Below is an article which appeared in yesterday's TheStar paper under the Lifestyle section:
Thursday March 4, 2004
Changing rules for the disabled
It is an uphill battle but parents and caregivers are supporting the Bar Council’s ongoing signature campaign to end discrimination against the learning disabled in the education system, writes PANG HIN YUE.
KAMARIAH Md Amin, Susila Devi and Helen Chin are among the 15,000 petitioners who share a common agenda. They want equal rights for the learning disabled in the education system and they want the Government to be fully committed to providing resources and support. Enough of lip service, they say. Their passion and conviction come from their own painful experiences of having their special needs sons sent to schools that eroded their self-esteem and confidence.
Kamariah’s son, Basri Kamil, now 22, has Down syndrome and is a wheelchair user. Through her untiring efforts, he was among the first batch of special needs students to be accepted into mainstream school in 1989. It started off promisingly, but over time, says Kamariah, “things began to fizzle out.”
It came to a point when her son was asked to leave the school in Subang Jaya, Selangor, not once, but five times.
“They threatened to expel him five times but I refused to budge,” recalls Kamariah.
As a former English teacher and as one who knows the system, she felt the school authority’s attempts had only exposed their prejudices towards the learning disabled. It was the memorandum, albeit non-legally binding, which she prepared as a member of the Selangor and Federal Territory Association for the Retarded Children that led to the Education Ministry’s decision in 1987 to allow the learning disabled to attend special classes in mainstream schools. Despite her efforts, Basri eventually left for another school to restore his self-esteem.
The law was, and still is, not on the side of the learning disabled and that includes persons with Down syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy, mental retardation and dyslexia. In fact, the Education Act (Special Education) Regulations 1997, discriminates against rather than protect the learning disabled.
Shocking but true, their admission to schools is left entirely to the discretion of the teachers and education officials – and not experts such as psychologists and speech pathologists – to decide who is deemed “educable”. All this goes against the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and Article 12 of the Federal Constitution which guarantees, among others, freedom to education.
The Education Ministry maintains that the responsibility of educating children with learning disabilities in this country is shared between it and the National Unity and Social Development Ministry.
“However, most members of the community feel that the statutory responsibility for basic education of all children, including children with learning disability, should remain with the Education Ministry,” says Mettilda John of Dignity and Services, a non-profit advocacy service provider for the learning disabled.
The absence of equal rights to education for the learning disabled causes parents like Susila Devi to feel that they are at the mercy of headmasters and teachers. When the school’s authority is sincere in making concerted efforts to teach and care for the learning disabled and engage parents in dialogues, all is well and good. But when that does not happen, it can be hell, as in the case of her autistic son, Anand, when she enrolled him at a school in Subang Jaya, Selangor, three years ago.
The students in the special education class endured more than verbal abuse. Their teacher routinely tied them up when she was unable to cope with their behaviour. “Such an inhuman act would not have occurred if teachers were trained to manage their behaviour appropriately,” asserts Susila.
The absence of safety precautions was another reason that got the former accountant worrying. There had been occasions when the disabled students wandered off to the main road. Above all, the lackadaisical attitude of the teacher did not inspire confidence. So after despairing for half a year in the school, Susila felt it was time to take Anand out of the oppressive environment and resumed teaching him at home.
“I have no faith in the system,” she says. Until and unless teachers are appropriately trained and adequate resources are provided to motivate them to give undivided attention to the learning disabled, Susila feels the situation is unlikely to improve.
The problem is it is difficult to pinpoint who is responsible for implementing the existing guidelines for good practice at the grassroots level, observes John who has over 25 years of experience in working with children and adults with special needs in Britain.
“Having legislation that ensures the rights of the learning disabled are upheld is a start but what is more important is its effective implementation,” says John.
This is where the Bar Council comes in. Spearheaded by Helen Chin, a lawyer, the Bar Council is pressing for reforms, calling for new laws to be passed to give a clear definition of individuals with special needs and to ensure their rights are in tandem with those found in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and UN Declaration on the Rights of Disabled Persons.
Driven by the need to “make life better for our (disabled) children,” she was roped in by the Bar Council to study and compare the various legislations that are already in place in other countries pertaining to services and rights of the learning disabled.
Chin got into active campaigning two years ago because “as a lawyer and a mother of an autistic son, I’m constantly in contact with families with special needs and I share their frustrations.”
Her son, Anthony Lee, 15, suffered at the hands of his teacher who, among others, derided him as “a mental case” when he was in Year One.
“I was so depressed,” she recalls. Instead of praising her son for his ability to read and write, the teacher focused on his negative behaviour. Like Anand, Lee quit school after a few months to be home schooled.
But Chin refused to wallow in pity. She decided she would fight bigotry constructively. The opportunity arose in 1999 when a Bar Council circular came out, calling for members to submit proposals on the existing laws that needed to be reviewed.
......contd in next posting below.....
Changing rules for the disabled
(...Contd from above posting...)
Thus began her journey of drafting the memorandum and organising a public forum. In January this year, the Bar Council took the matter one step further, launching an online signature campaign in its webpage (www.malaysianbar.org.my/default.htm). Response so far has been encouraging.
To date, the Bar Council has gathered about 15,000 signatures and parents like Cho Suet Sen and Shirene Bidari are actively garnering signatures from friends and families.
“I’m doing it because there are no rights, no provisions in our education system for children like my son who is dyslexic,” says Cho, who is a committee member of the Dyslexia Association.
Another seminar is being planned before June, entitled Disabled but not uneducable: Liberating the disabled through education. The Bar Council is making every effort to get the participation of the Education Ministry.
“We will be handing the memorandum and the signatures we gathered to the ministry. This is a pressing issue,” says Chin.
Describing the ongoing signature campaign as “very timely”, Dignity and Services director Peter Young says it has to go beyond passing laws to protect their rights.
“This must be followed through not just in education but also in providing training and employment opportunities,” adds Young, who has over 20 years of experience working with persons with learning disabilities.
He observes that although the situation is improving, adults with learning disability are still getting a raw deal when it comes to employment. “They do not get to hold good jobs. Most are reduced to doing menial tasks,” he observes.
Young feels the onus is on both the Government and the private sector to bring about a positive change in the contributions of the learning disabled to the workforce. Indeed, there is no denying that the law is only effective if there is enforcement.
“It harks back to the issue of implementation. If there is a law but it is not enforced, it has no teeth,” contends Kamariah.
“Which is why parents must speak out and exert their rights,” adds Chin.
Not only do more teachers have to be recruited, the Education Ministry needs to ensure proper training is given so that teachers do not resort to dehumanising tactics to get learning disabled students to comply.
In Britain, explains John, teacher aides are hired to attend to learning disabled students. If they act disruptively, the aides will take them out to another room or another activity for a short time. After they have calmed down, they return to class.
But in Malaysia, teachers do not have such luxury yet. Given the hive of activities and the courses they have to attend to, they are often stretched to their limits, notes Susila. Moreover, the best teachers are rarely the ones the learning disabled have.
There is a general consensus that reforms need to take place on many levels. There is a dire need to change the mindset of policy-makers and teachers. Parents have to be empowered too so that they can exert their children’s rights. Their participation should be valued and encouraged. The Government, on its part, has to allocate a budget and train more teachers and have aides to cater to the learning disabled.
“We run the risk of being stuck in the dark ages as far as education is concerned if we don’t start now,” warns John.
There are easily over two million disabled persons in Malaysia, going by the United Nation’s estimation that 10% of any given population is disabled. It is unlikely that the number will decrease in years to come. The economic and social costs will be enormous if the needs of the learning disabled continue to be sidelined.
To support the Bar Council’s signature campaign, visit www.malaysianbar.org.my/default.htm. One Voice is a monthly column which serves as a platform for professionals, parents and careproviders of children with learning difficulties. Feedback on the column can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For enquiries of services and support groups, please call Malaysian Care (03-90582102) or Dignity & Services (03-77830849).
Interesting Website for Understanding Dyslexia
I recently stumbled upon a website which looks interesting and has a good write-up on dyslexia. The article "Understanding Dyslexia" can be found in www.teenshealth.com and the specific link is as below:
Support and acceptance
Below is an interesting article from a mother of two special needs child:
TheSTAR, Thursday April 1, 2004
Support and acceptance
Parenting is a tough job, especially when you have more than one special needs child in the family, writes ELAINE LIDDELL.
PARENTING is the hardest job in the world. More so if you have children with special needs. Many parents with children with disabilities have a difficult time dealing with day-to-day life. Some days it can feel like the whole world is out to get you.
As a parent of two children, one aged 15 with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and the other, 13, with dyslexia, I have many years of experience parenting children with special needs. This does not mean that I have always got things right but I have always done what I felt was best at the time.
ADHD can be recognised by the following symptoms: inattention, impulsivity, hyperactivity, insatiability, social difficulties, disorganisation, specific learning difficulties and poor self-esteem. In the case of a child with just Attention Deficit Disorder, he is usually dreamy, quiet and spacey.
Hyperactivity in children with ADHD is the symptom that is most obvious. This could be the reason why so many children without the hyperactivity go undiagnosed. ADHD kids are extremely fidgety and cannot sit still, full of energy and unable to listen to instructions.
Impulsivity and insatiability give rise to social problems as the child often finds it difficult to take turns at play or will have tantrums and become frustrated when their immediate demand is not met.
Dyslexia symptoms include difficulties in learning to read, write and spell. Persons with dyslexia face problems in retaining short-term memory, concentrating, organising and sequencing. They also have a weakness in the processing of language-based information.
Dyslexia can occur at any level of intellectual ability and is not the result of poor motivation. Children with dyslexia try their hardest to achieve the results expected of them but often fall short. This can result in a feeling of incompetence and low self-esteem.
Some days we encounter people who just do not understand. Once many years ago when I was still living in Britain, I had to take my two-year-old son along with me to the local doctor as his baby brother was very ill. It entailed waiting to be “slotted in” as we did not have an appointment. I spent over two hours in a small but full waiting room with a fractious baby and a highly over-active toddler. People sat and just looked at us as if we were the cabaret act!
Eventually we were able to see the doctor and as I made my exit through the doorway trying to juggle two extremely tired, hungry children and all the paraphernalia that we had to carry around with us, a woman said to me in a loud voice: “I have brought up four children and would never let my kids behave like that!” I left the waiting room without a word. Did she care about who we were or our situation? Did she ever give us a second thought after this? Thankfully not everyone we meet is like that woman.
So how did I feel after this? Extremely alone, as if I were the only person in the world who was experiencing this, and her comment, it seemed to me at the time, had confirmed this.
I have encountered such situations many times over the years. Other parents have shared similar experiences. We do not deserve to be made to feel this way just because we have children who do not always “fit in”. They are bright, intelligent, funny and unique individuals and we are proud to be their parents.
My oldest son, then aged seven, was diagnosed with ADHD in 1995. I was still in Britain, and I was put in touch with other parents who had set up a support group for families with ADHD children. This was a turning point for me. The opportunity to talk and share day-to-day problems with other parents was a moving experience. We would laugh, cry, talk or just listen. It made us all stronger to fight another day.
We moved to Malaysia at the end of 1995 and have made it our home. Having had the experience of a support group in Britain, I decided to set up one here for parents just like myself. In the early years, a few parents would meet up for coffee once a month.
The meetings are in an easy, relaxed atmosphere where we discuss issues we are concerned about with like-minded people. Sometimes we have speakers on related topics. Over the years I have had the great fortune to meet some lovely people and their children; everyone with a different story to tell, and the friendships that have evolved have been lasting and deep. About two years ago we joined The Calvary Life Ministries (CLM counselling centre) and now have a permanent base at their office at Damansara Perdana in Petaling Jaya.
The main reason our group is still very active is that we operate on the self-help concept. Rather than take the problem from another person and try to solve it for them, we offer them support and resources to make informed decisions themselves. This empowers them with knowledge to overcome the problems they face.
Occasionally people do have certain expectations and criteria that they require from others. Some feel that by attending one group meeting, all the problems they face will be taken away in that one visit. This is quite impossible as each child and family situation may be different. It takes involvement and effort to regularly attend meetings to expect anything in return. All aspects of the problem need to be addressed holistically. Besides talking to other parents, we need to seek professional advice too.
Unfortunately, apathy is a problem. This is one area that many help groups are well aware of, and try to find solutions to. We are sometimes told that there is no point in trying to change attitudes towards these children as no one will listen. This is not true. Parents have a voice and they should use it to do whatever it takes to make people listen and take notice.
Why start or join a support group? Cindy, one of the members of our support group testifies: “It has made me a very different person in the way I now get to know my son and it has touched me to want to reach out to all the children with special needs in this country.”
Adds Tong Siew: “About five years ago, while looking for a helpline to deal with what I suspected was a serious learning disability in one of my sons, I came across a two-line advert in Manza expat magazine about the ADHD Support Group put out by Elaine.
“Through this support group, parents like me have a voice, and a place to meet where we can freely offer advice and opinions and receive help and support. “
Indeed the strength of sharing cannot be underestimated. It is an integral part of the whole acceptance and understanding process. As parents we are relentless in our search for answers and ways to improve the lives of our children. Parents of children with special needs are special too.
· The Family Support Group for ADHD/LD is open to everyone. The group meets on the first Saturday of the month, from 2pm to 5pm at: The Family Support Group for ADHD/LD (CLM), Unit 20-2 (3rd floor), Jln PJU 8/5G, 47820 Bandar Damansara Perdana, Petaling Jaya (03-7710 3360 / fax: 03-7726 3315 /e-mail: email@example.com. To join our e-group go to: http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/myadhd support
One Voice is a monthly column which serves as a platform for professionals, parents and careproviders of children with learning difficulties. Feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. For enquiries of services and support groups, call Malaysian Care (03-9058 2102) or Dignity & Services (03-7783 0849).
Shortage of teachers for disabled students
According to what is reported in TheStar, not many teachers are interested to teach disabled children. This is really sad. Perhaps the Ministry of Education should make it mandatory that a certain percentage of teachers who graduate from teaching colleges each year are designated to teach the disabled.
Tuesday March 30, 2004
Shortage of teachers for disabled students
KUALA LUMPUR: There is a shortage of special education teachers for disabled students, especially in the fields of dyslexia and autism.
Deputy director-general of Education (Special Education Department) Siti Zaharah Mat Akib said most teachers currently opt to specialise in teaching the blind and deaf.
“We are currently training more teachers but this takes time,” she said at a roundtable discussion on education of the disabled through collaboration, organised by the Malaysian Human Rights Commission (Suhakam).
She said 150 teachers had been recruited during the latest intake to be trained in various fields.
“It is not easy to teach these children as each child is different and will have various needs.
“We also can’t afford to do one-to-one teaching so we need students who can at least take care of themselves such as using the toilet on their own,” she said.
At present, she said parents could send their special children to schools run by the ministry, private schools, centres run by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) or be taught at home by their parents.
Later, in answer to a query on a lack of special education teachers in the state from Sarawak Society for Parents of Handicapped Children honorary secretary Ng Kui Choo, Siti Zaharah said the department was trying its best to place teachers everywhere.
“We are hoping to place more teachers in Sarawak once they graduate,” she said.
Suhakam commissioner and education working group chairman Prof Dr Chiam Heng Keng said it was difficult to get people to teach disabled children as not many were interested.
Consider plight of parents of special children
TheStar, Monday April 5, 2004
Consider plight of parents of special children
I REFER to your report, “Shortage of teachers for disabled students”, (The Star, March 30).
It quoted deputy director-general of Education (Special Education Department) Siti Zaharah Mat Akib as saying it was difficult to get teachers for disabled students as most opted to teach the blind and deaf rather than those with autism and dyslexia.
As the mother of a child with special needs, I have heard these comments time and time again.
My child Nanthini, 13, currently attends a special class in SMK Bandar Sunway where the facilities are better than most special classes as most of the resources were donated by parents and raised from public funds.
However, this has only been in the last one-and-a-half years.
Previously, my husband and I, as working parents, spent almost RM40,000 in four years sending her to private schools and centres run by non-governmental organisations.
Siti Zaharah does not seem to understand the plight of parents when she suggested they could send their disabled children to private centres and centres run by NGOs.
Most NGOs find it difficult to sustain the cost of funding the education of children with special needs, such as autism, dyslexia and dyspraxia.
Thus, parents with no choice have had to hunt for alternatives and pay high monthly fees as we did at the private schools and NGO-run centres in order to give our daughter the education she deserves.
As for being unable to give one-to-one teaching, I think those in the Education Ministry (Special Education Department) should take a good hard look at the services they offer and try to put themselves in the shoes of parents.
Many children with special needs do need one-to-one teaching.
Instead of the same excuses I have heard over the past 13 years, I think it is about time the Education Ministry (Special Education Department) gave serious thought to the plight of parents who have had to spend large amounts of money educating their special needs children.
As tax-payers, I feel short-changed and I hope things will change with the new Cabinet line-up.
I agree with what Dharshini said; that the NGOs are facing a shortage of funds themselves. The Dyslexic Association of Wilayah Persekutuan is one such NGO which is really facing a shortage of funds right now and because of this, they are unable to do a lot more which they can otherwise provide.
One body needed to oversee needs of disabled
The Star, Sunday April 4, 2004
One body needed to oversee needs of disabled
BY KAREN CHAPMAN
A secretariat which acts as a coordinating body for services available to the disabled must be set up to act as a one-stop centre of information for those in need.
The secretariat should also produce a directory of services available which could be distributed nationwide so families with a disabled newborn would know who and where to turn to. Right now there is no one organisation which coordinates all the services available and provides information on special education or any other related services.
These are among proposals raised by participants at a one-day roundtable discussion on education of the disabled through collaboration. Organised by the Malaysian Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) with the Education Ministry, the roundtable on Monday brought together the Special Education Department, other government agencies and various non-governmental organisations (NGOs) involved in special education.
The objective was for participants to come up with suggestions on how all the different parties could work more closely together to meet the needs of the disabled.
Suhakam commissioner and education working group chairman Dr Chiam Heng Keng said the main purpose of the roundtable was to discuss how everyone could work together to enable children with disabilities to achieve their full potential and lead a fruitful life.
A child has the right to special care, education and training to help him enjoy a full and decent life, states Article 23 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).
''Suhakam wants to work together with the ministry and NGOs for the well being of the disabled, a group whose rights are very vulnerable to violation.
''They are already disadvantaged and society should not disadvantage them further. We believe these children have abilities and we should focus on these abilities rather than their disabilities. If we help them to develop, they will become useful citizens instead of being a liability, dependent on handouts,'' she said.
One suggestion mooted at the roundtable is the setting up of a database to gauge the number of disabled children. This is because it is very difficult to develop national policies and programmes for the benefit of the disabled in the absence of reliable and up-to-date information.
''If they are not registered, how can the government know what kind of support and services they need?'' said deputy director-general of education (special education department) Siti Zaharah Mat Akib who acknowledged the need for the database.
Currently, once they are registered with the Welfare Services Department, the disabled are entitled to certain benefits but not all parents register their children.
''We would be better able to plan where and how many special schools to set up if we had a database pinpointing where these children lived and their type of disability,'' she said.
Dr Chiam concurred, saying that once the government knew the number of disabled individuals in the country, the Ministries of Education, Health, Human Resources and Transport could plan for the kind of pavements, traffic lights and jobs needed for this segment of society.
The Malaysian Council for Rehabilitation vice-president Datuk Ghazali Yusoff suggested that the National Advisory and Consultative Council for Disabled Persons, set up under the then National Unity and Social Development Ministry in 1998 be placed under the direct purview of the Prime Minister or Deputy Prime Minister.
''The council has not been active and I think we need someone more 'powerful' such as the prime minister or his deputy to push for development. ''One of the problems in the past has been that the representatives from each ministry or agency do not have the authority to act or agree on something. The whole point is to have people who can act on decisions right away,'' he said to cheers from the other participants.
Working in partnership
Regardless of their disabilities, they are children first, shares Foundation for the Deaf executive Ho Koon Wei who is deaf but spoke through a sign language interpreter.
''It is their right and our responsibility to work together to ensure they have a better tomorrow,'' she said.
Among the suggestions she made was for one or more NGOs serving a specific target group to be invited to work with the Education Ministry to ensure the group's needs are met.
''NGOs who work with specific groups can help the ministry in the design and planning of curriculum and teaching methodology or serve as interpreters and work with teachers,'' she said.
Ho also mooted the setting up of a committee to oversee the development of education for children with disabilities. It could comprise representatives from the new Women, Family and Community Development Ministry, Works Ministry, Health Ministry, the Bar Council and NGOs.
''Sometimes people wonder what the Works Ministry has to do with disabled students but don't forget that they build schools; it is important to liase with them in terms of building disabled-friendly schools,'' she said.
Wong Chee Kin, who is Calvary Victory Centre chairman in Johor Baru, said parents also play a role in promoting the education and development of children with disabilities. He himself became involved in special education when his second son, then aged two, was diagnosed as moderately autistic in 1998.
''Our nightmare began then. We found no facility in Johor Baru for treatment, rehabilitation or early intervention for our son. We were told that early intervention would be the most effective way to treat him since he was diagnosed at such an early age.
''We then sent him to Singapore for early intervention for a period of time despite the logistics and high cost. At about the time our son was diagnosed, we met a group of parents who wanted to set up something for their autistic children,'' he shared.
After consultation with Wong's stor, the Calvary Autistic Centre (now renamed Calvary Victory Centre) was set up.
''In my opinion, the task of providing special education is huge and complex and beyond the ability of government agencies or any NGO. The answer to me lies in good collaboration between government agencies and NGOs,'' he said.
He said there was a need for greater recognition of NGO-operated education centres as most NGOs were very focused and motivated in providing for the needs of people with learning disabilities.
''We must recognise that NGOs are performing important roles in providing special education opportunities and they must be given greater support. Government support such as building permits, finance and tax incentives are always needed,'' he said.
Dr Chiam said the Education Ministry was the chief provider (of education) but all parties could work together for the good of the children.
''From my observation, the ministry is in short supply of expertise in certain areas of disabilities and human resources. On the other hand, some NGOs and frustrated parents have through their own initiative and resourcefulness acquired the knowledge and developed effective educational and training programmes for their children,'' she said.
Admitting that there was a shortage of special education teachers, especially in the fields of dyslexia and autism, Siti Zaharah said most teachers currently opt to specialise in teaching the blind and deaf. ''We are currently training more teachers but this takes time. It is not easy to teach these children as each child is different and has different needs,'' she said.
At present, she said, parents could send their special children to schools run by the ministry, private schools, centres run by NGOs or be taught at home by their parents.
Wong said this was why the development of a pool of skilled manpower for a successful implementation of special education programmes in the country was so important.
Giving Johor Baru as an example, he said there was one speech therapist to work with autistic children there.
''In the long term, there is a need for a coordinating body, be it a government agency, an institution or board, to recognise and give accreditation to courses and training workshops offered by the private sector and NGOs to ensure consistent standards,'' he said.
For example, he said a group of volunteers in Johor Baru with the sponsorship of the Kiwanis Club of Taman Sentosa had brought in local and foreign professionals to conduct a training course for special education teachers last year.
The next step
Dr Chiam said Suhakam was now in the midst of preparing a report on the roundtable discussion.
''Once the report is ready, we will discuss it with the Special Education Department and put some of the suggestions into practice immediately,'' she said.
Overall, she said she was pleased with how the roundtable discussion had proceeded although she expressed disappointment that representatives from several government agencies invited such as the Transport, and Housing and Local Government Ministries had not turned up while a Health Ministry representative had left after the morning session. ''I don't know why these people didn’t turn up as we are not just discussing special education opportunities here. We also want to create job opportunities for the disabled as well as ensure disabled-friendly transportation and housing,'' she said.
From Suhakam's earlier dialogues with the disabled, she said it realised that much needed to be done for people with disability.
Education ranks among the critical basic needs of the disabled because without education, they cannot develop and be employable in their adulthood, she said.
Roundtable initiative a step forward for special children
The Star, Wednesday April 7, 2004
Roundtable initiative a step forward for special children
SYABAS to Suhakam and the Education Ministry for taking the initiative to organise a roundtable on Special Education, “One body needed to oversee needs of disabled”, (Sunday Star, April 4).
I think it is a big step forward, for government and non-government organisations to begin to work together in providing educational services for children with disabilities.
It is my sincere hope that the discussions will lead to prompt, affirmative action.
For one, the proposal to set up a Committee for the Development of Education for Children with Disabilities, with representatives from all the relevant ministries and government agencies, will be a great relief to parents of children with special needs.
A single co-ordinating committee will hopefully eliminate the tiresome run-around from ministry to ministry for parents seeking assistance.
The committee, if it is formed, should deal quickly with pressing issues like curriculum review, teacher training, and so on.
I believe that with a positive attitude and co-operation from all quarters, any obstacle can be overcome.
Take the lack of special education teachers, for instance. While more such teachers are being trained, as an interim measure, perhaps parents could be encouraged to serve as teacher aides.
Also, taking a longer perspective, all teachers, whether in general or special education, should receive some training in teaching children with special needs.
By doing so, inclusive education can hopefully become a reality in our classrooms, where disabled children learn alongside their non-disabled peers.
Besides that, the suggestion for the National Advisory and Consultative Council for Disabled Persons to come under the purview of the Prime Minister merits consideration.
The needs of the disabled are urgent and deserving of strong political will that can push through the necessary reforms.
As Malaysia heads towards “excellence, glory and distinction”, let us ensure such lofty goals are within the reach of everyone, disabled or not.
Lack of support for special education
Sunday April 11, 2004
Lack of support for special education
I FEEL compelled to write in after reading two letters – “Don’t overload special education teachers” and “Special children in need of teachers” – in StarEducation, March 28.
I have two special children, aged 10 and eight – the first is diagnosed with having Asperger Syndrome and Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and the other with Pervasive Developmental Delay Disorder. I wholeheartedly support the writers’ views.
The Education Ministry must realise that special children are truly special, especially in terms of their educational needs.
It is certainly not easy being a special education teacher. Some may think that teaching a class of just five or six pupils is bliss, but in this case one teacher may not be enough as each child has his own abilities and disabilities – be it Down Syndrome, dyslexia or autism.
As a parent, I shuddered at the sight of grilles on the doors and windows of special education classrooms in a primary school. I cried the first week I sent my eight-year-old to school, but I had to accept the fact that the grilles are necessary for the safety of the children, especially those with ADHD or autism. However, if there are enough teachers to look after them, grilles might not be necessary.
The ministry and school principals should be more understanding and supportive of us. Masyarakat penyayang dan prihatin isn’t be just another slogan, right?
Some people say the Government has done a good job of providing special schools for the deaf, the blind, and the physically-disabled. Yes, that is correct. But a lot of parents will agree with me that children with ADHD, autism and dyslexia are those in the “grey area”.
They certainly do not belong to the above schools, and they don’t fit into mainstream schools because of the lack of support. There are private schools which do accept these children. Others have support teams for these children (who are placed in normal classes), but parents have to fork out quite a sum in fees. Where does that leave those of us who can’t afford it?
The school which my child attends has about 45 special children and 10 teachers, not all of whom are trained in special education. Even so, they turn away children who are not toilet-trained, or those who fall in the “destructive category” of autism.
So please tell me, what can we as parents do if the only system available to us fails us? Let our children waste away at home? Shackled to posts? Kept behind grilles? We may not know the exact statistics, but I believe the number of special children in Malaysia is growing.
It is my earnest hope that the Government, especially the Education Ministry, takes a more pro-active role in providing help and support for special children.
With proper guidance and training, they too can some day contribute to nation-building.
I certainly hope that the promises made before and after the recently concluded General Elections will be upheld and fulfilled by the ministers involved.
RESEARCHERS HAIL 'EXERCISE' CURE
A controversial exercise-based treatment claimed to help children with dyslexia has been hailed a success by parents and teachers at a school. The scheme includes balancing, catching and throwing activities and is designed to stimulate the brain.
More than 40 pupils with learning problems associated with dyslexia at Balsall Common School in Solihull, UK, took part in the two-year study ... The school says those who received the treatment showed huge improvements.
For Full story, go to this URL: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/w...ds/3731451.stm
A Workshop for Parents and Teachers
Here is good news for parents of Dyslexic children!
The Persatuan Dyslexia of Wilayah Persekutuan is organizing a
workshop, “Educating Dyslexic Children” this coming weekend for parents and teachers of such children.
Date: 26 - 27 June 2004
Time: 9.00 a.m. – 4.00 p.m.
Venue: Lembaga Penduduk dan Pembangunan Keluarga Negara (LPPKN), 13th Floor, Jalan Raja Laut, Kuala Lumpur
Registration fees: RM30
N.B. The above workshop is sponsored by HSBC Bank (M) Bhd. Registration will open at 8.30 a.m. The number of participants will be restricted to 100, on a first-come, first-served basis. For further information, phone 03-40255109.
Topics covered are:
Saturday, 26 June 2004:
Persatuan Dyslexia: Past, Present, Future
Definitions: Dyslexia, L.D. and S.L.D.
The Emotional Life of the Dyslexic Child
Teaching with Phonics
Sunday, 27 June 2004:
Dyslexics and the Education System
My Child and Me
Making Math Make Sense
How many skills do we need for reading?
Real Reading means Getting the Meaning
Time, Times Tables and other Math Facts
Sentences, Paragraphs and Essays
Dyslexic Workshop for Parents & Teachers
I attended the above workshop on June 26, 2004. Although this is a 2-day workshop, due to some health reasons (stomach upset), I was only able to make it for the 1st day. Even for that one day, I enjoyed the workshop very much and have gained a lot of useful knowledge through the sharing by some experts in this specific area of learning disabilities. The speakers are well-qualified people like Coralie Leong (Educational Psychologist), Sheila Devaraj (Specialist Teacher), Dr. Rose Peng (Consultant Psychiatrist) and many others.
There was also a very interesting session conducted by Helen Smith and Mark Gibson on Brain Gym. Here, we were taught to perform some specific exercises which have been claimed to help stimulate and improve the interaction between the left brain and the right brain. This is mind-boggling but fun!
The session by Dr. Rose Peng was particularly interesting as it highlights the emotional life of a dyslexic very well. It is very touching to hear her relate her own life story (a confession of sorts). She was a dyslexic herself and was ‘written-off’ by her teachers when she was in lower primary school. No one gave her a chance.
But because of a particular teacher who helped her to save her face and made her regained her self-worth in class, she became motivated and went on to improve herself in her own special ways. Her smart ways of getting things done through unconventional methods coupled with her sheer determination (she mentioned that she puts in something like 400 – 500 % efforts compared to normal students!) helped her to do well in her exams and she later managed to get herself into medical school. Today, she is a very successful person and sought-after Psychiatrist in the Klang valley.
Below are some examples of the notes I’ve taken down from Dr. Rose’s presentation:
Feeling Good Despite Dyslexia :
How I Work Best?
1. Learning assisted by other modes than just words.
2. Express myself by other than written words.
3. When I feel good about myself.
4. When my effort is recognized.
5. When my success is shared.
Accept Me As I Am
1. I struggle to read and write like my peers.
2. Help me and I will do my best.
3. Do not blame me for my short comings, I am not doing it on purpose.
4. Please always remember that I am smart BUT I can’t show it in my academic work.
5. I can’t get information through reading and I can’t express myself well.
6. Let me learn by other modes than READING.
7. Read with me. Talk to me.
8. Do not make such a big deal about my weaknesses.
9. Do not ignore my talents and strengths.
10.Please listen to me so that I can tell you what assistance I need.
All in all, it was time well spent at the workshop. We all gained some invaluable tips from it. The registration fee of RM30.00 was just to cover for lunch and tea for the 2 full days, the rest being fully sponsored by HSBC.
How I wish more parents of Dyslexic children would come forward and attend such workshops organized by the Dyslexic Association. People living in the Klang valley are a lucky lot. I think the attendance for the first day of the workshop was only about 70%. What a waste – more should have come and gain from it!
Helping families with disabled members
Sunday August 1, 2004
Helping families with disabled members
BY KAREN CHAPMAN
Below are excerpts from the above article that appeared on the Sunday STAR:
ALTHOUGH Malaysia aspires for developed status, there is still a lot that needs to be done in terms of support services given to families with disabled members.
According to Prof Steven Daley from California State University, Sacramento's Department of Special Education, Rehabilitation and School Psychology, special education and rehabilitation services are universally available to all children with disabilities and their families.
''In Canada, the United States, countries in Western Europe and Japan, there is an explicit legal mandate that serves as a foundation for special education and rehabilitation services.
''When special education services are framed by enabling legislation, the critical factor of equal access is squarely addressed in a way that insures all children with disabilities will be provided with free and appropriate public education,'' he says.
In developing nations, Prof Daley says it is important to implement federally mandated services that reflect international standards.
''Vision 2020 articulates a brilliant and persistent commitment to the development of a caring society. The next logical step for the country is to implement federal legislation that will provide full access to special education services for all of Malaysia's children with disabilities,'' he opines.
Organised by the Universiti Malaya (UM) Centre for Family Development with the support of Yayasan Budi Penyayang Malaysia and the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry, the one-day forum brought together parents, government representatives and experts in special education.
The theme of the forum, Nurturing Family Life: Effective Partnerships encapsulates the most pressing issues faced by individuals with special needs and their families.
Organising committee chairman Sandiyao Sebestian says families are the building blocks of society and strong family units build a healthy society.
''The families of persons with disabilities are very much a part of society and every effort should be made to ensure that these families feel included through effective partnerships,'' he says.
Prof Daley believes families are strong, critical partners in the development and implementation of high quality special education services.
“Families know their child the best and they have keen insight on what constitutes both the developmental goals and educational outcomes desired.
“The education of a child with special needs is a full-time job and families cannot be expected to manage this on their own,'' he says.
Teachers work with the child in school while parents have the lion's share of the responsibility for raising a child who often presents many challenges.
“Collaborative partnerships also require the provision of training and ongoing support to families so that they may better cope with the many demands of having a child who has special needs,'' he says.
Sebestian who is a UM lecturer, says when the United Nations extended its Asian and Pacific decade of the disabled, the 'Biwako-Millennium Framework' was formulated.
The main thrust of this regional framework is to work towards an inclusive, barrier-free and rights-based society for persons with disabilities.
Being a signatory to the framework, Malaysia is committed to making those targets a reality. A major step would be the fostering of effective partnerships.
During the dialogue session, a panel comprising individuals from the education and health ministries, fielded questions from the audience.
In answer to a mother who asked whether her daughter who is dyslexic would have a different set of exam papers from the other students in the UPSR, Special Education Department planning and research division director Dr Haniz Ibrahim explained that she could apply for extra time but would not get a different paper.
He also said the Education Ministry will be placing students with various disabilities together in one residential vocational secondary school for the first time.
“The new move would involve 100 students who are visually or hearing impaired or have learning disabilities,” he says. Kamariah Mohd Amin, who has a son with Down's Syndrome, also shared her experiences on how she and a group of parents worked to get special needs pupils accepted into mainstream schools while Wong Huey Siew from the Malaysian Association for the Blind, talked about the issues and challenges faced by parents with special needs children.
Subang Jaya Dyslexia Support Group
Another good news for parents of dyslexic children!
A support group consisting mainly of parents of such kids was recently formed in Subang Jaya. There are about 30+ parents who have joined this group so far.
This informal group has called itself the "Subang Jaya Dyslexia Support Group". This initiative was started by a small group of parents living in the vicinity of the USJ2 area and it has since spreaded and included parents from all areas in USJ, Subang Jaya as well as a few from the nearby surrounding areas.
The two main objectives of this group are:
1. To allow parents with kids who are diagnosed as dyslexic to have a common place to network among themselves and share information and resources together as well as giving and receiving moral support from each other.
2. To petition for a dyslexic school that is intended to be set up in a remote area in Selangor (which is not receiving much support) to be transferred to a school in the USJ/SJ area.
So far, this group has met up twice and they have already come up with the petition letter duly signed by parents. The document had already been forwarded to Dato' Lee Hwa Beng who had graciously agreed to bring it up to the attention of the relevant authorities.
Re: Any Dyslexic Support Group here?
After 4 months of waiting...ahem..finally there is some good news to share! I just received a call from Dato' Lee Hwa Beng and he said that he had spoken to En. Razali and was informed that the ministry is trying to start a class for Dyslexics in Subang Jaya next year. They have identified the School to be the Sekolah Kebangsaan SS17 at the back of SS19 (where the former Chee Wen school was temporarily squatting). Extra classrooms are available in this school. They can only start a class for the lower std. (tahap 1 probably). Their problem now is to source for the special ed. teachers. Anyway, Dato' Lee said that they are trying their best and no promises. He said that we just have to wait and see!
So, keep our fingers crossed...!