NEW SCHOOLS FOR PEOPLE WITH AUTISM
Their teaching content may be different, but their intent is the same. Parents in Selangor and Perak are taking the initiative to set up schools to cater to autistic children who would otherwise fall through the cracks of the education system.
By Pang Hin Yue
AFTER helming the National Autism Society of Malaysia (NASOM) as its chairman for eight years , Mr Teh Beng Choon is still all fired up to push for changes for people with learning disabilities. Under his leadership, 16 nationwide centres providing Early Intervention Programme (EIP) and three vocational centres have been set up.
In addition to these, NASOM has its own one-stop centre for assessment and diagnosis that is supported by a dedicated team of experts that include three psychologists, two speech therapists and an occupational therapist. It is no small feat , for a nominal sum of fee, NASOM provides a multitude of services that cater to a wide ranging group of people, from pre-schoolers to adults . All of which are geared towards educating, empowering and liberating people with autism. And now Teh is taking it to the next level.
He is planning to set up a special school for autistic children who have been denied of a place in government schools owing to their multiple disabilities or who have not benefitted from the government’s special education programme. “It is open to all who one way or another, can’t fit into the current education system,” he explains.
He is targeting for the school to be set up by next year . For a token sum for rent , SP Setia Foundation has provided a premise for NASOM to run its EIP in Setia Alam, Shah Alam since April this year. NASOM hopes to expand to include its latest school pilot project. Although Teh and his secretariat staff are working hard to convince a major housing developer and the State government to support their endeavour to have a permanent site for the new school, he feels the time has come to, “just do it”.
What will set the new school apart from others? “It will be driven by parents. They will be the ones giving inputs and getting involved directly ,” he says. He believes that parents can make invaluable contributions given their experience in caring and managing their autistic children.
Teh’s empathy for parents who are hard pressed for an alternative school for autistic children stems from his own share of ups and downs in securing his son’s rights to education. Although diagnosed with autism, his highly intelligent son sat for UPSR and passed with flying colours. But he was denied entry to secondary school because he was under 12 when he sat for the national exam. That left Teh with no option except to admit his son to a private school and seek exemption from the Education Ministry. Today at 15, his son is studying for a foundation programme for a master degree in pharmacy at a leading university. Would the outcome be different had his son remained in the mainstream school system? “My son enjoys his time at the university because he is finally learning by exploring,” he says.
Teh strongly believes that children with autism – whether they are high or low functioning – should be given every opportunity to realise their full potential. Just because they can’t fit into the mainstream school system, it does not mean they should be denied of their right to be the best they can be.
“The conventional education system requires children to learn a wide variety of subjects, and may be in languages that they may not be accustomed to. Children with developmental disorders may take a longer time to learn them, a situation which is not afforded by our school system. Further, their innate impairments may hinder their learning process. Consequently they develop a poor self image and see themselves as failures, thereby impeding their progress. This is further compounded if carers also give up. Which is why the new school will be unconventional,” he explains.
Instead of teachers, there will be facilitators determining what each child wants to learn and what he is capable of learning, says Teh. Facilitators will explore various learning options until they find those that bring out the best in the child, he adds. For instance, if a child is more proficient in English, then his programme will be structured based on his spoken language.
“Ultimately, the learning process is to ensure the child is supported in areas where he shows potential , be it in the field of academia, music, art or cooking and work towards independence and job skills,” he says.
Towards this end, Teh invites parents and critics to give their thoughts and ideas how best the school should be operated and email to him at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Being a non-profit organisation, he is only too aware that for any of NASOM’s programmes to succeed and remain sustainable, it has to have the financial security and strong teams of staff supporting them . For instance, NASOM spends RM1 million annually to ensure 61 students across the country have teachers aides to help them study in mainstream schools.
For members of the public who wish to donate towards NASOM’s causes, he cautions against giving their money to any third party. “NASOM is not affliliated to any foundation or organization,” he stresses, adding that all donations are tax deductible and that NASOM welcomes volunteers.
For more details, contact NASOM Secretariat at 35A Jln SS21/37, 47400 PJ. Website: http://www.nasom.com.my/. Email: email@example.com, tel: 03-77104098.
SPECIAL SCHOOL IN IPOH
DETERMINED not to settle for less, eight parents together with two advisors in Ipoh, Perak decided to set up a school for their autistic children. Calling themselves , Autism Support Association For Parents (ASAP), this motley crowd of parents went ahead and opened a school this year. With an undisclosed sum of money given by a generous donor, they found a double storey house and had it renovated. Says ASAP committee member, Tan Pek Imm, the members are thankful to find a retired teacher who accepted the challenge to run the school with the help of a teacher aide.
The school sessions are held in the afternoon, from 2-5pm with an enrollment capacity of six students. Mathematics, Science and English are taught based on the Singapore syllabus. “After examining the various teaching methods and contents, we settled for the Singapore syllabus because it allows our children the flexibility to take the secondary school level exam, one subject at a time,” explains Tan. She travelled to Singapore, spending time talking to officials at the island state’s education ministry and went away impressed.
“We prepare our kids to sit for ‘N’ Levels, ‘O’ Levels and ‘A’ Levels. We may also plan for them to sit for Cambridge exam upon completion of Year 6 in order to expose them to having exam in a public hall,” she says, adding that the school also offers other forms of interventional therapy for speech, behaviour and motor skills.
“ Next year, we plan to increase the number of classes to three to cater to a total of 18 students. The sessions will be held in the morning,” explains Tan whose son aged 13, had previously attended an international school in Ipoh before settling in his new school.
To ensure the viability of the school project and to garner support and services for families with autism in Perak, ASAP endeavours to increase its fund raising efforts with help from its patron, Datin Grace Lee.
ASAP invites parents to enroll their children at the new school. ASAP also welcomes those who are interested to be teachers to write in. For details, contact Charlotte at 016-4227076 (email: firstname.lastname@example.org) or Tan at 016-5535803 (email: email@example.com)