A HK$10 million research centre to assist the increasing number of students with special needs in Hong Kong officially opened its doors to the public on Saturday. The Integrated Centre of Wellbeing, also known as I-WELL, at the Hong Kong Institute of Education in Tai Po, aims to ensure that children get the early intervention they need. With over 30 professionals and the most advanced equipment in Hong Kong for screening and assessing students, the centre’s main focus will be children under six and primary pupils, although it is also prepared to provide support to secondary students and adults. Mainstream Hong Kong schools failing special-needs pupils Among the equipment available is an Articulagraph, which records the speed and range of a child’s lip and tongue movement. The test can help a speech therapist make a better assessment of a patient that might suffer from conditions like dyslexia and Down’s syndrome. “The idea is to associate the clinical diagnosis along with these tools to check if the intervention is effective and if a kid is doing better,” said Savio Wong Wai-ho, associate head of the institute’s Department of Special Education and Counselling. The centre’s director, Professor Hue Ming-tak, said it would help to bridge a gap in the city. “In terms of child assessment the government wants to do more but the demand is enormous, so I think we can work together,” he said. I-WELL is a one-stop centre that integrates research results into clinical services, meaning that it will provide research support, assessment and clinical services, professional consultancy as well as parent and community education. Special-needs pupil relishes ‘more relevant’ system The centre has capacity to handle 50 to 100 cases a month, which would help to “shorten the time and reduce pressure on government services”, Hue said. Waiting time should not exceed two months, he added, but at government clinics it might be over a year. Price per session will vary on the tests taken, but the underprivileged can get the screening and assessment for free. The centre will accept cases from individuals as well as cases referred by schools and NGOs. Working with special needs students is the most important thing we do Allan Walter, faculty dean “We will also be doing some research projects with NGOs, as they usually want to evaluate the effectiveness of their programmes,” said occupational therapist Ivy Tam. The dean of the faculty of education and human development, Allan Walter, said: “Working with special needs students is the most important thing we do ... It’s an absolute priority.” According to official statistics, there were 36,190 special needs primary and secondary pupils in 2014/2015 – a figure that had risen by 15 per cent compared with two years earlier. Another survey in 2014 showed there were 20,000 children under six years old with special needs.