“Though special needs children do have their hindrances, they do actually want to be able to be like the others as well.”
SCSOA was first formed by parents who have special needs kids of their own. They tried to send one of their kids to a normal school but they were rejected. Initially, this centre was set up in many rented areas, but the founders decided they wanted a place of their own. We settled down here in 2017. We cater for kids of 3 major disabilities, which are autism spectrum disorder, down syndrome, and cerebral palsy.
Prior being in this field, I used to work in corporate. My background is in human resources, majoring in industrial relations. While I was working, I also had a passion for teaching and children. I was teaching mental arithmetic for both normal and special needs kids for a while. During that time, I observed that a lot of patience is needed when you are teaching those with special needs. I noticed that many teachers didn’t know how to handle them. From there I also realised that there was a need, and I thought I should learn more to go into it.
I took up an Early Childhood Education course as well as an Advance Diploma in Managing Special Needs. I started teaching immediately on a part-time basis after I completed my course. I then did 1-to-1 therapy with children. I also helped in consultation of syllabus for schools with special needs children. And when SCSOA needed a principal, I stepped in and I have been the principal for 2 years.
As the principal, I walk in to classes and conduct hands-on training with our teachers. Hands-on training involves doing activities together with the child. For example, practicing keywords or making flash cards. Even if a child is non-verbal, he is able to mimic lip movements. Teaching certain basic words like “toilet”, “pain”, “hungry” to communicate. For those who can read, we teach them better comprehension for better understanding. We also teach them how to handle money.
My main goal for these kids is to teach them to be independent. If I can get them to wash their own dishes, clean up after themselves, that too is an achievement. Along the way, we can also pick out on a skill the child is inclined towards. We observe if a child is more vocational or academically inclined, then we train them accordingly. We have a volunteer who comes in twice a week to do baking. Some of our children do help our volunteer in making baked goods and selling them to our parents and teachers. After they are done with baking, they also help to clean up: mop, wipe, wash their own dishes. Malaysian CARE calls us around every few months to help them in packing their magazines. Our children are used to routine, so they are able to carry out the same task repeatedly. There are places which I feel can employ them. At the moment we do not have as much acceptance of employing those with special needs in Malaysia, but there are a few places that are doing so.
I get to witness a child’s gradual improvement on a daily basis. If a child initially comes to me and is unable to pick up a pencil and now she’s able to pick it up and draw, that is progress to me. Just this year, we were also able to send 3 of our kids off to normal schools, for home-schooling. From observing their progress, we felt they were ready to go for an inclusion programme.
A common concern most parents of a special needs child would have is their lack of independence. Many of these parents may be getting older. Who is going to look after their child? Would their siblings be taking care of them? Maybe if we can teach them to be independent enough to care for themselves, they can gather as a group to look out for one another, get a simple job, earn enough to get by, and maybe some sponsors to care for them? Additionally, would people be treating their child right? How confident are we that they would not get into a situation that isn’t right? The fear is still there. We do teach our kids the difference between good touch and bad touch. We’ve not gone into the sex part of it, but I am looking for experts who can help to educate them on this. We should equip them with all this knowledge before they go out into the world on their own.”
Photostory and edited by Win Li