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Programme lauded for helping special-needs children improve skills

SINGAPORE — Getting a child toilet-trained may not be a big deal for many parents, but for Madam Belinda Lam, it is cause for celebration, having seen her four-year-old daughter achieve the milestone only last month.

Programme lauded for helping special-needs children improve skills

A screengrab from the Echo Framework website.

SINGAPORE — Getting a child toilet-trained may not be a big deal for many parents, but for Madam Belinda Lam, it is cause for celebration, having seen her four-year-old daughter achieve the milestone only last month.

And Mdm Lam has Echo, a new early childhood intervention programme, to thank for helping her daughter, who is suspected of having global developmental delay, to progress from wearing diapers to panties.

Through the Echo framework, her daughter learnt that it is wrong to pee on the floor, and how to sit on the toilet bowl. Mdm Lam, 42, is also taught how to conduct basic therapy for her special-needs child at home.

Mdm Lam’s daughter is among the 500 special-needs children who have benefited from Echo, since the S$2.2 million pilot programme was launched in January last year for children up to six years old.

Most of its young participants — 60 per cent of whom are set to enter mainstream schools — have learnt how to build positive social relationships and have shown better self-help behaviour, thus enabling them to integrate better into society.

With the pilot’s success, all children enrolled in any of Thye Hua Kwan Moral Charities’ (THKMC) four Early Intervention Programme for Infants and Children (EIPIC) centres — which have a waiting list for as long as 18 months — will now come under Echo.

Commissioned by the Lien Foundation and spearheaded by KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH) and THKMC, Echo focuses on achieving functional improvements in the daily lives of the children from as young as six months old.

The programme starts with a three-month initiation period, which includes home visits and a two-hour interview where families share their challenges and priorities for their child. Social workers and professionals will then set goals and formulate strategies for the child in the home and community setting, which are to be followed through for a year.

THKMC describes Echo as an “improvement in software” to the EIPIC programme, which was established in 2003 using a framework that measures skills or behaviours in isolation, such as only in classroom and therapy settings.

Under the Echo framework, instead of only being told that their child lacks the fine motor skill of a pincer grasp, for example, parents will also learn that they can encourage their child to use fingers to feed themselves when given cereals or raisins during snack time.

The “natural daily routines” would provide for more opportunities, practice and improvement, said Dr Lim Hong Huay, consultant at the Department of Child Development in KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital.

To cater to parents who are still waiting in queue for a place, Dr Lim said the Echo framework is available as a resource online, in the form of a parents’ toolkit, to encourage parental involvement.

A mother of a developmentally slow four-year-old boy, who wanted to be known only as Madam Lina, started using Echo in March this year.

She said: “We began to understand what triggers him to throw tantrums — slow transitions between activities, for example — and would prompt him in advance.”

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