SEND Insights: Early Diagnosis Means Early Intervention

Written by on June 6, 2024

The sooner special education needs or disabilities are identified, the sooner children will be able to receive treatment and an education that caters to their individual learning needs. Keon Cheong, Assistant Chief Education Officer with responsibility for Special Education Needs (ACEO-SEN) explains that “with early diagnosis comes early intervention which can mitigate the challenges, symptoms and conditions of the individual.” Hence, the Special Education Needs and Disabilities (SEND) sector advocates for early screening and diagnosis.

Enrolment in Nursery school plays a key role in identifying SEND as this is typically when screening begins. Upon entry into Nursery School, the Ministry of Health tests the learners’ vision and their hearing and conducts other assessments which are part of the screening process. Then, in Nursery Year Two, after having monitored them in Year One, the learners are further assessed, using the Ministry of Education’s screening and intervention packets. These packets provide teachers with the resources to conduct a basic assessment of their students in 15-30 minutes. They also offer teaching strategies which the teachers can employ to address their learners’ needs.

Depending on the findings from the basic assessment and how the learners respond to the recommended interventions, the school will determine whether to refer the learner to the Regional SEND Diagnostic and Treatment Centre. The Centre will conduct a comprehensive evaluation in order to understand the learner’s attention span, IQ and their academic performance in comparison to that of their peers. As a result, the diagnostic process takes time. According to the ACEO-SEN, “It’s not an open and shut case. You can’t come to the Centre and get the result by the ending of tomorrow.” Cheong further explained that some learners can spend as many as 8 weeks under observation at the Centre before the diagnostic process can even begin.

After a diagnosis of the learner’s condition and the degree to which it affects them, the Centre will decide whether they need to be placed in a special school, in a mainstream school or whether a combination of both learning environments would be most conducive for them. The goal of the diagnostic process is not to simply relegate every student with a special education need or disability to a special needs facility, but to thoroughly understand how to effectively address their needs. Hence, learners who are mildly affected remain within the mainstream setting while only learners with moderate to profound learning difficulties or disabilities are placed in special schools. Moreover, mainstream schools will soon be outfitted with Special Units to improve the delivery of education to students with mild learning needs.

Learn more about the Special Units and other SEND spaces here: (A Closer Look at the Special Education Needs Sector)

While the diagnostic process is conducted by SEND personnel, parents also play a critical role in helping to identify learning difficulties and disabilities earlier in life. Cheong encourages parents to observe their children closely and to seek guidance from the Diagnostic and Treatment Centre when necessary. “Understand your child’s needs. Ask as many questions as possible. Be the biggest advocate for your child. Work with other professionals to support your child,” Cheong advised.

– Written by Carlene Samuel



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