Wednesday August 3, 2011
The new Music Dream Centre in Selangor serves as a platform for the learning disabled community to develop and showcase their talent.
WHEN her daughter, Ler Pei Yi, was diagnosed with autism three years ago, part-time beautician Winnie Low found herself on a sharp learning curve. As she braced herself for the barrage of information on the neurological disorder, she learnt the heart-breaking lesson on rejection.
“My daughter had been turned away many times by music teachers when I tried to enrol her. The usual excuse is, they only accept ‘normal’ students as they don’t have the patience to teach those with special needs,” she laments.
But when she got wind that Rotary Club of Bandar Utama, Petaling Jaya in Selangor, has opened its Music Dream Centre for the learning disabled, Winnie took her daughter there to have her registered as the six-year-old girl loves music and dancing.
That’s my girl: Winnie Low cheers on as her daughter Pei Yi (left) hits the keyboard.
A creative centre that caters exclusively to the learning disabled community is music to the ears of families which have been affected by children with learning disorders.
Parents like Kee Yong Chen and Sakuntala Manikkam share the hope that their Down syndrome sons will find a niche in music.
“I have been looking for an avenue for my 19-year-old son, Veshuan, to sing and dance, and I’m glad that there is such a place now,” enthuses Sakuntala.
“This centre is dedicated to people with learning disabilities. We see the need for such a centre as we understand that many parents have problems getting music schools to accept their special needs children. This is a platform for them to unleash their talent,” says K.G. Tan, president of the Rotary Club of Bandar Utama.
The newly renovated and fully air-conditioned centre in Perdana Damansara, Petaling Jaya, offers lessons in piano, percussion, guitar, drums, singing and dancing in group settings for persons with ages ranging from seven to 21. Consideration will be given to those below seven and above 21 after an assessment.
Multi-talented Brian John Yim who readily accepted the Rotarians’ invitation to be the centre’s coordinator on a pro bono basis, says the Music Dream Centre is a pilot project which he hopes to replicate in other states within the next two years to benefit more families.
“The idea is to develop and nurture talents that will lead to students giving public performances,” he says, adding that he is on the look-out for friends in the music and entertainment industry to volunteer their time at the centre.
Tan who strongly believes that there are gifted artists, singers and musicians among the learning disabled community, hopes that by showcasing their talents on stage, they will be able to earn a living and gain independence in the long run.
“It is a small step we take to raise public awareness. With community support, people with learning disorders can realise their full potential,” says Tan.
Students who show an aptitude for learning and playing musical instruments are placed under the centre’s music education programme where they learn in groups of five to 10.
Those who have yet to show their inclination, undergo a therapy programme where music is used as the medium of instruction. Four sessions lasting an hour each, is held monthly.
Tan says the club needs at least RM100,000 a year to run the centre. “We are thankful that we have a few sponsors and we will continue to raise funds through various events as we want to make this place viable,” he adds.
Families who sign up their children at the centre, can enjoy discounts for books, and access to experts in child psychology, therapists in various disciplines and motivational speakers.
Although the announcement was made via e-mails and by word of mouth, the turnout exceeded the Rotary Club members’ expectations. The centre was packed to the brim with parents and their children last Saturday when the Rotarians invited them to register and hear a presentation about their vision for the centre.
The affable Tan admitted that before he watched the National Autism Society of Malaysia’s (Nasom) choir performed at the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra’s chamber hall last year, he did not realise the magnitude of the problems faced by the learning disabled in the country. After seeing how Yim had succeeded in grooming and training the autistic children to sing in Nasom’s choir, Tan decided to rope in the former to run the centre.
Statistically, the global trend for people with autism stands at a ratio of 1:110 compared to Down syndrome with a ratio of 1:800.
According to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the rate of autism for ages three to 10 is 3.4 per 1,000, higher than the rates for cerebral palsy (2.8 per 1,000), hearing loss (1.1 per 1,000) and vision impairment (0.9 per 1,000).
As such, Yim expects 60% of the students at the centre will be persons with autism, while another 20% will be those with Down syndrome, with the remaining 20% for those with non-specified developmental delays.
Rotary club member Chong Hing Pheng, who helped her dyslexic son overcome his reading problems through intensive therapy, urges parents not to give up on their special needs children.
Chong, a human resource director, who volunteers at the centre, advises parents to focus on building up their children’s confidence.
That her son, Kuan Yew Gene, sings for the Kuala Lumpur Children’s Choir, should encourage parents to look for the silver lining in every challenge.
The Rotary Club of Bandar Utama’s Music Dream Centre is located at 28-3A, Lot No C/27-3, Jln PJU 8/5G, Bandar Damansara Perdana, Petaling Jaya, Selangor. For details contact K.G. Tan (012-323 0007/03-7710 3210).
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