Developing the unique talent of children with special needs
“Teaching young people with special needs is my calling in life.”
University of South Australia alumnus Frederick Chu is the founder of My Special Corner, a Singapore education centre specialising in both academic and non-academic programs for students who have learning and behavioural difficulties. The centre focuses on finding each student’s unique talent and working with them to develop their skills for future careers. Recently celebrating their 10th anniversary, Frederick is proud of his students’ achievements and their various successes.
After working as a teacher in Singapore, Frederick became intrigued with how children with special needs thrived in appropriate support programs. Frederick decided to investigate this further and completed a Bachelor of Early Childhood Education at UniSA and then a thesis on this topic. He discovered new information and methods that could aid students and their parents and founded My Special Corner in 2006.
Frederick’s notable work at My Special Corner has been featured on Channel U, watch here: https://www.facebook.com/162572187146124/videos/1006302732773061/
Why did you choose to establish My Special Corner and support students who have learning and behavioural difficulties?
I founded My Special Corner not only to help many children who struggle academically but also to assist them with realising their own talent. Finding their unique set of skills gives them the foundation and the hope to work towards a career in their future. The other area of my work is to empower parents with special needs so that the child gets an ongoing learning consistently at home, as well as in the centre.
I supposed one can say it is a “calling” to teach people with special needs. I was often drawn by how they respond to learning, their ways of looking at things differently and how professionals like myself can enter their world and extend their perspective so that it allows them to pay attention at more things around them.
Tell us about the career achievements of which you are most proud?
Looking back to my first 10th anniversary on my own, I’m confident and proud to say that I’ve seen numerous successful stories of my students. Most of them are still in touch with me even though they had graduated from My Special Corner. This is definitely evidence to show the impact that the work had on them. Some of them even volunteer their time to come back to help out when I run camps and holiday programs. Such behaviour is beyond monetary reward because they will bring this positive attitude to their future job and/or people they meet and impact others as well.
Please share some of your student’s success stories.
I first got in touch with student “J” when he was in pre-school. He was diagnosed with ADHD/anger issues, and when I first worked with him he was very rebellious and uninterested in his studies. I remember vividly how he tried to throw a pen-knife at me when he was only nine - when all I wanted him to do was to shift his toys to the study table. At the centre he did academic studies as well as baking programs, which he embraced. Today, as a teenager, he has harnessed the latter and is working as a baker and pursuing this as a career. He also volunteers his time at the centre to teach students and buys the ingredients for baking classes.
Another student, “H” came to the centre when they were five years old, after being diagnosed with autism and struggling with language and communication skills. He scored a B grade in the Primary School Leaving Exam (English), and went on to study in the express stream. He is now confident of his own self-image. He may be quieter in crowd, but no longer too shy to carry a conversation. He is also able to give his opinion and express his needs better now, which helps others to understand him better and avoid any miscommunication. He is popular among his friends and, according to his parents, he has even forged more friendships than his twin brother who is not autistic!
What are the methodologies you employ at My Special Corner?
My Special Corner adopts results proven methodologies, namely ABA, TEACCH and Mediated Learning Experience that help students integrate their learning.
The ABA method is a structured program that develops students’ social and behavioural skills. The TEACCH method focuses on the individual by creating and implementing unique learning programs which complement the learning style of each child. Mediated Learning Experience (MLE) is developed by Dr Reuven Feuerstein, an Israeli psychologist, who believed that intelligence is modifiable and not fixed. With his Instrumental Enrichment (IE) designed to enhance the cognitive skills necessary for independent thinking. IE aims to sharpen critical thinking with the concepts, skills, strategies, operations, and attitudes necessary for independent learning; to diagnose and correct deficiencies in thinking skills; and to help individuals "learn how to learn".
Though the methodology sets the framework, the emphasis on learning processes is also very essential. These theories place emphasis on the constructive activity of the student, the cognitive- developmental and socio-cultural appropriateness of the learning material, and the involvement of the teacher in the design and implementation of classroom activities above and beyond a mere provision of information. Hence, the students are usually given time to think, analyse and make decisions about the problems before putting them into action. Students then need to re-look the process before carefully deciding their next direction. This process helps them to be actively engaged in the problem that they are facing, thus allowing for learning to take place with positive energy. Students learn and pick up concepts, knowledge, attain confident and positive disposition.
How did studying a Bachelor of Education (Early Childhood Education) help you with My Special Corner?
The course gave me a good foundation and knowledge of theories, both typical and atypical human development, teaching methods and working with community and cultures that one can be in to tap on the resources. These are all helpful when I am working with the families as I can use the principal to get them help when needed.
With globalization, cultures and practices tend to cross path. In this, it is also imperative to be aware and have abilities to understanding different contexts families face. In this sense, my horizon was widen to understand working with larger group of students with different background.