Parents of children with special education needs may have trouble finding quality resources in Beijing due to a dearth of facilities and experienced therapists and teachers. “Special education needs” (often abbreviated as SEN) are defined as medical, developmental, or behavioral challenges. This includes children who are gifted or talented and need extra attention to realize their full potential at school.
In China, support for children with special education needs is sorely lacking in local schools. However, expat children have access to a small number of centers offering specialized day programs and one-on-one therapy. In addition, some international schools can accept students with mild special learning needs. During the admissions process, the school will determine whether it can accommodate the child through a series of assessments and meetings with the parents.
We spoke to an international school, Beijing Collegiate Academy (BCA), and Eliott’s Corner, a pediatric therapy center, to find out more about SEN resources.
Parents of children with medical conditions such as diabetes, food allergies, and asthma must share this information with the school. Most schools have a dedicated nurse who keeps a list of students with medical conditions requiring special management. Teachers are usually trained to give first aid for emergency situations like an asthma attack, allergic reaction, or diabetic attack. Some schools ban foods like peanuts for the safety of all students. At some institutions, violation of the policy can result in suspension.
Children with developmental challenges have pervasive developmental disorders (PDDs). PDDs refer to a group of conditions that cause delays in basic skills like socialization and communication. These include Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, and Rett syndrome.
There is no cure for these disorders, but early diagnosis and intervention are crucial to the child’s healthy development. In Beijing, expat children with acute ASD can attend Side by Side’s English-language day program. There’s also a non-profit local school called Stars and Rain (see Resources box for details), but programs are offered in Chinese only.
Other developmental challenges include learning disabilities, which refers to a group of disorders in which the child experiences the inadequate development of specific academic, language, and/or speech skills. Dyslexia (reading impairment), dyscalculia (mathematics impairment), and dysgraphia (writing impairment) are types of learning disabilities. Also, developmental coordination disorder (DCD) – commonly referred to as dyspraxia – is a disorder that affects movement, coordination, judgment, processing and memory. There are cognitive developmental delays where the child’s ability to keep up in class is impaired.
Beijing Collegiate Academy (BCA) accommodates students with special needs despite not having a dedicated special education needs (SEN) unit. There’s currently one child with cognitive developmental delays enrolled; Principal Doreen Graham oversees support for this student.
When she joined BCA in 2013, she immediately sought to establish an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for the student. The IEP is a personalized, objective-based document designed to help a child reach their educational goals. It details the student’s academic performance, annual goals, special education needs, required accommodations, observations from parents, teachers and others closely involved with the child’s education, and an educational program required to meet their unique needs. In short, it describes how the student learns, their learning strengths and weaknesses, and how the school plans to help the child learn more effectively.
The IEP requires the child’s teacher, principal, parents, and psychologist or therapist to sit down together and discuss the student’s learning and development. The general process goes something like this:
1. The teacher identifies the child as possibly having special education needs through class observations and reports.
2. The child is evaluated through assessments by the psychologist or therapist.
3. If the child is found to require special needs support, a meeting is scheduled with parents, teacher, and psychologist or therapist to discuss the IEP.
4. After the meeting, a copy of the IEP is given to each party.
5. Support services such as an additional teaching assistant, ayi, or teacher are assigned.
6. The child’s progress is measured and communicated to parents.
7. The IEP is reviewed at the beginning and midpoint of the academic year.
8. The child is re-evaluated at the end of the academic year.
9. A new IEP is drawn up at the start of the next academic year.
Smaller schools such as BCA don’t typically retain the services of a clinical psychologist or therapist. Luckily, these services are available from Eliott’s Corner, a specialized center that works closely with many international schools in Beijing and Tianjin. Their clients include the International School of Beijing (ISB), the British School of Beijing (BSB), Beijing City International School (BCIS), Dulwich College Beijing (DCB), and the Western Academy of Beijing (WAB).
UK native Jacqueline Chen founded Eliott’s Corner in June 2011 and named it after her son, who was born with cerebral palsy. Eliott’s Corner offers speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and psychology services.
Eliott’s Corner partners with schools for in-depth assessments and to devise an IEP. Most of their referrals come from hospitals and schools; sometimes, parents simply show up. General Manager John Giszack says the center sees nearly 100 children per month. “Our staff goes to the schools and conducts either push-in or pull-out inventions depending on the IEP,” he says.
“Pull-out therapy” means taking a child out of class to work on their special education needs. Push-in, on the other hand, means the therapist goes into the child’s classroom to work with them. These models of intervention are often used for students with speech and language difficulties. Typically, children who are non-native English speakers work instead with an English as an Additional Language (EAL) tutor on language acquisition.
Students – especially teens – with extreme behavioral problems like oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), conduct disorder (CD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, depression, anxiety disorders, and bipolar disorder must be evaluated by either a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist. These conditions can manifest as hostile behavior, aggression toward others, refusal to follow rules, anger lasting for at least six months, not being able to sit still for the duration of the class, and inability to deal with stress.
There are a number of treatment options ranging from behavioral therapy to medication. At Eliott’s Corner, clinical psychologists often treat behavioral disorders through in-person talk therapy with older children and play therapy with younger children. Medication can only be prescribed by a psychiatrist.
Depending on the severity of the case, schools may accept kids with special education needs on a case-by-case basis. In order to give the child the best support possible, the learning support unit or admissions team as well as the head of school usually make a recommendation based on currently available resources.
Gifted and Talented
Children who are academically gifted or talented in areas like music or art are also considered to have special educational needs. “We have a child – not tested yet – who is gifted. The child’s reading skills are way above the age peers,” says Principal Graham from BCA.
For such students, the process of coming up with an IEP is the same. The difference is that a gifted or talented child is given an extra project, which is used to measure their progress. An IQ test is usually recommended to determine whether a child is gifted.
In general, class disruptions may indicate a behavioral disorder or a gifted or talented child. Schools may decide to put the child in a higher grade with consent from the parents. However, there’s the possibility of adjustment issues since the child’s emotional development will be below that of their peers’ in the higher grade.
Special Education Network in Beijing (SENIB)
SENIB is the local chapter of the Special Education Network in Asia (SENIA). SENIB was started in 2009 by a group of international school teachers following the seventh SENIA conference. ISB, BSB, BCIS, DCB, WAB, Springboard International Bilingual School, Yew Chung International School of Beijing, Beijing International Bilingual Academy, the French International School of Beijing (LFIP), Tsinghua International School, International Montessori School of Beijing, Harrow International School Beijing, Beijing BSS International School, Side by Side, Rainbow Consulting Services, Eliott’s Corner, and Little Flower Projects. The network aims to hold a conference every year to provide its members with information or professional development opportunities related to special needs education.
Unfortunately, a specialized English-language school for kids with special needs, Care for Children Special Needs School, closed in June of 2012. However, a small school called Side by Side continues to provide support for special needs and learning difficulties through its day program. The staff is made up of qualified, English-speaking teachers, with the option to take music therapy in German. Side by Side works with schools, parents, and community groups to provide academic and emotional support, coaching, and advocacy.
Founded in 1993, Stars and Rain is a school dedicated to helping Chinese autistic children. The NGO focuses on educating parents, not children, through a 12-week live-in course. The program targets parents of children aged 3-12 and uses Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) techniques. However, the program is only in Chinese.
Families must usually pay for services out-of-pocket, as most insurance plans don’t cover special education needs. Assessments can cost between RMB 1,000 and 2,000. Some families choose to homeschool, an option available to expats since PRC law doesn’t make it mandatory for foreign kids to attend day school. Eliott’s Corner maintains a fund to help families in financial need open to donations from the wider community. Stars and Rain uses a similar approach and cooperates with corporate sponsors to raise money for the running of the school.
Eliott’s Corner 胡宝小屋
Rm 1905, Bldg 2, Kandu International, 10 Dongsihuan Beilu, Chaoyang District (6461 6283, firstname.lastname@example.org) www.oliviasplace.org 朝阳区东四环北路10号瞰都国际公寓2号楼1905
Side by Side
Capital Paradise 3336, Shunyi District (8046 3858, email@example.com) www.sidebysidebeijing.com 顺义区后沙浴名都园3336
Stars and Rain 北京星星雨教育研究所
Bldg 4170, 18 Shuangqiao Donglu, Chaoyang District (8537 3236, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com) www.autismchina.org 朝阳区双桥东路18号院4170号
Special Needs Education in Beijing Network (SENIB)
Rainbow Consulting Services 敏思教育咨询
This consultancy offers assessments, education programs for ages 3-18, training, and outreach. It uses the Rainbow Model (TRM) designed for individuals with autism and developmental challenges. Rm 2003, Bldg 5, Jianwai SOHO, 39 Dongsanhuan Zhonglu, Chaoyang District (5900 5392/3, firstname.lastname@example.org) www.therainbowmodel.com 朝阳区东三环中路39号 建外SOHO 5号楼2003室
About the Illustrator
Seventeen-year-old Soobin Moon (from South Korea) is a Year 12 student at Dulwich College Beijing. Her favorite media to work with are markers (especially black Sharpies) and acrylic on smooth surfaces. She also likes digital media; her main tool is Photoshop. Soobin aims to create aesthetic pleasure through a variety of lines and tones.
How Can I Tell If My Child Has Special Education Needs?
If you suspect your child has special education needs, be sure to share your concerns with their teacher, school counselor, or a health professional. Here’s a partial list of signs. Keep in mind that some behaviors, though alarming, may simply reflect the child’s temperament or personality.
• By 6 months, the child shows a resistance to being held, talked to, or comforted
• Inability to stay focused on an activity for as long as other children of the same age
• Avoids eye contact with others
• Gets easily frustrated when attempting to perform simple tasks
• Acting out, stubbornness or aggressivity
• Shyness or withdrawal
• A dislike of certain types of materials or clothing
• Violent behavior, such as tantrums, fighting, or frequently hitting other children
• Staring into space, rocking their body, or talking to oneself more than other kids of the same age
• Inability to recognize dangerous situations, such as walking into traffic or jumping from high places
• Problems, sleeping, eating, or toilet training
• Overly impulsive, active, or distractible
• Trouble putting thoughts, actions, and movements together
• By age 1, the child doesn’t respond to faces and objects or recognize familiar people. They do not look for hidden objects (e.g. peek-a-boo) or anticipate the return of adults.
• By age 2, the child is unable to identify simple body parts by pointing, cannot match similar objects, or recognize themselves in the mirror. They are also unable to say simple words and name familiar objects.
• By age 3, the child is unable to follow simple directions and commands. They do not engage in creative pursuits (e.g. drawing or playing with blocks) or make-believe/pretend play.
• By age 4, the child is unable to answer questions like “What do you do when you’re sleepy/hungry?” They cannot differentiate between shapes and colors.
• By ages 5-6, the child does not understand concepts of today, tomorrow or yesterday. They are unable to count from 1 to 10 and do not understand that numbers represent quantities. They also cannot stay with or complete simple tasks.
Gifted and Talented Signs
• The child is often perfectionist and idealistic
• Natural problem solvers
• Heightened sensitivity to their own expectations and those of others
• So far ahead of their chronological age peers that they may know half of the curriculum before the school year begins
• Often think so abstractly and with such complexity that they may need help with concrete study and test-taking skills
• May define success as getting an “A” and failure as any grade less than an “A”
Sources: The Children’s Inclusive Care Council of Amador and Calaveras (CICC), National Society for the Gifted and Talented (NSGT)
This article originally appeared on page 24-27 of the March 2015 Issue of beijingkids. Click here for your free online copy. To find out how you can obtain a hard copy, contact email@example.com