SPECIAL FEATURE Vol.6 No.3 (May 2001)

Specific Learning Disabilities in Hong Kong: Where Do We Go from Here?

Dr. Chan Chok-Wan
President, The Hong Kong Society of Child Neurology & Developmental Paediatrics
Scientific Committee of the Working Party on SLD


Despite the terms Specific Learning Disabilities (SLD) and Dyslexia been known to Hong Kong for over three decades, they remain a mystery to professionals in the territory with most people seeing both terms as referring to problem of inverting alphabets. Over the past five years, through the enthusiastic efforts of the Hong Kong Society of Child Neurology and Developmental Paediatrics, a series of academic activities on the subject were organized through which professional attention was attracted to the topic. These resulted in significant local progress in the understanding of the problem: that SLD and Dyslexia do exist in Hong Kong in the Chinese race and language, and that serious and responsible attitude as well as a multidisciplinary approach are mandatory for tackling the condition. In view of the urgency of the matter in Hong Kong, the approach to a solution should sequentially include the following areas:

  1. Current situation and needs for early action
  2. Immediate measures for current problems
  3. Long term measures including policies and legislation
  4. Government and community input of manpower and resources


  1. Current Situation and Needs for Early Attention
    1.1 Low awareness of condition in Hong Kong’s medical, allied health and education communities.
    1.2 Non-uniformity of definitions
    1.3 Inadequacy of local data: incidence, characteristics of conditions etc.
    1.4 Limited communication between involved professional groups
    1.5 A likely significant number of children with undetected learning disabilities in the community
    1.6 Inadequacy of local research-supported practice tools and interventional guidelines

  2. Immediate Measures for Current Problems
    2.1 To establish a theoretically sound set of terms and classification for SLD which is acceptable across professions in Hong Kong. Input from medical neuroscience, psychology, education, psycholinguistics and other specialties are essential in this process.
    2.2 To understand the current state of the condition and practice through:
    2.2.1 Compiling existing local data on the incidence and nature of SLD for local children
    2.2.2 Sharing information on current professional practice used in detection, investigation, evaluation, educational and medical managements etc.
    2.2.3 Gathering information on current operational structures, both within individual professionals and departments and between them
    2.3 To identify urgently needed measures and tools to identify, evaluate and help children with SLD through the following actions:
    2.3.1 Study of current system whereby children with SLD are brought to professional attention
    2.3.2 Identification of key areas for improvement for currently available methods of evaluation and diagnosis
    2.3.3 Identification of areas where timely, early management (treatment, educational, remediation etc.) are critically needed, and how these can be improved in the short term
    2.3.4 Identification of essential points where cooperation is urgently needed between professions and service departments

  3. Areas for Long Term Future Planning
    3.1 Professional Approach
    3.1.1 Planning of systematic collection of local epidemiological data
    3.1.2 Determination of research directions for assessment tools
    3.1.3 Establishment of protocols for intervention, and for measuring progress and intervention effectiveness
    3.1.4 Establishment of more definitive channels for professional communication and operational cooperation
    3.1.5 Identification of training needs for professionals in respective fields, and review of local institutions' role in such training
    3.2 For Children with SLD and their Families
    3.2.1 Promotion of public awareness, correct concepts and acceptance
    3.2.2 Promotion of peer support groups for psychosocial support, sharing of information and advocacy
    3.2.3 Through professional support, promotion of parental skills in dealing with their children’s specific needs
    3.3 Policies and Legislations
    3.3.1 Review of administrative guidelines for diagnosing SLD and children's access to special help
    3.3.2 Review of current structures within the education and medical system, which provide remediation and support
    3.3.3 Review of sources, diagnostics parameters and logistics through which official data on SLD are compiled
    3.3.4 Taking up of an active role in helping government to formulate effective
    public policy and legislation in relation to these children's right for appropriate educational and therapeutic support

  4. Government and Community Input of Resources

    Proper recognition of the problem together with appropriate and timely input of manpower, resources and blessing from the government, non-governmental organizations (NGO), institutions and service departments are mandatory and essential for the ultimate success of all aforementioned measures. Details of the input will be worked out in the course of time.

The HKCNDP Working Party on SLD

The Working Party was established by the Council of the Hong Kong Society of Child Neurology and Developmental Paediatrics at the November 1998 Council Meeting with the following terms of reference:

  1. to set the scene in SLD for Hong Kong
  2. to obtain unified definitions amongst professionals in Hong Kong
  3. to study local incidence and relevant statistics
  4. to promote communication between local professionals
  5. to share experience with overseas experts
  6. to establish strategic plans for tackling the problem in Hong Kong

The Structure of the Working Party provisionally will consist of the following:

  1. Advisors (local and international)
  2. Steering Committee
  3. Scientific Committee
  4. Policy Committee
  5. Action and Publicity Committee
  6. Others


To date, through the dedicated work of Professor Leong Chi Kan, Dean of School of Languages in Education, Hong Kong Institute of Education, and Dr. Catherine C.C. Lam, developmental paediatrician with special interest in SLD, the Working Party’s work has already commenced with satisfactory progress. It is encouraging to report that Dr. Drake Duane (neurologist and leading expert on learning disabilities in the United States) has consented to be our international advisor, and a number of local prominent professionals have promised to serve on the various committees of the Working Party. The Working Party is one of the small yet effective first steps in facing the problem. We are confident that, with the joint efforts of all involved professionals, a brighter future for children with SLD in Hong Kong will materialize very soon!