners with speech delays in a separate setting. You do not want to choose a provision where the teachers have poor language skills, or one that uses online programmes as a basis for instruction. Such programmes like Alpha to Omega cannot be tailored to meet specific learning needs effectively. Look for provisions that specialise in applied language skills, and those that can facilitate naturalistic spoken language.

Going to mainstream school is not the only way to be schooled. Always think about what is best, for the child in a rational and logical way. Be honest with yourself. Would you rather send your child with speech delays to an environment where you feel happy, but where the child is going to be teased, discriminated against, not be understood and then, be ignored? Children who cannot speak clearly are not able to defend themselves in situations of bullying. Other kids will engage in name calling, and teasing, and these kids with speech delays will have no way to communicate what they are feeling to anyone.

What happens to motivation from there? Down hill... then, the motivation to learn will disappear too over time...

Think about these things before you decide to mainstream your child with speech delays.

For details on our homeschool programme at Sri Rafelsia,

Monday, September 19, 2016

Assessments in Special Education

Many parents and teachers do not understand the importance of proper assessments in special education.  These assessments are not the same as those conducted in mainstream school to evaluate whether or not a learner has learnt up the pre-set curriculum for that particular academic year.

Assessments in special education are 2 pronged - one for diagnosis purposes and the other as diagnostics to inform modification of intervention. Very often, I get told that our assessments at Sri Rafelsia are costly but really they aren't. Reason being, our assessments are done on both domains - diagnostic and diagnosis levels. Other places, typically only carry out assessments on one level - diagnosis.

Spending money on education is a worthy investment especially if you child has a specific learning difficulty, is high functioning and therefore, has a high IQ. Look at how successful others with specific learning difficulties have been in the past - Steve Jobs, Agatha Christie,  Michael Phelps, Tom Cruise, Lisa Ling etc

However, each one of these people received proper quality intervention and assessments for them to achieve their highest potentials. Parents must understand that to train well in special education is not cheap. And, someone who claims to be a special educator but only has a certificate or a diploma cannot be nearly as good as someone who has higher level training. A special educator is a teachers first, who has then, gone back to study and specialise in special education. They are most definitely not someone who has a degree in geology, law or computer science and then gone on to do a dodgy 3 - 6 month certificate or diploma course. How can one call themselves special educators when they are not even trained teachers and yet were allowed to do a Masters degree in special education? In Malaysia, all this is possible.

Parents, have to be weary and discerning in order to gain the best services for their children with special educational needs. How many parents have told me that they went to numerous places that claimed to be able to help their child, only to find out at age 12 years, that their child still is unable to read or comprehend a short passage, or understand word sums. It saddens me that there exist individuals who, for a few bucks, are willing to destroy another person's future.

Sometimes, it is difficult for parents for to realise that a programme or a tutor is not able to address the needs of their child. Special Education is not about a curriculum. It is about the individual learner's ability to absorb, store and apply new knowledge. The keyword is ability. If someone in special education is pretty much acting like a tuition teacher, then, you don't need them, just get a tuition teacher. Special Education focuses on skill building - cognitive skill building and that is why, assessments form a vital part of what we do. Assessments need to be re-done to measure effectiveness of intervention every 9 -12 months. No use is going on and on not knowing if its working or not. Each learner is unique, so some methods that work on others may not work on some learners.

Anyways.. be discerning and know that assessments are a pivotal in special education. Not just the administration of tests but more importantly the INTERPRETATION of test results!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Dyslexia - and the difficulties that come with it

Numerous articles focus on the surface level of difficulties associated with dyslexia. Its time for you, as parents to be aware of the other issues that surround dyslexia. Its not enough to just try to correct the reading problem using phonics.

Parents, dyslexia is a complex difficulty that involves problems with processing text. Its not just reading. Reading is the last symptom that you see as a result of the many other difficulties that surround dyslexia.

A child who seems to be reading of a Peter & Jane book is not necessarily reading. Most tutors are not trained in dyslexia in Malaysia. They have little knowledge of the complexity of the issue. So a tutor who uses one specific reading programme to supposedly remediate dyslexia is not doing your child any justice. Dyslexics are typically, high functioning - they are highly intelligent children. Along with that intelligence comes the ability to use visual cues to help recall the words on a page. test your child, either with the dyslexia test on our Sri Rafelsia website or, simply, get your children to read the text from a book, from back to front. If they really know how to read, reading from back to front, does not change the print. It changes the order in which they need to process. If your child struggles, then, you must get a new tutor! Get one who is trained properly to get the job done. Experience is not qualification!

There are cognitive problems which need to be tested for and identified. Very often, these kids have difficulties with remembering information too! If I can't remember what has been taught to be 20 minutes earlier, then, there is a serious problem. Parents who have children who are dyslexic know this feeling of frustration experienced by both child and parents. Even tutors get frustrated. But, bear in mind this is one of the problems that dyslexics often face. You can't keep drumming it in, if there is a problem with how information is stored. This needs expert help.

Another difficulty is when the child constantly says, he/she is sleepy when the work is brought out. Remember, it is a difficulty with processing print - all areas of processing print. So, bring a book out, and in 5 minutes the child starts yawning or saying they have a headache. Again, another real symptom of specific learning difficulties.

Sometimes, some children have difficulties recalling what is said to them. They seem "spaced out"! Again, a real problem! Teachers experience it in classrooms, parents experience it at home.When the brain gets tired of trying to process print, it will shut down.

So, these are a few less discussed signs because most tutors are not even aware of them. Get help, for your sake and for the sake of the child! Do it now... the longer you delay, the more compounded the difficulty becomes! These are highly intelligent children and if left without proper intervention, will end up not achieving their highest potentials!

Call us, email us!

Early Signs of Dyslexia

While most of us think that the signs of dyslexia appear in preschool when a learner starts to reverse letters (confuse b/d , p/q, m/w, h/y) or have difficulties learning the alphabet sequence we are mistaken. The are some early signs  that had we been aware of them, we could have got expert help sooner rather than later.

Many parents feel that the kindergartens are equipped with the expertise to deal with specific learning difficulties. Many do claim to but wait a minute. Not all kindergartens even have trained teachers. At best a third of their teachers have early childhood teaching diplomas. What more training in specific learning difficulties? Experience is not expertise. But never mind that. That is a topic for another blog entry.

Some early signs include a very short crawling stage. Many children who are predisposed to dyslexia go thru a rather short crawling stage and go straight into walking. Typically, by age 1, these lil champs have started walking.  However, while the walking occurs quickly, there is a clear delay in speech development. That means the first words appear later than other kids their age. Sentence formation is also delayed. Sometimes, the quality of sound is muffled or unclear. Stop listening to the grandmother tales about how boys are slower and that the child's great uncle twice removed had a similar problem and out grew it!. We live in the 21st century,folks!

Then, there is another little sign - poor ability to stay focused on any task - be it watching TV, or playing with a specific toy. Generally, these children prefer to play with multiple toys in a short span of time. Any distraction will get them moving on to something else.

One more little early sign is clumsiness. The child predispose to dyslexia often bumps into things or trips on their own legs and falls down. They seem to also have a poor sense of balance in these early years compared to their peers. They may learn to jump at a later stage too. However, pls do not think that these problems with coordination stay forever. They tend to out grow it with additional physical activities like playing in the park and being encouraged to try to learn to jump. These are just markers to watch out for in the early stages before the age of 3 years.

Can anything be done? Of course... if you notice it.. we can start reducing issues from early on. Start with early intervention for their cognitive abilities - send them to provisions that can explicitly teach skills that are lacking. Obviously you need to go to places can actually identify weaknesses at that young age to begin with.

BEWARE of the many gimmick programmes out there and the many many quack interventionists as well. I am tired of unqualified people trying to mess up the field of special education in Malaysia.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

UPDATE: MMR vs Autism

Please read and decide for yourselves if now, you as parents, will think 100 times before vaccinating your children against MMR.   Many of us in special education have been advocating against the MMR because we were still seeing this specific form of ASD in our classrooms. BUT, I can tell you, the amount of skepticism because doctors kept on advocating FOR it. In my own family and amongst my own friends, they would not listen.....


Vaccines causing Autism

Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder

ADD or ADHD is term that is loosely used in Malaysia. Very often, learners are not even diagnosed but simply classified as having ADD or ADHD. The diagnosis of ADD and ADHD is called " differential diagnosis" and the diagnosis can ONLY be made by a  psychiatrist.

Psychologists, teachers, and others cannot diagnose attention deficit with or without hyperactivity. The typical intervention protocol for ADHD is medication. The administration of medication has to be monitored closely by the parents/ caregivers and psychiatrist. Any change in height or weight, drastic behaviour changes observed must be reported to the psychiatrist so that the dosage can be modified.

Very often, parents find their children not responding to the treatment and so, they stop the medication without the permission of the psychiatrist. This is wrong. While I have my own views about medicating children, I will still emphasise the importance of NOT simply stopping medication without the knowledge of the attending Psychiatrist.

Some parents feel that they prefer alternative approaches to managing hyperactivity in their children and that is fine as long as you can commit to these alternative approaches and the child is progressing well. For example, some parents find that engaging the children is active sports helps control the hyperactivity. That is fine but don't expect it to work if you can only commit ONE evening a week to the sport!! The child with ADHD requires you to commit daily!! If you cannot, then, you are best of going the medication route!

At school, the learner will struggle with coping within a mainstream system. The demands of having to sit still for lesson after lesson for 2-3 hours is simply something a learner with ADHD cannot cope with. If you choose the alternative approach, then, you must consider placing the child in an alternative environment where movement and mobility is less restrictive. There is no choice!

Please understand that you must cater to the child not the child cater to you!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Homeschooling in Malaysia

Homeschooling is Malaysia is catching on as a cheap alternative to international schooling. This is so wrong..

Homeschooling is a culture. There MUST be active involvement of parents. In my opinion, homeschooling a learner with learning difficulties is a just and fair alternative option. This is because learners with difficulties cannot cope with the rigour and pace of Asian academic environments where the focus is on how many A's a child scores. Even when schools offer learning support or claim to offer it, learners with difficulties never achieve their maximum potentials because very little is done to actually cater to their learning and educational needs. Parents gain the most from having their children with difficulties in a mainstream school! They gain the illusion that their child is normally functioning and in mainstream school.

Now, let me justify what I say.

When a learner is struggling in the mainstream system, they loose confidence, they loose friends, children are taught from a young age to pick their friends. Kids form cliques in school - the cool kids, the smart kids, and the kids in special education!! Learners with difficulties get excluded from group activities and social activities. They barely cope with the academic load and many mainstream teachers are not happy about making special allowances for one learner. As the demands increase the grades decrease, and now the learner starts to feel the gap in their abilities versus that of their peers.

IN a homeschool environment, typically, each child is allowed to progress at their own rate. Some centres also offer further tailoring of material and content to meet educational needs of learners with difficulties. Some even offer intervention for Cognitive skills alongside formal learning, and activities that help train gross motor skills, teach self control and exercise. One such provision is the one, I run, Sri Rafelsia. We have been successful with our programmes and our learners gained lost self esteem, learnt skills that they could not learn anywhere else and gained knowledge! BUT, the most important factor that separates Sri Rafelsia from the other provisions is that we keep the total enrolment to a maximum of 10 learners. We never take on more. HOMESCHOOL - the environment should resemble home - how many homes have 25 kids and 5 classrooms in built??

Homeschool can also benefit children whose aptitude lies in sports, music or other non academic area. While education is necessary and literacy and numeracy are pre requisites, some children are simply more inclined to focus on music or gymnastics or badminton! Again, homeschooling fits in beautifully for this purpose. It can be done at any time, tailored around training schedules and yet progress still made.

Dysgraphia and other specific learning difficulties

Dysgraphia is a difficulty is forming letters and handwriting in general. Learners with dysgraphia generally show less interest in activities that involve pencils and paper. Some early signs like poor grip and an inability to stack blocks or pick up small objects would usually have been observed.

This is why it is very important to play with children and observe for any possible difficulties they face. These difficulties are more easily corrected at a young age than when they are older. If not addressed early, this can lead to more complex problems later on especially when these children grow and the demands of handwriting become more. Some other later signs include poor penmanship skills, poor ability to take notes, make notes, write essays etc.

If you notice any of these difficulties in your children, you should take active action not assume that it will disappear by itself.

Dysgraphia sometimes also coexists with dyslexia and dyscalculia. So a difficulty in learning to read and understanding mathematical concepts might be another sign to look out for. If you child finds it difficult to understand how vertical addition works, even though you have taught it to them numerous times and the tuition teacher has done it over and over again too, then, realising that it is a learning difficulty is important.

Parents tend to think that a learning difficulty can be remedied with tuition classes. Tuition classes aim to re-teach the pre-existing syllabus. Intervention and learning support focus on the learner and they set of cognitive deficits rather than the syllabus. The problem is not the content of the syllabus - the problems lies with how a learner is processing information. That process needs to be "fixed". You can keep on and on re-teaching but it the receiving end is faulty, nothing is going to "stick" no matter how many times u re-teach it. Teaching and re-teaching is the role of a tuition teacher. So the best tuition teacher is NOT going to be able to help.

You need intervention not tuition for the learner / child.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Building EMPATHY in children: Teaching "grace, courtesy & gratitude"

While it seems like a given, many adults forget the importance of being gracious, courteous and grateful. This leads to all sorts of problems in our daily interactions and relationships with others and with love ones.

Teaching our young these skills is necessary and will also remind us of the importance of being gracious, courteous and grateful. It is quite easy to accomplish too - I am grateful that the sun came up and I got up this morning but what is difficult is remembering to do it. Each day, we can spend a few moments, talking about what we are grateful for, and how many times, we practiced graciousness when it was easier to just be nasty.

Once this culture is built in the home and in school, it will surely bring about positive changes in ourselves and in our younger generation. Again, it requires, consistency, and constant repetition and cannot be accomplished in just one day.

Maintaining positive mental health is a process, a journey. It requires reflection and discipline to maintain. One must work at it daily - just like brushing your teeth or showering to maintain hygiene!

Three things I am grateful for today:
1) That I woke up and finished this blog entry
2) I can smile and know that however my life changes next week, I am going to be fine and happy
3)  The ability to choose to not get angry today and instead choose happiness.

What are you grateful for today?