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Life Stages & Transitions

Making decisions at different life stages

Life stages are developmental phases which people pass through in the course of their lives, each with its own biological, psychological, and social characteristics, e.g. infancy, childhood, adulthood.

Each life stage brings with it new roles and social settings, and is often accompanied by new demands on both the person with disability and the caregiver. Having adequate knowledge of life stage needs can benefit a person with disabilities and his/her caregiver significantly.


Life Stage Needs and Key Services in the Disability Sector

Persons with disabilities may have different needs according to the roles, settings and circumstances that change over the course of their lives, from infancy (ages 0-6) to childhood / teenage years (ages 7-18) to adulthood (above 18 years). The diagram above summarises the various support services available at key life stages.  These include education planning, employment support and care options across all life stages.   Early intervention and child care begins after diagnosis. During early intervention, caregivers can start planning for the child’s educational pathway. Majority of children will transit to Primary schools at 7 years old. They will begin their education in mainstream or Special Education (SPED) schools. Their education may continue until they reach the age of 16 and beyond depending on the education pathways they are on. As children grow into teenagers and young adults, they can enrol for work skills training and transition to work programmes to prepare themselves for employment.  Long term care planning and application of deputyship for financial and housing security and alternative care arrangements can begin at teen-hood before students with special needs leave school.  These arrangements will continue into their adulthood until there is a change in the primary caregiver.  Residential care will also be provided for those who need it from childhood until the age of 18. After the age of 18, persons with disabilities will transit into adulthood where adult services are made available to them. For those who are able, they can choose to further their education or find employment through Job Placement Job Support employment services available. Residential care for children will be replaced at this stage by residential care for adults. As persons with disabilities reach 60 years old, they will need to consider eldercare services.

Infancy/ early childhood

When a child is suspected to have special needs

Every child is different and develops at a different pace. Some require more support than others in various areas of development. While the anxiety can be overwhelming, it is important for parents of children diagnosed with, or suspected of having, special needs to be equipped with the right information and advice to make informed decisions for the child.

When a child is newly diagnosed with special needs

Caregiving is life-changing and is never easy. To be an effective caregiver, it pays to be aware of and understand the various supports available to help you and your child. Working alongside doctors, therapists, social workers and teachers can be beneficial to help the child make successful transitions across life stages.


School age

In Singapore, with the Compulsory Education Act, children with disabilities need to start either mainstream primary school or Special Education (SPED) school at age 7.

Formal schooling – mainstream primary school and SPED school

For most children, with or without special needs, the entry to formal schooling can prove to be a period of much anxiety and nerves.

Learn more about transiting into formal education here:

Preparing for life after school

The transition out of school can be challenging for both caregivers and children with disabilities. SPED schools provide support through a structured Transition Planning process that begins when the child is 13 years old, to help him/ her identify and attain post-school goals.

SPED schools provide vocational preparation to help students with disabilities be employable when they leave the school system. Other students may be better suited for care services like Day Activity Centres and sheltered workshops.

Legal guardianship

For children with disabilities who lack mental capacity, parents may need to prepare to apply to be their court-appointed deputies as the children approach the legal age of 21. This gives deputies the power to make important decisions on certain matters on behalf of their children, including personal welfare and health, ownership of property, and finance matters. The Assisted Deputyship scheme will help them do this, or they can approach the Office of the Public Guardian directly. More information can be found here.


Leaving school

Further Education

Graduates of mainstream secondary schools can progress to institutes of higher learning, which have offices dedicated to support students with special needs. Graduates of SPED schools can also consider the School-to-Work Transition Programme and other vocational training initiatives.

National Service (NS)

Under the Enlistment Act, all male Singaporean citizens and Permanent Residents (PRs) are required to serve NS once they turn 18.

However, they could be partially or fully exempted from this requirement if they are deemed unfit for services, based on the results of medical check-ups. This is usually due to the person having permanent physical disabilities or severe mental conditions. Exemption will depend on the results of the medical check-up and the decision of the Armed Forces Council.

More information can be found here.


At the individual level, employment can boost a person’s physical, mental and emotional well-being. It helps to give him the dignity of earning his own keep, and a sense of fulfilment that comes from using his skills and talents meaningfully. But for persons with disabilities, the runway leading up to employment can be a long one, and both they and their caregivers may need to make a conscious decision to pursue employment as a life goal and work towards it.

Adult care services

Adults who lack adequate skills for employment may benefit from sheltered workshops, in which they engage in simple vocational tasks under close supervision. Those with limited care support at home could consider day care or residential care in group homes, adult disability hostels and adult disability homes. Alternatively, they could consider hiring foreign domestic workers to provide care at home.


Older adulthood

Qualifying for eldercare

As persons with disabilities reach their senior years, they may qualify for assistance from various eldercare schemes and services. The Agency for Integrated Care integrates social care, healthcare, mental health and caregiving resources under one roof for seniors, caregivers and care decision makers.

At the same time, some disability support programmes, e.g. sheltered workshops, may have an upper age limit. Staff will help the person with disabilities to transition to an appropriate service in the eldercare sector where possible.

  • Moments of Life App – A one stop portal for seniors, aged 60 and above, to access personalised government services and information.

Preparing for the End of Caregiving

Death can be a difficult subject to broach with anyone, as it is often perceived as a taboo topic. Even though the topic can be uncomfortable, it is important to accept and consider the reality of death, and have a conversation with your loved ones. It is good for them to express, and for caregivers to hear and understand, their fears and concerns regarding death as well as their wishes and plans for what is important to them.

Thinking about the time when they can no longer care for their care recipients can be difficult for a caregiver. The feelings about anticipated grief and loss as well as the uncertainties of what to do next can be overwhelming.   

To overcome this, spend time with family and friends, who are your pillars of support during this difficult time. Meeting other caregivers who have been through the same journey may also provide encouragement and comfort for you. If you find yourself struggling to cope or unable to adjust, do seek help.

When measures are in place for your child, do take time to consider your own personal needs and wishes. More information can be found here.