Headstart for Life

Early Intervention for Children with Special Needs

Parents of today have high expectations and dreams of what they want for their children’s future. They want the best for their children and would enrol them in preschool programmes and enrichment classes to give them an early head start in their development and potential. However, children with developmental issues will need more help and support and should receive appropriate early intervention services where applicable and possible.

Most parents would become concerned when their child appears not to follow a normal pattern of development or showing abnormal behaviour. Unfortunately, there are some who ignore these red flags despite obvious concerns that have been observed or communicated to them.

Why Early Intervention

When a child has been identified for professional assessment of his or her developmental issues or diagnosed of a developmental disability, this is a crucial stage for the young child to have access to appropriate early intervention. However, this is also a phase when parents go through a process of adjustments such as coming to terms with the diagnosis and family.

My professional experience with children with special needs has shown the merits of early intervention. Also, research has shown that the rate of learning and development is most rapid in the first five years of life. This is when the child is most receptive to learning. Potential inappropriate behaviour that may impede the child’s learning can also be addressed more effectively at this phase.


When prompt and appropriate early intervention is provided to a child diagnosed with a developmental disability, the intervention by trained professionals can help to:

  • Enhance the child in his/her developmental milestones and potential.
  • Reduce the effects of the disability and prevent the development of secondary disabilities or other problems.
  • Provide family support and training to maximise their child’s potential and support in their journey of having a child with special needs.

Factors Influencing the Success of Early Intervention

There are many factors that influence the success of early intervention.

  • The age of the child at the time of intervention. The sooner the start of the intervention, the greater the benefits for the child and the family. Therefore, it is important for parents not to delay the process of diagnosis. Once the diagnosis is confirmed, start to explore appropriate early intervention services for their child.
  • Parental involvement is crucial as it increases the chances of success with better prognosis and learning outcomes for their child. Put aside quality time and be positively involved with their child’s intervention programme at home to ensure consistency with the centre’s strategies and goals set for him or her. Grandparents and domestic helpers can never replace the role and responsibilities of parents in this aspect.

Parents who are involved in their child’s intervention and education can also extend the experiences of their child in the classroom to activities that happen in the home. Those who know and understand what their child is doing in the classroom are in a much better position to help and support their child in their intervention and this will no doubt provide consistency in the intervention strategies between home and the centre. Parents will also have a better sense of their child’s competency and potential and areas they need to work on to improve their child’s progress and develop potential. This connection is a key component of their child’s development and supporting further learning.

  • Collaboration with Professionals. Studies have shown positive effects of parental involvement in their children’s development when professionals and parents continuously support and encourage their children’s learning and development.  The role of early interventionists and allied health professionals has evolved with increasing significance in their collaboration with parents in particular those whose children have learning difficulties.  It is therefore important that true partnership exists between parents and professionals in the intervention and education of children wherever possible. 

One of the most difficult challenges for professionals is figuring out how to better engage parents in their child’s learning. Establish rapport and good lines of communication with parents, as well as making a conscious and consistent effort to involve parents as an important partner in their child’s education, will no doubt make a positive impact on the child’s progress and development.


0S2A2769Collaboration between parent and professionals.

  • Early Intervention is a Process and there are no quick fixes or short cuts to treating a child’s special needs or behavioural issues. The duration and intensity of the intervention also depend on the severity of the child’s developmental and/or behavioural issues.
  • A Structured Intervention Model that provides a holistic approach with appropriate assessment, intervention and evaluation strategies at the right intensity in the developmental domains of cognition, gross motor, fine motor, communication, social and emotion by teachers and allied health professionals.
  • Trained and Committed Professionals who have a passion and aptitude to make a great difference.

How About Mainstream School?

In Singapore, there are currently several options for children with identified special needs to access to early intervention programmes and therapy interventions. We have seen success in many cases with a number of them eventually transiting to the mainstream education system. However, this does NOT suggest that the mainstream education system is suitable for every child with special needs.

It is not uncommon to hear parents wanting their child to move on to a mainstream school system. While this is understandable, it is necessary for parents to understand and accept their child’s learning difficulties as well as the reality of the mainstream education system, and to continue to work with the professionals to provide the best possible intervention and education to meet their child’s unique special needs to develop his or her potential. It is important for the child to be happy and experience success, acceptance and support in his or her learning journey.

"All the information on this site is for educational purposes only and does not replace the assessment and intervention of a registered speech-language pathologist, occupational therapist or any other medical or education professional."

About Mrs June Tham

Mrs June Tham-Toh Syn Yuen was the Executive Director of Rainbow Centre before retiring in 2014. She holds a Master of Education, Diploma in Management Studies, Certification of Achievement in Outcome Management: Train-The-Trainer, Early Childhood Intervention, Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication Handicapped Children (TEACCH) and Advanced Certification in Training and Assessment (ACTA). In July 2008, she was awarded the inaugural Singapore Totalisator Board overseas scholarship to attend the Strategic Perspectives in Non-Profit Management Course at the Harvard Business School, Harvard University in Boston, USA. Mrs Tham has devoted her career of 33 years in the special needs sector working with professionals and caregivers of children with special needs, and collaborating with the Government, partners in the private and social service sectors to develop and setting up initiatives to improve services and programmes. She has played a significant role in the formation of Rainbow Centre and was instrumental in setting a benchmark for purpose-built facilities for early intervention and special education programmes. A strong advocate and firm believer for professional development and support for caregivers, she established a training and consultancy arm in Rainbow Centre to promote awareness and professional competency in the sector for caregivers and professionals in early childhood and special education. Besides having extensive experience and knowledge in the governance of VWOs in the social service sector, Mrs Tham has co-authored and co-edited three editions of ‘Rainbow Dreams’, a publication covering the development of special Education in Singapore, symptoms, special conditions, treatment programmes and coping and adjustment issues on special needs, and a children’s picture book ‘Kevin’s World’ on autism. Committed towards championing the cause of the disadvantaged, Mrs Tham has been serving as a Panel Advisor to the Juvenile and Family Court since 2003. She received the prestigious “Friend of Ministry of Community, Youth and Sports (MCYS) 2008 Award” in recognition for her firm support and relentless contributions to the rehabilitation of juveniles, especially those with special needs, and contributions to the social service sector. In 2015, she was accorded recognition as a Pioneer Special Education Principal by the Ministry of Education for her leadership and contributions to the development of special education in Singapore. She has also served on various committees related to special needs. Mrs Tham has also been invited to train and speak at local and regional platforms on special needs. Since her retirement, she has taken on appointments as Associate Lecturer/trainer on courses with Social Service Institute and other tertiary institutions, as well as continuing in her voluntary work, among which, as a member of the Panel of Advisors with the Family & Youth Court, Board of Visitors appointed under Section 35 of the Mental Capacity Act and Chairing the Pilot Intergenerational Mentoring Programme with the Centre of Seniors and ACE Seniors Pte Ltd.

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