When I first started SEED 7 years ago, it was a one-man-show. I was working with different families, I was just consulting at the time. Gradually people started asking why didn’t I also provide other services. SEED came about because there was a need, and from there we grew. SEED is focused more on early intervention. We work with the younger population, kids ranging from 18 months old to 12 years old, who has autism spectrum disorder.
Back then we were mostly doing home-based consultations, so we didn’t need an office space. But now we feel that kids need to step out of their homes for a while. We settled in this space last October. This space allows kids to come together and learn as a group, interact with others, and experience a regular school routine.
Going into special needs education was not something I thought of initially. When I finished my Psychology degree, I knew I wanted to work with kids but I didn’t know which major I wanted to go into. But when I was working in a summer camp in the US, I noticed a girl who was a special needs child. She exhibited certain behaviour, which I found odd at the time. She would only be in a specific space, say certain words over and over again, only do things a certain way. I realised I didn’t know what to do, and I thought to myself, “what was the point of having a Psychology degree if I couldn’t even help a kid?.” That was when I decided to get my Masters in Special Education, focusing on those with learning disabilities. When I was doing my masters, I was also given the opportunity to work in a public school. I learned how to write Individualised Education Plans (IEP), which involves discovering a child’s strengths and weaknesses, prioritising what you want to teach, and coming up with a plan based on your assessment. I learned how to teach in a group setting, I got to sit in parent-teacher meetings. After I graduated, I taught for 2 years as a Special Needs Educator. It was challenging because you not only get kids with learning disabilities, but also behavioural disorders, ADHD, and traumatic brain injury. What was great in the States is that they do provide you with the resources. We are provided with an expert if we are teaching kids of a different disability than our specialty, who would be supervising to make sure I was doing the right thing. I came back to Malaysia and worked as a therapist for 3 years. I also started consulting. I also tried lecturing. But I felt I really missed working closely with the kids, so I went back to what I was doing.
In Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA), we improve the quality of life through teaching new behaviours and reducing maladaptive behaviour. ABA is a science which we apply in our daily teaching. In teaching, we tend to forget to measure if our teaching causes significant changes in behaviour. In ABA, we never blame the learner because of their capability. If the learner is not making progress, we have to inspect the way we are teaching. ABA is great because it holds the educator accountable for a student’s progress.
As far as I am aware, there is no governing body in Malaysia making sure that people providing services to those with special needs have certain credentials or training. How we fill in that gap at SEED is to hold ourselves accountable, so we subject ourselves to a standard. We want to make sure that every kid receives quality service, that the consumer is protected.
We do also provide home-based therapy. For an 18 month old kid, their home is their natural environment. Another reason we provide such a service is due to transportation. As long as there is at least one person supervising, we can conduct it at home. If parents want to incorporate their child into a group environment, we act as a stepping stone before they do that. We pick out the barriers and possible obstacles the child may face.
I encourage parents to make sure that a complete assessment is done before they shop for services. Make sure to ask questions: what kind of assessment will be conducted, what plan do you have for my kid, are you able to roughly determine my kid’s acquisition rate. Words like “progressing well”, “really well” or “extremely well” – these are all so subjective. If a specific therapy is recommended, ask why: does this help to fill in the skill they are lacking? I encourage parents to be more active in their children’s progression, but everyone is at a different pace. It will take time to get everyone to understand that we need to hold ourselves accountable for the learner’s progress.”
Photostory and edited by Win Li