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Operation Santa Claus

Hong Kong parents of children with learning disabilities find new hope and support

Association helps families of kids with conditions such as dyslexia, and intends to enhance services with funds from Operation Santa Claus

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 November, 2017, 3:52pm
UPDATED : Monday, 27 November, 2017, 9:51pm

Dozens of sticky notes line the wall at a charitable organisation that provides support for parents of children with learning disabilities. The bits of paper, put up by staff members, express hope, encouragement and moral values.

One of the messages reads: “Accept the difference in strengths”, while another says: “Trust, support”.

They are reminders for all at the Hong Kong Association for Specific Learning Disabilities. The association promotes self-help for parents of children diagnosed with specific learning disabilities (SLD).

Connie To Siu-yuk, a manager at the centre, said 153 people had used its hotline service over the past year. They comprised parents suffering from extreme stress in coping with the needs of such children.

Citing surveys, To said many parents of SLD children felt they walked a solitary path.

“Many parents say it’s difficult for them to explain to others about their children’s needs or describe the challenges they go through,” she said.

“These parents have shown symptoms of insomnia and anxiety. The [stereotypical] negative images of SLD children have affected some parents so much that they need counselling.”

According to the association, children diagnosed with the condition have difficulties in the classroom. While these disabilities are likely to persist into adulthood, they are not intellectual impairments.

The most common condition is dyslexia, leading to difficulties in reading and writing.

Volunteers from the association, who are also parents of such children, provide information and emotional support for their peers.

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The charity, now with more than 2,100 members, plans to enhance its services.

Its parent support programme, called “Alongside”, will be launched with funds from Operation Santa Claus, an annual charity drive jointly organised by the South China Morning Post and RTHK.

The project includes a parent network and induction course for new members of the association. An educational programme will also be implemented to raise public awareness of SLD.

They think dyslexic children are lazy or not hardworking enough
Connie To, Association for Specific Learning Disabilities

Connie To said many people still held misconceptions about conditions like dyslexia.

“They think dyslexic children are lazy or not hardworking enough,” she said.

“With support from Operation Santa Claus, we can tell the public that our association is the biggest platform on which parents can share experiences.”

She added that the publicity would encourage other parents of SLD children to contact them and seek help.

Li Yip Leung-ching, chairwoman of the association, said most of the parents she talked to wanted to know more about how to discuss the issue with others, especially with the children’s grandparents.

“As people now understand SLD more, parents with a more positive attitude will ask how they can help their children face the challenges,” she added.

A mother, who only wanted to be known by her surname Cheung, said the association was the first organisation that responded directly to her questions about her dyslexic daughter, 11.

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Cheung said other institutions she had earlier approached only gave her enrolment information on courses for her child.

“[The chairwoman] returned my call after I rang their hotline,” the mother said of the association.

“Li discussed my daughter’s case with me patiently and told me that she also had an SLD child. I then realised such conditions were not rare. It isn’t a disaster.”

Cheung also questioned whether Hong Kong’s school system had provided sufficient support for such children and their families.