Special-needs children need better protection

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 June, 2013, 7:14am

Hong Kong schools should develop better policies to deal with bullying of children with special needs, a Unicef expert has urged.

Local children with disabilities are usually better off than those in less developed countries, but they are still harassed in schools, said Maggie Koong, a council member of Unicef Hong Kong.

"There should be a clear guideline for schools to define and handle bullying," she said after Unicef released the 2013 edition of its annual report entitled The State of the World's Children.

The time it took to diagnose children with special needs - up to one year from the child being first identified to being assessed by government experts - should be shortened, she said.

The delay was due to a lack of manpower and a surge in demand as more children are identified because of growing awareness of autism, reading and writing difficulties and speech impediments.

"Children with these conditions are [still] not so easily identified when compared with those who display physical difficulties," Koong said.

"They may not be noticed until they are older than two. There is a golden period for early intervention in autism - it could be better treated with cognitive-behavioural therapy," she said.

The government implemented an "integrated education" policy a decade ago to create an inclusive environment for children with special needs and help them mix with students in mainstream schools. But the Equal Opportunities Commission last year criticised the policy for being slow in training educators.

In his policy address, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying announced an increase in the ceiling for the annual Learning Support Grant from HK$1 million to HK$1.5 million per school, aimed at strengthening support for schools with disabled students.