It all started with the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Singapore on the 23rd of January 2020. Ever since then, the number of confirmed cases, albeit imported ones, have steadily climbed up. The real worry kicked in the start of February when cases originating from local transmission were reported and some had no clear origin despite efforts undergone to conduct meticulous contact tracing. As such, the Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (DORSCON) level was raised from Yellow to Orange and this unintentionally sparked a round of panic buying. Following that, more and more clusters and local cases were identified and popping up, with even multiple unfortunate deaths resulting. While there had been widespread temperature checking, as well as the issuing of travel advisories, stay-home notices and the banning of overseas visitors, these seemed to be insufficient in halting transmissions. Thus, the stricter Circuit Breaker measures to be put in place from 7 April to at least 4 May were announced on 3 April. April and May were then the months when detected cases in foreign worker dormitories skyrocketed due to aggressive testing while local community cases took its time to slow down. During that period, it was also announced on 21 April that the Circuit Breaker would be extended to 1 June due to sustained unlinked community cases. Though, they were also slightly eased in preparation for lifting on 1 June.
Throughout this whole period, it has been not easy for certain groups of people: individuals requiring mental health support, students with Special Educational Needs (SEN), as well as the parents and caregivers of them. Hence, we will discuss what kinds of support are available for them!
For students with SEN in both mainstream and Special Education (SPED) schools, teachers have done much to ensure that the students will be able go through the full Home-Based Learning (HBL) curriculum in a suited and accommodating way. Teachers have done up lesson packages early to be sent to students and their parents so that the parents are able to guide their children through it without worry for limited time. This applies to both online and offline learning under the HBL. Furthermore, teachers have also specialised and personalised their ways and methods of teaching to best fit the students’ learning needs and preferences. This includes utilising recorded instructions to simulate live lessons to assist students with reading difficulties, and making lesson packages with highly engaging and interactive content to retain attention and boost learning. Students will also not find themselves lost at sea in the new HBL environment for teachers will frequently check-in with the students or parents on their progress pace and well-being. Any concerns could be highlighted and addressed this way!
The schools themselves have also taken action to make sure that all the students are indeed able to access and participate in the HBL to the fullest. Students without devices or internet access need not worry about losing out because they are able to loan computing devices, dongles, routers and SIM cards from their respective schools. Adding to this would be the loaning of communication devices and assistive technology tools particularly for students facing sensory or physical challenges. In essence, the support provided strives to guarantee that no child will be left behind and unable to participate in the HBL.
Apart from focusing on providing suitable learning materials during the HBL, schools are also not neglecting general mental health support for students with SEN. SPED School Allied Professionals such as psychologists, occupational therapists, speech and language therapists and physiotherapists all work closely with teachers to weave in interventions with the standard lessons to ensure students get the support they deserve. These support resources are also shared with parents through video or tele-conferencing so that the parents are better equipped to guide and assist their child.
The drastic impact on mental health by the whole COVID-19 situation cannot go unacknowledged. Having schedules disrupted, familiar social contact cut off, and movement restricted to being at home leave many feeling uprooted in life. Please don’t feel alienated about this – this is completely understandable. Some may find themselves feeling more stressed and anxious, perhaps about their studies, and experience a general loss of focus. Isolation, insomnia, boredom and even poor familial relations are real issues with impacts that could easily spiral past simply affecting your online learning at home. This holds true even those for without any pre-existing mental conditions. And of course, the fear and worry could simply originate from the general uncertainty and panic associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fortunately, the Ministry of Health (MOH) has decided to reconsider allied health services out of the public healthcare institutions (which includes therapy services) as essential services with effect from 29 April 2020 onwards. What this means is that help and support is available. Tele-consultations are not always a complete substitute for the real thing as it has its drawbacks such as a less personal connection and hence less empathy involved. This decision to allow one-to-one, face-to-face therapy services or consultations for those who really need it is extremely significant and highly appreciated during these times.
Last but certainly not the least, this period will also be a challenge for parents and caregivers. Caregivers may find themselves catching flak or being critically glared at when out in the public and the person that they are caring for does not appear to be conforming to the expected social distancing or public health measures. For example, at first glance it may be bewildering to see a parent in a public space with their children or adult children not wearing a mask. For children with SEN, this may be necessary for the child to get a bit of fresh air outside and self-regulate. Nevertheless, it is not rare that caregivers will be misunderstood and perceived as irresponsible or ignorant. There is also the situation where the caregiver could try to repeatedly convince and remind the persons that they are looking out for about the need to stick to COVID-19 measures, but end up having to deal with expressions of frustration and anger due to a lack of wider understanding. It is comprehensible that it is not easy to manage this.
Thankfully, the government and various support groups understand. The enforcement for measures like wearing a mask will be flexible depending on the needs of the people. Moreover, caregivers need not worry about having to struggle to balance all their multiple responsibilities alone. Parents and caregivers of children with SEN can reach out to their child’s school for guidance, help and support anytime. Various government and Social Service Agencies, such as the National Care Helpline, will also be open to offer assistance if needed.
FamilyTutor embraces diversity and believes everyone deserves help and we shouldn’t place judgment without basis. Rather, empathy is the way to go. We hope these families get the help they need and hope everyone stays safe!
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