Early intervention programmes like physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy should be introduced to children with Down syndrome (DS) as early as four years old so they can develop their skills to succeed in school and beyond.
Malaysian Down Syndrome Association (MDSA) advisor Hanizan Hussin, 65, says vocational training skills are best suited for children with DS because it integrates learning into fun activities.
“It involves play-based learning and this works well for children with DS who have some level of intellectual disability. Vocational training can help to enhance their knowledge and skills too. This method can be applied to other children with special needs,” said Hanizan.
She added it is essential for parents of children with disabilities to be open about their young one’s condition and work towards building their skill sets.
“Accept the child’s disability, be it Down syndrome, autism or cerebral palsy, and engage with the right parties for guidance. It is equally vital to network with communities with experience helping children with special needs.
“Enrolling them into early intervention programmes is crucial to stimulate, develop and prepare them for the next stage of their education, which is primary and secondary school,” said the mother of seven.
Her youngest daughter Wan Alya Wan Hanizan, 28, has DS.
Hanizan is thankful she started Wan Alya on early intervention as a toddler. Today, her daughter is a teacher’s aide in a preschool for special needs children.
Wan Alya has been attached to Pemulihan Dalam Komuniti Sindrom Down in Putrajaya, Selangor, for over a year. Before that, she taught at Taska Anak-Anak Sindrom Down in Putrajaya for two years. She earns RM500 a month and is slowly learning to stand on her own two feet.
“I enrolled her in an early intervention programme till she was seven. Then, in primary school, I worked closely with her teachers to help her. I also enrolled her in MDSA’s prevocational training, where she learned living skills, communication skills and independence.
“With that exposure from the early intervention until prevocational programmes, Wan Alya can be independent and she has an interest in taking care of others.”
Wan Alya is among many inspiring Malaysians with DS.
Young artist Maryam Khairul Anuar, 11, who was born with DS, recently showcased her acrylic paintings in the “Maryam Saves A Heart Charity Art Sale”, to raise funds for earthquake victims and humanitarian efforts in Turkiye and Syria.
The prolific artist, who has been painting since she was six, has successfully raised over RM100,000 for charity through Maryam Saves A Heart (MSAH), her fundraising campaign to also aid refugee children needing surgery at Kuala Lumpur’s Institut Jantung Negara (IJN).
There’s also budding baker Alexander Wilhelm who has raised thousands of ringgit from his bake sale for charitable organisations, including Kiwanis Down Syndrome Foundation, the Pit Stop Community Cafe, a Seremban-based non-profit school’s building fund, and the Malaysian Association of Paediatric Palliative Care’s (MAPPAC) fund.
Since 2010, the government has started a policy of hiring 1% of PWDs in the public sector, according to the 2019 HRDF Human Capital Report.
This is good but Hanizan points out that people with DS need vocational training relevant to the demands of the job market.
“Most often, people with disabilities can obtain jobs based on their abilities. Many of them have found employment in various fields, including hotel management, retail and fast food restaurants.”
In school, teachers conduct assessment tests to identify their skills and interests. As such, she explained that based on the assessment provided, employers can work on job placements according to their specific abilities and skills.
“There’s a misconception that people with DS cannot be independent or cannot handle a job. Another concern is the lack of on-the-job training or personal coaching at the workplace.
“Employers need to provide on-the-job training either by having a buddy system, mentor-mentee programme or dedicated supervisors who are aware of their new hires’ condition. Passion, communication and dedication must come from not just the young adult with DS and their parents but also employers.”
Universiti Malaya’s department of educational psychology and counselling senior lecturer and special education clinical consultant Dr Madhyazhagan Ganesan said the suitability of skills for persons with disabilities (PWD) should be based on their level of disability, whether mild, moderate, severe or profoundly severe.
“PWDs with mild and moderate conditions should be encouraged to sign up for skilled-based programmes encompassing reading, writing, arthmetic and retrieval. Armed with these skills, they can slowly move towards vocational training, then work towards seeking a job.”
“With proper training, many PWDs can be trained in skills ranging from data entry to cooking to painting. These individuals can gain employment in sectors like retail, office management, arts and craft and housekeeping.”
Madhyazhagan encourages parents of children with special needs to collaborate with various ministries and non-governmental organisations to raise more awareness about employment opportunities for PWDs.
“Parents of children with DS can organise job-seeking and searching platforms for their children. They should also seek the support services of MDSA and come up with solutions that will benefit their children. We hope young adults with special needs can obtain part-time and full-time employment in the job market.