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HK's children with learning difficulties face many challenges

A study has found almost a fifth of children refuse to attend classes due to primary school adaptation pressure
Officials of Hong Kong Christian Service are seen during the launch of Social and Emotional Support for Special Education Needs (SEN) Children Adapting to Primary School survey on Aug. 29

Officials of Hong Kong Christian Service are seen during the launch of Social and Emotional Support for Special Education Needs (SEN) Children Adapting to Primary School survey on Aug. 29. (Photo: HKCS)

Published: August 29, 2023 10:31 AM GMT
Updated: August 29, 2023 10:45 AM GMT

Most of the children with special education needs (SEN) and their parents in Hong Kong face immense pressure in adaptation due to a lack of adequate social, emotional, and academic support, says a new survey.

Social and Emotional Support for SEN Children Adapting to Primary School survey by Hong Kong Christian Service (HKCS), released on Aug. 29, found that higher the social-emotional skills of SEN children better their academic performance and the lower the pressure of learning and parental care.

The survey is based on interviews with 347 parents of SEN children and 158 professionals serving such children. The professionals included principals, teachers, social workers, and therapists.

Children with special education needs refer to children with learning difficulties or disabilities who need extra or different help from what is given to other children of their age, according to UK-based Family Lives, a family welfare organization.

The charity group has called on the government, schools and pre-school rehabilitation services to strengthen social and emotional support in the primary school adaptation program to support SEN children and their parents.

It is high time to address the issue as the city has seen the number of SEN primary and secondary students in Hong Kong has doubled in the past ten years to nearly 60,000, the group said.

The study found almost a fifth of the children refuse to attend classes due to primary school adaptation pressure.

It also highlighted a weaker self-management performance of the SEN children.

The three most common difficulties experienced by such children were “not being able to calmly resolve disputes with classmates,” “not being able to stay calm when teased” and “not being able to stay calm when disagreeing with others.”

Regarding learning attitudes, the three most common difficulties experienced by SEN children were “not being able to keep up with learning,” “not being able to answer the teacher’s questions in class” and “not being able to concentrate in class.”

As a result of moving up to primary school, 34.3 percent of SEN children faced ‘very high’ pressure to learn, 18.4 percent had ‘refused to go to school,’ 36.0 percent of parents reported that the pressure of caring for their children was ‘very high,’ and 27.1 percent had ‘persistent sleep problems.’

The study includes the case of Nga Yin, a working mother of a six-year-old son, Long, who has autism spectrum disorder and developmental delay.

Long had pre-school education during the Covid-19 pandemic, and his lack of physical classroom experience resulted in weaker social-emotional skills.

So, he started primary school in 2022/23 and has been unable to make friends.

One day, Long had a dispute with his classmates because he could not sit in his original seat on the school bus and cried when he returned home.

“I never imagined that Long would have such social difficulties. If the school can better follow up on his social-emotional skills as he adapts to primary school, it will make his primary school life more enjoyable,” Nga Yin said.

Joyce To, head of HKCS Bridge-Integrated Education Service, stressed the need to support SEN children and their parents better.  

“SEN children face many difficulties when they enter primary school, and their parents are also under great pressure to care for them. We need to improve the existing support as soon as possible to equip SEN children and their parents better,” she said.

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