Specialized Support: A Parents' Role in Their Child's Special Education

Getting the most for your child

by SHFamily | Fri, December 22, 2017

By Abbie Pumarejo

Finding the right educational fit for your child when moving to Shanghai can be a daunting challenge. There’s a large variety of systems, and the numbers continue to grow from preschools all the way to high schools, with even some new boarding schools now added to the offerings of Shanghai schools. Compound this with a search for educational options for a child who has learning difficulties, and the task can seem close to impossible. Fortunately, there are resources available for those parents who find they need extra support.

Educational Development

ELG (formerly the Essential Learning Group) was founded in 2006 in response to a lack of resources available in the city at that time. They provide an alternative learning experience for students whose needs cannot be met in local or international schools, and give specialized support for those who have been removed from mainstream education, due to learning disabilities, social or behavioral challenges, or other needs. Currently there are over 500 children and adults who receive behavioral, developmental, or mental health therapy services in the community, in over a dozen languages. And while ELG has been around for over a decade, there are now other organizations, and even some international schools, that provide support to families whose children require more services than the mainstream educational systems can offer.

Supportive Rocks

One such organization is LIH Olivia’s Place:

“We offer a variety of services for children and adolescents,”

says Lead Psychologist, Dr Beth Rutkowski.

Along with Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and learning support, Dr Rutkowski explains that Olivia’s Place also provides psychological assessments and therapy, speech therapy, occupational assessments and therapy, and physical therapy.

Making the move

Shanghai Expat

With support networks growing, it’s great news for parents who may come to Shanghai not knowing whether their child’s special education needs will be met or not. One such parent, Mrs Kaniz Sabir-Dextreit, explains how she and her family have adapted to Shanghai with their eldest son, who currently attends ELG:

“Kameron was diagnosed with severe Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) at 2 1/2 years old . . . I was very nervous about uprooting him from the UK and coming to China. But I needn’t have worried – moving to Shanghai, and having this fantastic opportunity for my son to receive early intervention support, has been a life changing experience for him.”

According to the National Institutes of Health, ASD is the name for a group of developmental disorders. ASD includes a wide range or “a spectrum” of symptoms, skills, and levels of disability. Kameron is now five years old and although the transition was not initially easy in 2016, the level of support and services he’s received since has helped the entire family. He currently has occupational therapy (OT), speech and language therapy (S&L), applied behavioral analysis (ABA), and physical therapy (PT). For Kaniz, the experience so far has been invaluable:

“Kameron receives so much support during his time at ELG. He’s interacting, showing more awareness of his environment, and even starting to vocalize. Eye contact is more prominent and he shows interest in pretend play . . . Our goal as parents is to provide him with the best possible support for his future. I really feel that this can be accomplished alongside the methods of teaching and learning he currently gets.”

Working together


The correct school environment, and specialized teaching techniques inside the classroom, are just part of the equation. By forming a team together with teachers, staff, and therapists, parents and children can benefit much more. ELG’s co-founder and program director, Dr Shari Rosen, elaborates:

“For the children who come here, parental involvement is critical; they’re part of the team. Our program staff and specialists communicate regularly [with parents], sharing photos and videos so they can practice skills at home.”

Dr Rosen continues to explain how many of their students have homework, and ELG advise parents to be available and assist when they do it. “We always encourage parents to come in and observe. Having events on the weekend allows more families to participate together.” To encourage this further, the ELG team recently held their first Parents’ Day. Dr Rosen stresses the importance of parents experiencing first-hand some of the ways in which their children learn at school, to recreate the same tools at home. Parents were assigned to groups and rotated to specific stations throughout the day. Through a multimodality approach – and finding creative ways to engage the children – parents worked together, experiencing music, movement, play, and art activities that support reading and writing for their children. This type of engagement is an ideal way for parents to optimize their child’s learning.


According to Dr Rutkowski,

“Parents can further support their child by being aware of their uniqueness, and understanding that all children have areas of strength and areas of diffculty . . . [Parents should] learn about and partake in the activities that their children enjoy. Help them develop these skills. In areas where they struggle, take the attitude that you are a team in addressing these diffculties.”

Even when children are younger and may not have the skills to verbalize their thoughts, by working with the specialists closely, parents can learn valuable tips and strategies to maximize their child’s potential at school and home.

The future is bright

“Events like Parents’ Day are very important for us . . . It gives us an insight into the specialist services available to everyone – not just ELG students. It was great to see what my son does on a daily basis: the activities he’s involved in; the learning tools he has to build skills; his likes and dislikes. Kameron doesn’t have the ability to communicate/ speak, therefore it’s crucial for me to learn about his day and build a picture, so I can talk to him about his achievements and help to build on his progress.”

says Kaniz.

By forming a close-knit relationship with all those involved with their child’s learning, parents ultimately offer them the best chance to thrive, regardless of the challenge. According to Dr Rosen, “Some of the students attend for a year or two, and then the team helps to transition them back to a suitable international school, when their learning “toolbox” is full and they can access the curriculum.” Dr Rosen highlights how sometimes, all it takes is an assessment of the child’s current learning environment. “Often, modifications and accommodations can help them learn in a regular classroom.”

With such great results, it’s a win for all involved. Blair Tang, Program Leader at ELG shares how a parent sent photos of their recent family trip to Taiwan, along with their observations. “They were really happy to notice a lot of improvement in their child,” Tang said. “This helps motivate us when we get this feedback from the families about the effect our work has on their children.” For Kaniz, the results of sending her son to a dedicated support team have definitely been worth it, having seen great achievements during the Parent Day activities. “These communication methods play a key part in everyday life for our kids,” she reflects.

“I personally like to be actively involved in my son’s learning; it is so crucial for me to know the best part of his day and week. I cannot express how forthcoming, engaging, supportive and most of all, caring, I find all the sta to be. It is truly phenomenal.”