How can I tell if my child has special needs?

classroom  Health  holistic  parents  Schools  teachers 
Posted 10 months ago

Globally, the growth in the number of children with special needs is increasing. In Singapore (where data was available), the number of pre-schoolers (0 to 6 years old) that have been diagnosed with developmental issues per year, have risen sharply. From 2010 to 2014, the number of newly diagnosed cases have increased from 2,500 per year to 4,400 per year, which translates to a 76% increase.  In this blog, the team at Kinderful explains the why, what and how on this topic, so that parents more prepared if the need arises to assess your child’s development.

A special needs child is a one who needs extra help because of a medical, emotional, or learning problem, for example physical disabilities, medical conditions, intellectual difficulties, or emotional problems, including deafness, blindness, dyslexia, learning difficulties, and behavioural problems.

In Singapore, the most common conditions are development delays, speech and language delays, learning difficulties and autism spectrum disorders (ASD). According to NUH and KKH, children with ASD make up about 20 – 25% of the cohort. Globally, the number of ASD cases have been on the rise, with 1 out of 160 children reported to have ASD. Singapore stands at 1 out of 150 children, according to the article in TODAY.

The Singapore government have stepped up efforts to provide support for children with mild learning disabilities at the pre-school level. The expansion of the Development Support Programme to 30 more pre-schools will allow more children with learning difficulties to benefit from therapy intervention and be better prepared for mainstream primary school.

Why has the number of cases increase significantly? 

  1. Greater awareness and availability of information on the varying severities of autism. In the past, medical professionals diagnosed only the most serious cases of autism. But since the early 1990s, medical professionals understood that this condition has a wide spectrum of severity
  2. Improvement in diagnostic tools that enables early screening for babies hearing and visual problems at birth
  3. Increase in the screening frequency for children below 7 years old
  4. Occurs more frequently amount children of parents that are older. E.g older mothers have higher risk of medical problems during their pregnancy such as premature births, which often face a higher risk of development problems

What signs of behaviour should parents look out for? 

Children vary a great deal in what they learn to do and when they learn. Below are some guidelines to follow when observing your child. If you notice some of these behaviour consistently, you may want to contact or have your child screened (available at, NUH and KKH).

For more options on schools that can support or screen children with special needs, please click here ‘Kinderful’s list of schools that cater to special needs‘.

GENERAL BEHAVIOURS: Some behaviours may be cause for concern, or they may just be part of the child’s temperament or personality, so observe these behaviours  with that in mind. • By six months, avoids being held or talked to or resists being soothed or comforted. • Does not pay attention or stay focused on an activity for as long as other children of the same age do. • Avoids or rarely makes eye contact with others. • Gets unusually frustrated when trying to do simple tasks that most children of the same age can do. • Often acts out or appears to be very stubborn or aggressive. • Acts extremely shy or withdrawn. • Tends to break things a lot. • Displays violent behaviour • Stares into space, rocks body, or talks to self more often than other children of the same age. • Often bangs head against an object, floor or wall. • Does not recognize dangerous situations, such as walking in traffic or jumping from high places. • Tends to be sick often, or complains of headaches or stomachaches. • Has problems, sleeping, eating, or toileting. • Is overly impulsive, active, or distractible. • Does not respond to discipline as well as other children of the same age. • Has difficulty putting thoughts, actions, and movements together.

VISION • Rubs eyes frequently. • Seems to have trouble following people or objects with eyes. • Has reddened, watering or crusty eyelids. • Holds head in a strained or awkward position, tilting it one side or the other, or forward or backward, when looking at an object. • Has trouble focusing or making eye contact. • Seems to have trouble finding or picking up small objects from floor. • Closes one eye when looking at distant objects.

THINKING • By age one, does not respond to faces and objects, or does not recognize familiar people. • By age two, does not identify simple body parts by pointing, does not match similar objects, or recognize self in a mirror. Cannot say simple words and name familiar objects. • By age three, cannot follow simple directions and commands. Does not imitate adults • By age three, does not begin to participate in creative processes; drawing, blocks, or play dough. Cannot match colors and shapes and complete simple puzzles. Unable to pretend or make-believe play. 5 • By age four, does not give correct answers to questions, such as; what do you do when you’re sleepy/hungry? Does not have an active imagination, cannot sit through a short story. • By age four, cannot tell the difference between different shapes and colors, does not pretend to read books. • By age five to six, does not understand the concepts of today, tomorrow or yesterday. Cannot follow multiple directions. Cannot sort and match according to different qualities (e.g. shape, color, size). Cannot name shapes, colors and some letters. • By age five to six, cannot recite 1-10, the child does not understand that numbers represent quantity (e.g. can get three apples, can put one napkin for each child) The child cannot stay with or complete tasks (e.g. finish a puzzle, draw a picture related to a story).

MOVING • Has stiff arms or legs. • Has floppy or limp body posture. • By three to six months does not have good control of head, arms, and legs. Does not explore fingers and objects with mouth and has not developed the ability to focus eyes on an object. • By one year has not crawled, sat up, picked up objects with thumb and first finger, or stood with support. • By two years has not walked or has difficulty walking without help. Cannot kick a large ball or does not need to release energy and use physical skills. Cannot use crayons, spoons or cups. 6 • By age three does not walk up or down stairs, frequently falls when running, and cannot turn pages of a book. Does not draw lines and simple shapes, is not active or does not test physical limits. • By age four, has difficulty with such activities as standing on one foot, jumping from a bottom step, peddling a tricycle, catching a large bounced ball, closing a fist, or wiggling a thumb. Cannot kick a ball forward, throw ball overhand, or walk backward. • By age five, has difficulty skipping using alternate feet, pumping self on a swing, or cutting with scissors. Cannot string medium size beads. Cannot get dressed with minimal help.

Ending on a positive and hopeful note…..

Some of the biggest names in movies, science, art and music have struggled in school with learning and attention issues but they found their passion and overcame their challenges.

  • Albert Einstein (Autism)
  • Amadeus Mozart (Autism)
  • Sir Isaac Newton (Autism)
  • Charles Darwin (Autism)
  • Thomas Jefferson (Autism)
  • Michelangelo (Autism)
  • Richard Branson (Dyslexia)
  • Daniel Radcliffe (dyspraxia)
  • Steven Spielberg (dyslexia)
  • Justin Timberlake (ADHD)
  • Michael Phelps (ADHD)
  • Keira Knightley (dyslexia)


Kinderful Team


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