Parents of children with special needs may not know where to turn to for support in Hong Kong. From inclusive and specialised schools to rehabilitation centres, vocational training organisations and more, this is your guide to resources that will help kids with special educational needs (SEN) and their parents.
It takes a village to raise a child. When it comes to kids with special needs, this saying is truer than ever. Every bit of help can greatly benefit not only the child but also the parents. Thankfully, in Hong Kong, the resources made available by the local government (see www.sen.org.hk) and the number of qualified professionals is gradually increasing. Within the community itself, some support groups are also becoming more organised and trying to leverage each other’s knowledge, despite the diversity in special needs.
We’ve listed some of the most recognised government-operated (or assisted) and community-led support centres that help special needs children of different ages and abilities, along with a selection of private practices and schools. These schools, networks, professionals and support organisations can help kids with special educational needs from birth to their adult years, while also helping parents become better informed and assisting them with some of their daily challenges.
Editor’s note: If you are seeking support for a child with special educational needs, your requirements may be quite different from others. Please note that there are many free, subsidised and voluntary governmental and not-for-profit organisations offering excellent support. Just as there are private practices with well-qualified professionals. Speak to friends, family and professionals, along with parents of SEN children, to find the best resources for your child.
Understanding Special Educational Needs (SEN)
While every condition and child can be different, in general, any child who needs extra help or an adapted learning environment is considered as having Special Educational Needs (SEN). These requirements can be related to physical, medical, emotional or intellectual abilities.
Depending on the age of your child, you could get a referral or opinion from:
- Maternal and Child Health Centres (MCHC)
- Your child’s kindergarten or school
- Registered medical professionals
Based on these referrals, you are likely to be directed to:
- The Child Assessment Service provided by the Department of Health/Hospital Authority (HA)
- Assessment service of Education Bureau
If you are unsure about whether your child has special educational needs, where to get an assessment, etc., a good place to start is this Social Resources Guide which will outline the process in greater detail. Once you have a fair idea of what your child needs, it will be easier to start working towards it.
Joining The Special Needs Network In Hong Kong (SNNHK)
It can be overwhelming and frightening to receive a diagnosis of your child having special needs. With a mission to empower parents to make informed decisions about their children’s development and wellbeing, the Special Needs Network Hong Kong (SNNHK) organises workshops, professional talks and social events for parents and caregivers.
Created in 2002 and coordinated by a group of parent-volunteers, the network today connects over 500 members with children of different diagnoses. The network is able to provide information from some of the most recognised doctors and professionals in the field of special needs and education. Parents are also able to share news and views about early intervention, schooling, health, therapies, available resources and have interactive discussions.
Regular coffee mornings, online workshops and get-togethers are organised, where parents of children with diverse special needs can find information, empathy and support. Email the Special Needs Network Hong Kong to learn more about this support group.
Organisations That Support Children With Special Educational Needs
Need support for your child with learning disabilities? Why not speak to SPOT and find out how they can help. Right from offering assessments to understand your child’s individual needs to finding the right teacher, this expert team can assist your family.
SPOT’s education assessments are tailor-made to help gauge your child’s intellectual capacity, cognitive functioning and academic ability. Their team of certified Specific Learning Difficulties teachers can work with your child to build their confidence around being a learner. With experience working with children with dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD or dyscalculia, these specialist teachers know just how to engage children and find their hidden “superpowers”. Get your child enjoying their unique learning journey!
Watchdog Early Education Centre – Therapy, training and education programmes for young children with special needs
Watchdog operates English and Cantonese speaking programmes for kids (0 to 6 years) with Global Developmental Delay, Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) as well as other learning difficulties and physical disabilities. It has facilities such as sensory rooms, playgrounds, outdoor areas and classrooms. Here, parents are able to observe the classes and work closely with teachers to develop an individual educational programme (IEP) for their child. With a focus on preparing children for early entry into the regular school system, the curriculum covers numeracy, literacy, educational games and occupational therapy. Additionally, every child also has access to speech, music and yoga therapy as regular components of intervention.
Watchdog is the only NGO that offers English-speaking On-site Pre-school Rehabilitation Services (OPRS), where the centre’s therapists and educators can come and teach kids with special needs at different international kindergartens around Hong Kong.
Child Development Centre – Child-centred teaching and assessments for children from 0 to 6 years
The Child Development Centre (CDC) provides a variety of learning experiences catered to each child’s individual needs. From baby clinics to pre-school groups, children are guided through therapeutic interventions and specific programmes such as Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) and Sensory Groups. There are various programmes including phonics, numeracy, therapeutic listening in addition to the standard curriculum. CDC also offers child assessments and private consultations for parents.
The Nesbitt Centre – Vocational training for those with learning disabilities
The Nesbitt Centre aims to create an inclusive, energetic and empathetic environment where young adults with physical and intellectual disabilities can learn to reduce dependence and increase self-esteem. Learners are trained to develop a range of skills that start from sensory-based to social and communication skills. The Preparation for Life Programme includes instructions on self-care, how to live independently and prepare for job interviews. Nesbitt is connected to three social enterprises employing a workforce with disabilities – Cafe 8 at The Hong Kong Maritime Museum, The Nest at St John’s Cathedral in Central and The Nest Bakery in Sai Ying Pun.
The Duchess of Kent Children’s Hospital – Therapy services for children
This long-time Hong Kong institution was established in 1956. It provides specialist services, including physiotherapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy to child patients throughout Hong Kong. It also provides treatment, rehabilitative services and accommodation to adult orthopaedic patients, especially those with spinal problems. It has an excellent reputation in the management of spinal deformities (in children and adults) worldwide.
Heep Hong Society – A wide network of SEN service centres across Hong Kong
Established in 1963, Heep Hong Society offers professional assessment, guidance, training and family support to more than 15,000 families every year. Its 1,000-strong team is spread out over 50 service units, which include Early Education and Training Centres, Special Child Care Centres, Supportive Learning Project offices, Support Centre for Persons with Autism, as well as mainstream kindergartens, primary and secondary schools.
Yang Memorial Methodist Social Service – A Christian organisation on a mission to spread love and stewardship to those in need
Though most of its services and programmes focus on the elderly, this organisation also offers early intervention for preschool SEN students. There is also a Family Service Centre along with a Clinical Psychology unit for families who might need some guidance.
Young Folk Therapy – Therapy, counselling and special needs tutoring
This team provides Occupational Therapy, Speech and Language Therapy, Counselling and Specialist Dyslexia Tutoring in Hong Kong. It also offers therapy assessments, individual and group treatments for children. It also has regular after-school activities run by trained occupational therapists.
Inclusive And Specialised Schools For SEN Students In Hong Kong
There are a few specialised schools that accept only children with varied special educational needs. There are also some schools that are equipped to take children with special needs, along with their regular students. These schools may provide qualified teachers and counsellors to support their SEN students. These are some of the best schools for children of varied learning abilities.
Jockey Club Sarah Roe School – Specialist SEN school under the ESF umbrella
The Sarah Roe School started with only six students in 1986 and was named after a local Occupational Therapist. The current building was funded by the Hong Kong Jockey Club. The school thrives to bring out the best in every child by embracing individuality. With a specialised team of teachers, therapists and support staff, the school delivers a curriculum with a strong focus on literacy and numeracy. The campus facilities allow for the practice of personalised training where students are able to receive vocational training and develop independent living skills. The JCSRS facilities include hydrotherapy and music therapy and are also available for rent by friends of the school and the larger community.
Link School – Newly-formed specialised SEN school with a background in educational inclusion
Created by a visionary group of parents from the former Family Partners, this well-rounded school aims to strengthen the connection between teachers and parents in special needs education. The school prepares students not only to enter mainstream education but also to thrive in society. The curriculum includes literacy, numeracy, IT, problem-solving and community skills.
Hong Kong Academy (HKA) – A school that prides itself on its “deliberately diverse and intentionally inclusive” community
Hong Kong Academy is committed to the belief that learning to appreciate human differences is essential in an ever-changing world. Other than its Learner Support and English Language Learning, it also has counselling and wellbeing programmes.
The Harbour School (THS) – Inclusive school with culturally, linguistically, neurologically and academically diverse students and teachers
At The Harbour School, you don’t need to choose between an inclusive and caring school and one with academic rigour. The school has a personalised method of instruction and creating a motivational environment catering to students of varied abilities. It believes in creating small groups with differentiated instruction, engaging the whole child and helping students take ownership of their learning.
More Schools With Specialised SEN Instruction Or An Inclusive Learning Environment
Anfield – Inclusive school with SEN support, www.anfield.com.hk
Aoi Pui School – Specialised school for children with autism, www.apschool.edu.hk
Hong Kong International Learning Academy (HKILA) – Inclusive school that also offers specialist education provision for students that need a little extra support (it comes endorsed by a mum to a cancer survivor), www.studyhkila.edu.hk
Want more options? Look at this CDC guide to school applications for SEN students.
Centres For Specific Disabilities In Hong Kong
Hong Kong has plenty of schools to help children with a wide range of physical, mental and social impairments. These include:
Hong Kong Down Syndrome Association, www.hk-dsa.org.hk
Hong Kong Society for the Deaf, www.deaf.org.hk
Hong Chi Association, www.hongchi.org.hk
Ebenezer School & Home for the Visually Impaired, www.ebenezer.org.hk
Hong Kong Society for the Blind, www.hksb.org.hk
All these are well-reputed organisations in their fields. Whether you’re looking for support for a child with Down Syndrome, blindness, deafness, autism or dwarfism, it’s always imperative to reach out to the right network of people who will form your village. The SNNHK has a useful guide to resources including specialist schools and car hire for those with severe physical challenges.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published by Mirna Salgadinho in October 2019 and updated by Sassy Mama in September 2021.