Special children can lead an independent life

Wednesday July 18, 2012

http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2012/7/18/sarawak/11680518&sec=sarawak

By SHARON LING
sharonling@thestar.com.my

Quality help: Children geeting ready to throw balls through a hoop during Perkata Special School’s sports day recently.

KUCHING: It is not impossible for children with intellectual disabilities to attend school and learn the necessary skills to help them lead an independent life.

This is the goal at the Perkata Special School, which believes that each child has potential, and aims to help them develop various skills according to their ability.

Located at Jalan Ong Tiang Swee here, the school is run by the Sarawak Association for the Welfare of Intellec-tually Disabled Children (Perkata).

It currently has 136 children aged four to 17 in nine classes, with a maximum of 17 students per class, and a staff of 30 people.

“Our school is for children with various intellectual disabilities such as Down Syndrome, autism and cerebral palsy. The children are taught according to their ability and every child has her own individual learning plan,” principal Doreen Tie said.

The school uses a specially-designed curriculum covering language development, cognitive development, fine and gross motor skills, social skills and independent living skills. Children are also taught to read and write.

Under language development, for instance, they start by copying sounds and words to making sentences, understanding instructions and making conversation.

Cognitive development skills include learning to think and make decisions; recognising colours, shapes and sizes; identifying similar objects; and number work, including counting and telling the time.

Fine motor skills are about training the children’s hands to do what their eyes can see, like picking up small objects, building tower blocks and colouring; while gross motor skills are about balance and coordination.

Independent living skills include eating and drinking without help and getting dressed, shopping and preparing a simple meal.

“We have meal preparation sessions in the kitchen. We take some children out to the market to buy vegetables. Back in the kitchen, some children will wash and cut the vegetables while some will learn to cook. Others will learn how to identify the vegetables,” Tie said.

She said the teachers used task analysis for these skills, by breaking down each task into simple steps and teaching the children step by step.

For example, before the children are taught how to do up buttons on their clothes, they are first taught the concept of putting an object through a slit in the lid of a tin. Then they are taught to practise doing up buttons on a board before proceeding to perform the task on their clothes.

Tie said the curriculum also included reading lessons, computer classes and sensory activities to stimulate their senses.

“Our aim is to teach the children to be as independent as possible. We see the potential of each child and try to develop this potential to its fullest,” she said.

She added that sports was another part of the curriculum, with various activities designed for the development of gross and fine motor skills as well as cognitive skills.

The school organises an annual sports day and other events such as a “play day” for the children to play games and annual concert.

It also takes the children on educational trips to places like the airport, fire station, university campus and Semenggoh Wildlife Centre. Children also have the opportunity to go bowling or play futsal and badminton.

The school’s facilities include a book library, toy library, small playground and multi-purpose hall.

It welcomes visitors and volunteers who would like to offer their help or expertise. According to Tie, one outcome of the visits is a change in perception towards intellectually-disabled children.

”Sometimes people think that the-se children don’t know anything and that they cannot learn. Others who are not aware about intellectual disabilities feel scared of the children.

”But after coming here and seeing the children, they learn to value them as another human being, someone who can be your friend. So it’s a mind-changing experience for a lot of our visitors,” she said.

She added that there was now greater public awareness about intellectual disabilities. Parents with disabled children were less shy about them compared to the past.

”People are more open and they’re bringing their children for enrolment in the school.”

For the future, Tie said the school would like to have a full-time speech therapist and to carry out maintenance work on the building.

”We’re hoping to have our own speech therapist so that we can do more for the children. We also want to make sure that our facilities are always up-to-date.”

Besides the school, Perkata also runs a gallery to generate income for the school, which needs over RM700,000 a year.

The gallery, which is located in the school premises, offers various souvenirs for sale, such as postcards and key chains.

It also sells Perkata’s own range of T-shirts and recycled greeting cards made from cards donated by people from around the world.