Whether your child has mild learning difficulties or more severe disabilities, there is a wide range of special needs schools in Singapore. Check out our overview of special education options in Singapore.
We frequently sing Singapore’s praises for its world-leading local education system and its topnotch international schools, but one area that often gets short shrift is special education.
Special education and special needs schools are a sector that is quickly evolving; for instance, 2019 will mark the first time that Singaporean students with moderate-to-severe special needs will be required to attend school under the government’s Compulsory Education framework. To that end the Ministry of Education has a network of 19 government-funded special education schools run by 12 social service organisations.
But what about students at the preschool level, or schools for non-Singaporean students? That landscape, too, is constantly changing, with particularly encouraging recent developments in a number of Singapore’s international schools.
Read on for our roundup of special needs schools in Singapore, including a variety of special education preschool programmes catering to students with a range of abilities, from mild academic learning difficulties to severe intellectual and physical disabilities. We strongly suggest checking out Singapore’s Association for Persons with Special Needs (APSN) and the M.O.E.’s Parent’s Guide for Children with Special Education Needs, which answers the question “What does it mean to have special education needs?” with the following points:
- Firstly, s/he has been diagnosed with a disability
- Secondly, s/he shows greater difficulty in learning as compared to the majority of his/her peers of the same age (e.g. difficulties in social, language, academic or physical abilities).
- Thirdly, s/he requires different or additional resources beyond what is generally available for the majority of his/her peers of the same age.
Key Frequently Used Terms:
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA): Commonly practiced as a therapeutic intervention for Autism, ABA is a type of therapy that focuses on improving specific behaviors, such as social skills, communication, reading and academics, as well as adaptive learning skills. (Source)
ASD: Autism Spectrum Disorder (or just Autism), a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication. (Source)
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): A brain disorder marked by an ongoing pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development. (Source)
Early Intervention: In Singapore, Early Intervention programmes are defined as seeking to equip infants and young children with special needs with improved motor, communication, social, self-help and cognitive skills. Early intervention activities are designed to maximise their developmental growth potential and minimise the development of secondary disabilities. (Source)
Inclusive education: This is an educational model or philosophy where special needs students are in the same classroom as non-special-needs (general education) students, with the belief that it fosters understanding and tolerance and better prepares students of all abilities to function in the world beyond school. (Source)
Mainstream school: “Mainstreaming” is the practice of placing students with special education needs in a general education classroom during certain times, based on their skills (while at others placing them in separate special education classes). This is in contrast to “inclusion”. (Source)
Neurotypical: A relatively new term used to describe individuals of “typical” developmental, intellectual and cognitive abilities (in contrast to someone who may be on the Autism spectrum or has other developmental differences characterizing them as “neurodiverse”). (Source)
Occupational Therapists: These specialists can help children achieve developmental milestones such as fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. In a broader sense, occupational therapists work with people to help make every day living easier. (Source)
Shadow teachers: Work directly with a single special needs student in a mainstream or inclusive educational setting, focusing on social development and any particular difficulties that might arise from a child’s specific abilities. (Source)
Speech Therapists: Work with people of all ages with communication or swallowing difficulties, including comprehension and expression, articulation and phonology, fluency, and voice. (Source) Speech therapists can also help kids with other issues with spoken and written language, including dyslexia, dyspraxia, and auditory processing disorder. (Source)
Preschool Programmes & Beyond
With a lovely campus tucked in a quiet, leafy corner of Loewen Gardens, Melbourne Specialist International School (MSIS) provides a nurturing performing and visual arts-inspired curriculum and therapy programmes for children and young adults with special needs from ages 3 to 21. The small, safe family school caters to children with learning disabilities, physical disabilities, vision impairment, hearing impairment, mental health conditions and Autism.
MSIS works from the Victorian F-10 curriculum as a guide to teach students, and provides pre-vocational training in food and beverage employment, along with with individual learning plans for each student. Expert teachers and educational staff are committed to ongoing professional development, ensuring students receive topnotch support at all times.
Melbourne Specialist International School, 75C Loewen Road, Singapore 248853, Tel: (+65) 6634 8891, www.msis.edu.sg
Bright Path is an inclusive preschool for children of differing abilities that offers early intervention and specialised therapies while taking a child-centered approach. Recognising that some kids just learn a little differently, lessons are customised and adapted to each child’s individual needs to help them achieve independence and academic success. Bright Path’s advisory team has decades of experience working with children on their developmental needs. The school also has a bilingual psychologist on staff with more than 10 years of clinical experience in Asia. The school works with occupational therapists, speech and language pathologists, and psychologists to bring out the best in every child.
Bright Path Preschool, 55 Fairways Drive, Singapore 286846, Tel: (+65) 6873 1777, www.brightpath.com.sg
ABC Center is a special needs school that prides itself on providing as comprehensive Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) intervention as any school in Singapore. This clinically proven method of helping children with Autism and other disabilities has been endorsed with the highest level of recommendation from the Singapore Ministry of Health.
ABC is part of the global network of the United States-based Applied Behavior Consultants, Inc., which has served special needs children around the world for over 30 years. ABC is one of the few schools in Singapore with Board Certified Behavior Analysts (whose work has been published in respected clinical journals) on staff to supervise its children’s program. The school also has a dual-level supervision of the children’s program, and also incorporates comprehensive training for all parents.
ABC’s EarlyPreps Pre-School program is open to all Singaporean and PR children from infants up to age 6 who are recommended by their pediatricians to receive early intervention. These students are also able to apply for and receive subsidies.
ABC Center also provides 1-on-1 ABA therapy (both at home and in school, in English and in Mandarin), along with social skills training and an independent living/vocational skills program. The school also provides support for children who attend mainstream schools, both through classroom shadowing and behaviour support programs. Data shows that if intervention is started early, and done well, a “significant number” of students can eventually transition to mainstream school with their same aged peers!
ABC Center Singapore, 318 Tanglin Road, #01-59 Phoenix Park Office Campus, Singapore 247979, Tel: (+65) 9423 6248, www.abccentersingapore.com
Taking a personalised approach to make learning accessible to all children and facilitate their developmental journey, All Hands Together works closely with families to build a supportive partnership that goes beyond learning for children who are differently abled. They believe in looking beyond labels, because every child is differently abled.
The school offers a variety of programmes customised to the specific needs of each child, including a 3-hour early intervention programme to help children achieve their learning, developmental, social and emotional goals, as well as provide school readiness; a home-based support programme personalised to each child’s individual learning style; a life skills programme to equip children with the necessary skills to enhance their quality of life in environments they mind find challenging; and a social smarts programme to help address social learning and social interaction challenges.
Students range from neurotypical children who need a boost in one particular area, to those with severe mental and/or physical disabilities of challenges who have longer term needs. All Hands Together works with children ranging from 18 months to 18 years of age; they accept both Singaporeans/PRs and international students, are are also baby bonus registered.
Qualified teachers undergo extensive internal training, and work alongside a Case Manager who carefully monitors each child’s progress and development to ensure they achieve their goals.
All Hands Together, 5 Stadium Walk, 04-09 Kallang Leisure Park, Singapore 397693, Tel: (+65) 8480 2569, www.allhandstogether.com
Bridge Learning stands out for their highly effective Neuroscience-based, Cross & Non-Categorical approach to specialised early intervention (which contrasts with the more widely practiced, label-centric Categorical approach). De-emphasizing labels and instead choosing to be more child-centric, Bridge Learning offers personalised one-on-one and group intervention programmes to target a diverse range of learning difficulties efficiently and effectively. Using Dynamic Diagnostic Assessment™ (DDA) to identify a child’s strengths and weaknesses that can affect learning, they are able to map out an Individualised Developmental and Progress Profile (IDPP) and also incorporate Bridge NeuroGym™ and Israeli Brain Techniques to improve communication in the brain and boost academic success.
Bridge Learning serves both mainstream and gifted children aged 2.5 to 12 years old who have been diagnosed with (or are suspected to have) hybrid and/or mild learning difficulties and learning disabilities, including ADHD, Asperger Syndrome, Auditory Processing Disorder, Dyslexias, Dyscalculia, Dyspraxia, Dysgraphia, Sensory Motor Integration Dysfunction, and Global Developmental Delay. All of their Early Intervention Specialists possess a diploma or degree along with at least two years’ working experience, and undergo about 200 hours annually of structured and intensive training. In addition to accepting both Singaporean/PRs and non-citizens, Bridge Learning’s Social Enterprise financial subsidies are available for lower-income families.
Bridge Learning, 20 Jurong West Street 93, Jurong West Sports & Recreation Centre #04-05, Singapore 648965, Tel: (+65) 9021 5988, www.bridgelearning.com.sg
Started in 2009 to provide individualised, targeted and intensive educational programmes for children from 18 months to 8 years, EIC caters to children identified with Autism, intellectual disabilities, behavioural challenges and/or developmental delays. The school offers a wide array of services, including a Group Early Intervention Programme, Individual Early Learning Support, Creative Music, Occupational Therapy and Speech Therapy. EIC staff are experienced educators who aim to nurture and provide children with a focused and holistic learning experience. Staff partake in regular relevant trainings to continue their learnings. EIC is able to accept Singaporeans, PRs, and international students.
The Early Intervention Centre, 18 Ah Hood Road, #06-52 Hiap Hoe Building, Singapore 329983, Tel: (+65) 6352 8608, www.eic.sg
The Growing Academy focuses on helping children with special needs meet their development needs and equip them with skills to transit back into a mainstream school. They accept children aged 12 months to 12 years who have been diagnosed with ( are suspected to have) autism, global development delay, Asperger syndrome, cerebral palsy, behavioural and communication and other related learning difficulties. The variety of classes cater to different age groups, starting from Play Group (12 months to 24 months) to the kindergarten programme (2 to 6 years), After School Club (7 to 12 years) and Shadow Support for students in kindergarten and primary schools.
The Growing Academy is the first therapy school in Singapore to introduce childcare and therapy services under one roof, offering personalised attention to cater to the learning pace and ability of each child. The team includes behaviour therapists, teachers specialised in special needs education, an occupational therapist, a physiotherapist, a speech and language pathologist and an associate psychologist. The Growing Academy accepts Singaporeans, PRs and non-Singaporeans.
The Growing Academy, 206 Ponggol Seventeenth Ave Singapore 829680, (+65) 9424 1961/8328 6147, thegrowingacademy.sg
Geared toward children ages 2 to 4, Kaleidoscope’s early intervention preschool programme “Ready Let’s Go” is an intensive therapy programme that focuses on supporting children to develop the skills needed to succeed in preschool. This includes intensive occupational and speech therapy in small group settings.
This fully inclusive preschool accepts children with a range of disabilities, including Autism, Cerebral Palsy, and Global Development Delay. All teachers possess both an education degree and a Masters in Special Education. Therapists also provide regular training on a range of topics including developmental play, sensory integration, and speech and language delay.
Kaleidoscope, 200 Turf Club Road, 07-05/06 The Grandstand, Singapore 287994, Tel: (+65) 6468 8991, www.kaleidoscope.com.sg
An early intervention center with integrated speech and occupational therapy, KidsFirst aims to equip its students with the academic, pragmatic and functional skills needed to enter a mainstream school setting. Taking a transdisciplinary approach allows for a fruitful, comprehensive learning environment, in which goal-directed intervention can help every child reach their full potential.
KidsFirst caters to children with a range of challenges, including Autism, Speech-Language Delay, Developmental Delays, Cerebral Palsy, ADHD, Down Syndrome, Sensory Processing Disorder, and Dyspraxia, among others. Their teaching and support team has over 40 years of experience between them, and all Speech and Occupational Therapists are fully APHC-registered.
KidsFirst, 19 Tanglin Road, Tanglin Shopping Center 05-10-11/33-37, Singapore 247909, Tel: (+65) 9145 2447, www.kidsfirst.co
One of the first special education preschools in Singapore, KidzRock emulates the feel of a mainstream school through both curriculum and schedule, while still incorporating early intervention strategies and individualised support for children with special needs. The school aims to equip preschoolers with school readiness skills whatever their next educational step may be,while focusing on five major domains: cognition, communication, social adaptation, fine motor skills and gross motor skills.
All teachers possess a Bachelor’s or Masters Degree, and have passed the Carolina Curriculum for Preschoolers with Special Needs (CCPSN) before being able to develop lesson plans or assess students. Teachers also attend courses conducted by Autism Resource Centre; KidzRock accepts children with a range of disabilities including Autism, ADHD and Down Syndrome.
KidzRock Preschool, 200 Turf Club Road, #04-11, Singapore 287994, Tel: (+65) 9854 5699, www.kidzrockintl.com
Founded by Finnish educator and occupational therapist Dr Suvi Pitkola to help chidren struggling in mainstream classrooms, Mighty Oaks offers intensive daily 3-hour programs that aim to equip children with the skills they need for mainstream school. Children might typically struggle with attention, language, social interaction, school readiness skills, and academic or pre-academic skills – the premises do not cater to children with physical disabilities, significant behavioral problems, or low IQ.
Working with children aged 3 to 6 years of age, Mighty Oaks is the only program in Singapore fully based on the DIR-Floortime methodology, which strives to understand each child’s developmental profile (“D”), individual strengths and weaknesses in various areas (“I”), and, in contrast to behavioral methods, is relationship-based (“R”). Believing children learn best from adults they have a warm, trusting bond with, Floortime provides a warm and trusting way of interacting with children that takes their developmental profile and individual differences into account.
Children at Mighty Oaks are taught in groups of three, allowing every child to receive plenty of attention from staff and in turn enabling staff – all certified special educators fully trained in the DIR Floortime method – to adapt all lessons to suit children’s needs. The program also incorporates speech therapy, occupational therapy and art therapy. Happily, most students are able to successfully transition back to mainstream school after 6-12 months.
Mighty Oaks, 312A Tanglin Road, #01-02 Phoenix Park Office Campus, Singapore 247982, Tel: (+65) 6736 2663, www.MightyOaksLC.com
An early intervention centre for children with special needs, Nurture Pods offers a suite of services for children and caregivers under the direction of Clinical Director Alex Liau and Centre Director, Soh Yong Hao. Nurture Pods caters to children from 18 months of age up to 12 years old, addressing developmental disabilities and behavioral and communication difficulties, particularly for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD and Global Developmental
Delay (GDD). Specialist approaches include Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention (EIBI) as well as Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and North Carolina TEACCH program, that are recommended by Singapore’s Ministry of Health to support children with ASD. They also include other intervention approaches depending on the child’s needs.
Nurture Pods aims to help children develop social, academic, communication, compliance and daily living skills. They provide home-based ABA therapy, Early Intervention Program at their centre, Social Skills Class and School Shadow Support Program.
Nurture Pods has also launched the world’s first professional school shadow certification (awarded by London Teacher Training College, UK) that teaches learners how to integrate children with special needs into mainstream schools.
Nurture Pods, #05-14/15 Novena Specialist Centre, 8 Sinaran Drive, Singapore 307470, Tel: (+65) 6352 5938, www.nurturepods.com
Dyslexia Association of Singapore
Dyslexia Association of Singapore’s Preschool Intervention Programme meets once a week for 2 hours. Children are taught in small groups by a trained special needs educator who is especially focused to prepare children for primary school, both academically and socially. DAS’s Main Literacy Programme is a group class for children who are diagnosed with dyslexia that also meets twice a week. (Note: a formal educational psychological assessment with a dyslexia diagnosis is required for admission to the program). This group class works on language and vocabulary, phonics, morphology, grammar, writing and reading comprehension. Rates are available online here. DAS also offers 1 to 1 tutors capable of creating custom lesson plans for individual children, as well as assessment services to confirm whether a dyslexia diagnosis. Dyslexia Association Singapore is a registered charity, and is able to support students with dyslexia and other specific learning differences from low-income families get the help and support they need.
Genesis School for Special Education
Genesis provides a “whole child centered, family oriented education” to children with special learning needs who are diagnosed within the normal IQ range and above. Serving children from age 2.5 up through adulthood, the school takes a multi-faceted approach to learning, focusing on areas such as Social Emotional Development, Fine/Gross Motor Skills, Cognitive/Academic Skills and more. There’s a great emphasis on TEAM and working in concert with teachers, therapists, parents, students and the principal.
Genesis School for Special Education, 9/11 West Coast Road, Singapore 127296, Tel: (+65) 6733 1172, www.genesisschool.com.sg
Rosebrook Development Centre
Tucked into a lush and quiet corner of Turf Club road amongst horses and rolling meadows, Rosebrook is an inclusive, play-based center for preschool-aged children of all abilities. Rosebrook utilises the Heartworks in Motion curriculum, which takes a holistic, integrated approach and is designed to support gaps in a child’s development while also identifying their unique sensory processing profile and deficits. The result is a school with semi-structured, but playful and “child-inspired” interactions that helps the children make cognitive connections and develop emotionally and socially. Outdoor play is also a huge point of focus, whether kiddos are bouncing on the big trampoline, learning about frogs, or looking after the horses in the stable next door (learning important lessons about empathy, how to listen and take instructions, and how to be gentle in the process!).
Rosebrook Development Centre, 104 Turf Club Road, Singapore 287997, http://www.facebook.com/Rosebrook-Developmental-Centre
This super popular preschool near Tanglin Road caters to children of all abilities, but does offer specialized early intervention services in both an individual and group setting. First Starts is a specialized preschool program for children with learning needs that features a low (1:3) teacher student ratio. Individual Therapy sessions help children with clinical diagnoses such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD, Developmental Dyspraxia, and Developmental Delay and revolve around an Individualised Education Plan to meet a child’s most urgent learning requirements. Group Therapy sessions, meanwhile, provide learning opportunities for children in a more naturalistic setting, whether focusing on language and linguistic concepts in “Time to Talk”, boosting Social Skills through play, movement, and group games, or pairing up with neurotypical buddies in the Kidz Club playgroup to develop and enhance perspective-taking abilities and Theory of Mind.
Wee Care, 56 Tanglin Road, #02-03 Tanglin Post Office, Singapore 247964, Tel: (+65) 6836 1450, www.weecare.com.sg
Parents rave about Dover’s “Learning Pathway” programme, which starts in Nursery at age 3 and continues all the way up through age 18 and allows for both integration and twinning with mainstream classes. While Dover closely follows the English National Curriculum, it also has appropriate adaptions made to meet the needs of each individual student. Dover Court also offers personalised routes for students unable to meet expected outcomes for the GCSE and IBDP, in which students either sit fewer exams, or follow routes that focus on English, maths, life skills and employability through the ASDAN Curriculum.
Dover Court also offers a number of on site specialists, include teachers specialised in special needs education, an Occupational Therapist, an Educational Psychologist, a Physiotherapist, and Speech and Language Therapists. The school even has specialist suites, a sensory room, and a sensory garden.
Dover Court International School, 301 Dover Road, Singapore 139644, Tel: (+65) 6775 7664, www.dovercourt.edu.sg
Built on the principle that every child is capable of success, Integrated International School (IIS) takes a two-pronged approach to education, catering to both mainstream students who benefit from its diverse, supportive environment, and to mainstream students with individualised needs who also benefit from additional resources and in-house support. IIS is one of only two international schools in Singapore that caters to both mainstream students and students who need a more supportive approach; in both cases students are taught the Australian Curriculum in a highly inclusive environment. There’s a real emphasis on self-belief, confidence, individuality and, above all else, happiness (how refreshing!). Beyond its low student-teacher ratio (just 6:1), IIS has a dedicated in-house support staff that provides counselling, speech and Naturalistic Applied Behavior (ABA) therapy sessions. It also works closely with external support services such as speech and occupational therapists. This dynamic and unique collaboration between teachers and support staff enable students to attend therapy sessions or receive counselling during school hours, meaning that after school they have more time to just be kids!
And then there are the unique, purpose-built facilities! IIS is one of the first international schools in Singapore to offer a multi-sensory Ocean Snoezelen room, which features mezmerizing bubble tubes, interactive infinity panels, a colour fibre optic “waterfall” and carpet, a solar projector, tactile sea life toys, and soft textured flooring. It’s a popular place for meditation, imaginative play, group therapy and yoga. Another hotspot is IIS’s Occupational Therapy Gym, which features bright, colourful swings, cosy hammocks, climbing ladders and a slide, all with an eye toward improving gross and fine motor skills as well as enhancing students’ confidence as they learn through play.
Integrated International School, #01-01 Clementi Arcade, 41 Sunset Way, Singapore 597071, Tel: (+65) 6466 4475, www.iis.edu.sg
Widely praised by parents for its personalised learning approach, Singapore American School aims to give every student full access to whatever academic and social support they need to succeed. In addition to fully accessible classrooms, SAS also provides learning support teachers, counselors and speech language pathologists who collaborate daily to meet the needs of every student across the school, from Preschool through Grade 12.
While the majority of extra support is provided on campus, SAS does partner on an individual basis with extra support providers, such as occupational therapists, to ensure students receive any resources not already available on campus. Teams regularly work in collaboration to review student progress via classroom assessments and standardized assessments, as well as observational data. SAS also has four licensed school psychologists to ensure that all student learning needs are met.
Singapore American School, 40 Woodlands Street 41, Singapore 738547, Tel: (+65) 6363 3403, www.sas.edu.sg
The Winstedt School
This small and diverse (28 countries represented!) international school catering to students aged 4 to 16 offers integrated learning support through a specialised and dedicated community of teachers, therapists and counsellors. Core beliefs include no two brains are alike and there are many paths to successful learning. The Winstedt School’s ultimate mission is to “redefine the possibilities of education for those who learn differently”.
The Winstedt School, 1208 Upper Boon Keng Road, Singapore 387312, Tel: (+65) 6715 5373, www.winstedt.edu.sg
Lead image courtesy of Melbourne Specialist International School