Growing need for special education

The need for a special-needs school in Table View is growing, say parents and a pre-school teacher who are worried that the right kind of help for children with learning difficulties is often far too pricey or found outside the area.

Terri Wilkinson who began a class for special-needs children aged between two and five at Pitter Patter early childhood education centre (ECD) in Parklands, is worried about what will happen to her pupils once they leave Pitter Patter and need to find a primary school.

The school is being registered with the Department of Social Development and has nine pupils in the special-needs class.

Sihle Ngobese, spokesman for Social Development MEC Albert Fritz, said children could attend an ECD while it registered.

“They are allowed to take on pupils provisionally,” he said, adding: “If the ECD has been in existence before the new Children’s Act implemented in 2010, they are given grace, or if they are in due process of registration and comply with requirements.”

Ms Wilkinson joined Pitter Patter in May and said that she had decided to start the special-needs class after seeing the need in the area.

She has been helping special-needs children for 16 years and has assisted pupils at Glendale Special Needs School and those requiring one-on-one sessions at various schools or homes.

She completed the Special Needs Adaption Programme (SNAP) trained tutor programme in 2000 in Durbanville.

She said special needs children should be placed alongside mainstream school children in their early years of development.

“I am seeing more children now with learning disabilities because of the environment that surrounds us and the medicine we ingest.

“They cannot be in a special-needs school especially at this age, because they learn from the neurological child and learn from their peers by imitating them,” said Ms Wilkinson.

The lack of special-needs facilities in the area concerns her.

“I teach up till five years old, but where am I going to send my children after that?”

Richwood resident Natalie Thorpe wrote in to the Tabletalk about her struggles to place her child at a school catering for her needs.

“I want to give my child a normal life, and being in a schooling environment with structure, rules and peers is an integral part of her development, mentally, emotionally and socially. Education is a right for all, whether disabled or not,” said Ms Thorpe.

Table View resident Lucy Kues said she had struggled at first to find a place for her son, who was diagnosed with autism, when he was between the ages of three and five, but she had managed to find him a facilitator who helps him during class.

She also made use of a speech therapy, a special diet and Ms Wilkinson’s help to prepare her son for mainstream schooling.

“We had a whole bunch of interventions, and my son was diagnosed with no longer having autism.

“There are very few schools for children in the area, not all children are as lucky as my son. If they have early intervention, they can go mainstream but it is a very expensive route as well,” said Ms Kues.

Ruby Wagner’s son was diagnosed with autistic features and attends Pitter Patter.

She hopes that with early intervention he will be able to transition to mainstream schooling, avoiding the need for a special-needs school.

“My son was non-verbal but I’ve seen an amazing improvement with him since he’s had the one-to-one therapy at school,” she said.

EducationMECDebbie Schafer’s spokeswoman, Jessica Shelver, said the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) was building a new campus for the Chere Botha school, in the Oakdale, Bellville area.

“We have outreach teams operating from some of our special schools. An extra team has been added for this area for 2017,” she said.

“The WCED currently has 16 outreach teams that support our 120 full-service schools. The department is increasing the number of full-service schools annually, in line with policy.

“Many special schools also operate as resource centres that support full-service schools, as required,” said Ms Shelver.

Parents of children with special needs could contact their local district office for help placing their children in a suitable school.

The WCED provided “different levels of support”, said Ms Shelver, depending on the child’s disability and “in line with national policy on inclusive education”.

The policy included pupils as far as possible in mainstream schools, which, Ms Shelver said, offered “less restrictive environments than formal special schools”.

The department identified pupils with low, moderate and high needs to offer “appropriate support”, she said.

“We are in the process of establishing full-service, mainstream schools that cater for learners with moderate needs,” said Ms Shelver.