Educating children with special needs: the inclusive approach

Educating children with special needs: the inclusive approach

Following our article published in this series on 18 November entitled “Early Childhood Learning: It’s never too soon to start”, we asked Rose Marie Wanchupela and Khun Wanchai Chaiyasit to comment on their activities to help young children with learning difficulties, a field in which they have well-renowned expertise.

What kinds of learning difficulties arise in child education?

We talk of “differences’ rather than “difficulties” in abilities. Some motivational, cognitive, physical or social-emotional differences may be advantageous in a learning situation and some may not. Dyslexics have reading difficulties, but at the same time their creative thinking may be highly advantageous in problem solving. Autism may be a barrier to communication, but some autistics have demonstrated phenomenal ability in the arts.

Are there different types of learning difficulty?

“Global learning difficulties” describes a slow learner as an individual of below average intelligence. “Specific learning difficulties” refers to those with a neurological difference resulting in problems with particular learning tasks. For example, dyslexics are slow to learn to read, dyscalculics have trouble with arithmetic, dystrophics with writing. Those with  attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have difficulty focusing and may be prone to hyperactivity.

What are the different kinds of autism?

Autism is a broad term, but the following are common defining characteristics which occur to a greater or lesser degree from an early age: communication deficits arise such as avoidance of speech; monotonous, stereotypical speech patterns; lack of empathy and poor listening skills with little interest in others; atypical sensory reactions such as intolerance of sounds or tastes; repetitive movements like rocking or flicking fingers; an obsessive interest in particular objects or subjects. These autistic characteristics are found across a broad range of intelligence.

How do we detect different types of learning difficulty?

Parents, relatives, paediatricians and preschool teachers may be the first to notice that a child is not reaching expected developmental benchmarks.  After close observation, if signs continue, psychological assessment can be conducted by a professional to diagnose the condition.

Are there psychological tests to determine learning difficulties?

Diagnosing a learning disability in schools requires several types of tests. Common tests include intelligence tests, achievement tests, visual-motor integration tests, and language tests.

At what ages can learning difficulties be detected?

Some potential challenges can be detected at an early age, as early as three years, such as Autistic Spectrum Disorder whereas a diagnosis of dyslexia, dyspraxia, and dyscalculia is not usually made until about six years of age when formal education begins.

Are there various stages at which talents or deficiencies emerge?

Babies develop at different rates. When recognised developmental milestones are not met, this could be a cause for concern. However, a difficulty such as a lack of focus can point to a different way of learning, an unrecognised talent or even giftedness.

How do we approach leaning difficulties in education?

Learning difficulties need to be identified and addressed. Student records must be reviewed, and any standardised tests or assessments studied then a conference arranged with the parents, teacher, and school counsellor to discuss the learning difficulties. A medical consultation might be considered. An Individual Education Plan (I.E.P.) tailored for the student should be developed.

Should educators concentrate students on what they do best?

No, we should endeavour to expand their talent into other areas by exposing and encouraging them as much as possible.

How do you teach different kinds of children in the same class room?

At Rose Marie Academy students are very much treated as individuals. Teachers are aware that each child has their own style of learning. Consequently, in the classroom an observer may see the teacher working with small groups or with individuals at any one time. It is important that learners feel a sense of security and ownership toward their environment. In this way, they are more at ease and able to flourish within the school setting. It is clear that sensitivity toward the slower learner is paramount to their success. Teachers are instrumental in creating a student friendly classroom where all levels and abilities are able to seamlessly share a working space.

Can we correct learning difficulties?

The educator seeks to remediate the deficit with a tailored program to accelerate the rate of progress toward the norm. Accommodations and modifications are applied to the mainstream program. All students need to experience achievement in order to gain confidence and self-fulfilment.

Can children with learning difficulties study together with others?

Rose Marie Academy has practiced true inclusion right from its inception in 1995.  All students are welcomed regardless of gender, ethnicity, socio-economic background or educational challenges. They learn and take part in all aspects of school life following our motto “Small School, Big Hearts, Beautiful Minds”.  We encourage students to be respectful, appreciative, and understanding of individual differences, and to be well-prepared for adult life in a diverse society.

Is it possible to bring children of all levels of talent together?

Yes, there are many advantages for the student to flourish in a small class. They  can feel safer and will adjust better and faster in a small group. As the class interacts, the different levels will blend together. Students can learn from each other, and the teacher will have more time to individualise so that every student can be successful.

Can learning difficulties correlate with delinquency in later life?

There is no correlation between learning disabilities and juvenile delinquency based on research published primarily since 1980.

Is there high cost to society of failing to invest in special education needs?

Yes, those seeking to reduce deficits and strengthen the economy should make significant investments in early childhood education and the education of children with learning difficulties. The long-term benefits of such investment would result in reduction of special social services, increased self-sufficiency, and worthwhile contributions to society by those individuals.

How do high and low achievers differ in social adjustment?

High achievers are socially better adjusted than low achievers. They differ significantly in their overall adjustment. Proper strategies and effective interventions are necessary for the low achievers to minimise their problems in later life.

What special teacher training is necessary for education of children with learning difficulties?

More universities throughout the world are now offering courses in teaching children with learning disabilities. Mainstream teachers can be effective in working with children with learning difficulties by staying abreast of the research and new developments and by consulting with professionals such as child psychologists and psychiatrists.

Are there risks of ignoring special needs education in Thailand?

Yes, there are enormous risks. If they are not supported they can develop a sense of inferiority, lack of self-confidence and self-esteem, and avoidance of social interaction with others.  This can lead to diminished achievement in all areas which would not only be to the detriment of the child, but to society as a whole.  These children, although having limitations in some areas, could very well excel in others.  If intervention is lacking, the loss could be immeasurable.

Authors: Rose Marie Wanchupela, Executive Director and Khun Wanchai Chaiyasit, Deputy Executive Director, Rose Marie Academy, Email:

Series Editor: Christopher F. Bruton, Executive Director, Dataconsult Ltd, Dataconsult’s Thailand Regional Forum provides seminars and extensive documentation to update business on future trends in Thailand and in the Mekong Region.

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