Many children with special education needs show developmental differences when they are babies, especially in their social and language skills.

Engr. Li H. Schonberg, a mechatronic Robotics Engineer with a degree in Social Psychology major in Special education need and disabilities (SEND) and whose advocacy is to hone the roadmap of innovative education. She aims to build a stronger system for students of special needs who require support and amplify community voice for them to be recognized and be heard, shares what the early signs of kids with special needs.

“Usually, you can recognize the autism behaviour series between the age of 12 to 18 months or sometimes even earlier. It will show as developmental difficulties, and this can especially be seen in their social and language skills. There will always be an early sign in their behaviour, and it will be obvious while growing up,” the Abu Dhabi-based Filipina entrepreneur said.

She further added that before experts categorize kids on the autism spectrum or children with special needs, they would be diagnosed with a ‘complicated condition’ that included problems with communication and behaviour.

“But actually, that’s autism. Facts state that experts believe that there are no more children who develop autism today than 50 years ago. Instead, they say the increase in cases is due to changes in diagnostic criteria and more awareness of the condition of autism,” she said.

Engr. Schonberg said that the most prevalent signs of autism in children include repetitive movements, no eye contact, non-verbal communication, rocking their body, and finding it hard to express what they want and feel, among other things.

Autism, she added, is considered a lifelong condition with no known cure; however, as the kids mature, they can outgrow a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder.

“And that’s one reason that continuous ADL (activities for daily living) and errorless teaching are very important for the child’s development,” she further added.

When asked about the most common treatment for children on the autism spectrum, Engr. Schonberg, the expert on the matter, recommends applied behavioural analysis (ABA) therapy that improves social, communication, and learning skills through reinforcement strategies among youngsters.

“Parents with special kids can benefit from the program as well. They will learn the techniques on how to handle their child’s difficulties. One very important factor that they should know is ‘generalizations: from ‘task analysis’, ‘prompting’, up to ‘fading’. These are the techniques needed by every teacher and parent to deal with special kids while at home and school,” she said.

Based on her knowledge and research, a genetic test cannot diagnose or detect autism as there are many genes and environmental factors that may underline the condition. However, there is now a routine prenatal ultrasound that can identify early signs of autism that obstetricians usually do during the pregnant mother’s trimester through a blood test.

Spearheading the QAT Kid’s Development Centre that caters Special Education Department (SPED), Engr. Schonberg said that the institution aims to aid kids of determination to have a day to day development.

Highly trained teachers and therapists are running the development centre to provide children the support they need to ensure that they can reach their full potential.

“Children with such special needs are usually entitled to receive additional assistance through establishing a routine intervention. Kids with special needs can present many challenges to their daily life. In particular, it can impact how they engage with their learning at school. Our position as a teacher and therapists gives them the perfect opportunity to help them overcome these barriers and get the most out of their education,” she said.

Their dedication to improving the quality of life for children on the autism spectrum along with their families is their main goal. Their approach is more on innovative education, and one example is the use of robot assistant teachers to capture the child’s focus.

“Our hub is a safe and stimulating space for students with disabilities to explore sensory input and programming their daily activities. Such as brain gym, exercise breaks, low distraction activity area. Students will learn and experience appropriate tools to organize Visual Cues from their speech, music and art teacher using the latest approach of STEAM,” Engr. Schonberg asserted.