Early Structured Teaching for Exceptional Pupils
The Perfect Host
Five year-old Theodore Tan breezed into the living room at home, cheerfully greeting his guests before hurrying over to rain hugs and kisses on his two-month old baby sister. Soon after, he served drinks to the guests. Now a confident, charming, and chatty boy, Theodore was non-verbal when he enrolled in Early Structured Teaching for Exceptional Pupils (ESTEP) at Rainbow Centre Early Intervention Programme (Yishun Park) in 2010. Back then, raging tantrums were common whenever his sense of order was disrupted. For example, he liked being the person to operate electric fans and a tantrum would erupt should someone else take over the task. He also used to cry and insist on going to bed whenever there were visitors.
Now, not only are tantrums few and far between, they are shorter when they do occur as Theodore is better able to regulate his emotions. A friendly boy, he now welcomes visitors and asks for his friends to visit.
Early Observation and Intervention
Shortly after Theodore’s first birthday, his mother noticed that he had stopped talking, and hardly made eye contact. His parents lost no time in seeking help and he was diagnosed with mild autism. A few months after he turned two, he was enrolled in ESTEP at Rainbow Centre Early Intervention Programme (Yishun Park) where he attended regular classes and underwent speech therapy and occupational therapy. To the delight of his parents, he started talking half a year later. He now speaks in sentences and is learning to read.
When Theodore first joined Rainbow Centre Early Intervention Programme (Yishun Park), he did not speak and exhibited a lack of focus and eye contact. The group activities in class, however, helped him to develop his language and social skills. Not only was he learning from his teachers and therapists, his development was also supported by his classmates through interactions and peer influence.
He was also given opportunities to raise questions and ideas in class. He shied away from this initially but the teachers prompted and encouraged him. It was not long before he came out of his shell and initiated interaction with others. Ms Ja’izah Embek, EIPIC Manager at Rainbow Centre Early Intervention Programme (Yishun Park) shared, “Recently, I went to Theodore’s class. He was having a one-to-one session with his teacher. Without any prompting, he turned around and greeted me. Nowadays, he often interacts with others and expresses himself without prompting, and takes the initiative to comfort to his classmates when they are upset.”
In addition to patient coaching and guidance from his teachers, classroom strategies such as the use of schedule boards have also helped Theodore with self-regulation, decreasing the incidence of tantrums and moderating their intensity. The schedule boards indicate clearly the activities lined up for the day, and the children remove the relevant tags from the boards as each activity is completed. With this, Theodore is able to pre-empt and look forward to the different activities and situations. His teachers also communicate with him clearly and concisely, using visuals when necessary.
A Supportive Family
Some of the management strategies used in school have also been employed at home. For instance, Theodore’s parents prepare him in advance for imminent changes to his routine or environment. They also ensure that he puts his nose to the grindstone to faithfully complete the home-tasks and assignments set by his teachers, reinforcing what he learns in school.
His mother was hard put to decide which aspect of Theodore’s development she was happiest about. “There are so many!” she exclaimed. Among those that warm her heart the most are his communication skills, the improvement in his understanding of his environment, and his willingness to follow instructions.
The progress Theodore has made is remarkable. Whereas he used to respond with meltdowns whenever there were visitors, he was cheerful and chatty during the interview visit. He was informed in advance about the visit and needed no further persuasion to warm up to us visitors. Happily multi-tasking, he moved effortlessly between playing with his baby sister and chatting with us about his teachers and friends at Rainbow Centre Early Intervention Programme (Yishun Park). When it was time for his sister to take a nap, he whispered for us to speak softly, while he turned down the volume of the television.
At the end of the visit, Theodore shook our hands. After that, he walked us out, called the lift for us, and bade us goodbye as the lift doors closed.