Singapore

Books launched to aid integration of kids with special needs

For more than a year, Hoon Shu Yen and Nur Marsha Danisha have been spending their Monday afternoons poring over books in the library of Fernvale Primary School.

Shu Yen, however, is a pupil at the adjacent Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (Minds) Fernvale Gardens School.

But as a result of a weekly, 45-minute joint reading programme started in 2017, both 11-year-old girls have become friends.

The two schools are unique in Singapore in that they are linked by a "Friendship Gate" to encourage interaction between their pupils.

Said Nur Marsha, who is in Primary 6: "I joined because I wanted to help them read confidently and make them happy."

To promote greater integration islandwide, Minds launched the first in a series of six illustrated children's books yesterday.

The first, titled Not So Scary After All, explores how a boy with special needs overcomes his fear of dogs with the help of those around him.

In line with the plot, therapy dogs were taken to Fernvale Gardens School for pupils from both schools to play with.

The principal of Fernvale Gardens, Mr Gerard Vaz, said it was vital for children to be introduced to individuals with special needs from an early age.

He added: "They haven't begun to form any preconceived notions and ideas about what special needs individuals are like. It is the perfect time to plant the seeds and show there is a lot of commonalities between them and people with special needs.

"The very theme of the book is to show that special needs students are no different."

Local author Lianne Ong wrote the collection, with the remaining five to be released this year. Each book will have about 3,000 copies.

Minds has sent copies of the first volume to its 16 mainstream primary and secondary school partners, which will include it in their curriculum and stock them in their libraries.

The books will also be given to the 900 pupils at all four Minds schools in Singapore.

Madam Balakrishna Vyjanthimala, principal of Fernvale Primary, said: "Our children have gained confidence through the reading programme. They learnt to be patient because they get to understand that the mannerisms of the children from Fernvale Gardens are different.

"They learnt to respect somebody who is different from them and, above all, gain empathy."

Education