Malaysian autistic crafter earns a living making ceramic products


Though he is a little shy, Izuddin is learning to interact with customers and also marketing his wares. Photo: The Star/Sheela Chandran

Izuddin Isham was cheerful as he attended to customers at his booth at the National Craft Day exhibition, a three-week long event held at the National Craft Complex in Kuala Lumpur recently.

Patiently, he explained how he made his handcrafted ceramic wares such as the traditional labu sayong or gourd-shaped water jars, lampshades and water dispensers.

“So far, sales for my handcrafted goods, especially the lampshades and ceramic cups, have been pretty good. I’ve sold many labu sayong in the last few days too. A lot of people are interested in labu sayong because it can keep drinking water cool,” said Izuddin, 30, during the exhibition.

Izuddin is grateful that he has been supported, by family and his community, to pursue his dreams. Photos: Izuddin IshamIzuddin is grateful that he has been supported, by family and his community, to pursue his dreams. Photos: Izuddin IshamApart from his shyness, it is difficult to tell this young man is diagnosed with high-functioning autism.

Izuddin’s story is a testament to how, with the right skills and enough support and encouragement, individuals with autism can live independently, earn a living and even make a name for themselves in their chosen field.

Since 2017, Izuddin has been running his ceramic business Izzue Craft, at the Perbadanan Kemajuan Kraftangan Malaysia (PKKM) in Enggor, Kuala Kangsar in Perak.

His passion for making ceramic products has not only helped him earn a steady income, it’s also given him a sense of purpose and pride in his work.

“Initially, I was worried about setting up a business,” he says. “My biggest concern was my lack of knowledge in running a business. However, I am grateful for the many other crafters who have reached out and taught me what I need to know to manage my business,” shared Izuddin, the third of four siblings.

Crafting his livelihood

But the journey to becoming a successful crafter wasn’t an easy one for Izuddin. As a child, he struggled with school. He was eventually diagnosed with high-functioning autism when he was 10.

He found it hard to socialise and communicate which made it hard for him to keep up with the other students in the classroom.

“I was never interested in my studies. I was a weak student in high school. Most of the time, I failed many subjects in school. As a result, I got many Cs and Ds for my Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia examination,” says the former student of SM Teknik Bukit Piatu in Melaka.

“I preferred arts and crafts activities instead of learning. I also enjoyed watching Japanese TV series Ultraman, and anime shows Digimon and Pokemon as a young boy. I’d spend hours moulding plasticine to create the different characters from these series, like Ultraman Tiga, Pikachu (from Pokemon) and Agumon (Digimon),” he says.

Izuddin is living proof that with the right skill sets and training, a person with autism can fit into society and lead a fulfilling life.Izuddin is living proof that with the right skill sets and training, a person with autism can fit into society and lead a fulfilling life.

Luckily, Izuddin’s mother, Kajang-based homemaker Razita Ismail, 55, never gave up on her son. The devoted mother recognised her son’s natural talent in crafting, and enrolled him in a four-year vocational ceramic course at Institut Kraf Negara (IKN) in Rawang, Selangor.

“I sent him for the ceramic course because he enjoys moulding things using plasticine and clay. The programme has provided him with the skills and training to really hone his skills and turn his passion into a career.”

But, even with all his skills training, Razita still worried about whether Izuddin would be able to find work. Her biggest concern was if employers would be hesitant to hire her son with special needs, thinking that he would not be able to perform his job duties.

Razita is so proud of her son who graduated with a diploma from Institut Kraf Negara and is running his own business. Photo: Razita IsmailRazita is so proud of her son who graduated with a diploma from Institut Kraf Negara and is running his own business. Photo: Razita IsmailShe encouraged him, instead, to start his own business making ceramic products.

“I’m happy he’s able to earn a living. As a mother of an OKU, there’s nothing more that I can wish for.”

“It is important for society to be accepting of people with special needs and to create inclusive environments that support them and encourage their success. By recognising the unique abilities of individuals with autism, we can help them to reach their full potential and lead fulfilling lives.”

A wide range of behaviours and impairments are associated with people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Autism is not an illness that can be cured; it’s a lifelong condition, and those with autism usually require lifelong care. Those who have high-functioning autism, like Izuddin, don’t need as much assistance in carrying out tasks but may exhibit deficits in communication, emotion recognition and expression, and social interaction.

Izuddin is thankful to his trainers from IKN and crafters from PKKM Enggor who have helped him in promoting his business on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram.

“I may be good at making ceramic items but I’m not clever in marketing my products. I’ve never been good at these things. It’s a challenge for me to upload images on social media as I sometimes forget the steps. But I am slowly learning to record videos and promote things on TikTok and Instagram,” explained Izuddin, who holds a diploma in ceramic art craft from IKN.

Izuddin passion for crafting ceramic products has not only helped him earn an income but also given him a sense of purpose and pride in his work.Izuddin passion for crafting ceramic products has not only helped him earn an income but also given him a sense of purpose and pride in his work.At the moment, he can earn over RM3,000 a month selling his ceramic water jars, lampshades and pots.

“It isn’t difficult to make these handcrafted items because I have learned the skills from IKN. I think anyone can learn a new skill if they have the interest and passion,” said Izuddin, who spends about eight hours at work on weekdays.

To increase his income, he also sells handcrafted dinosaur figurines (made using wire and ceramic) as well as figurines of his favourite characters from TV series like Ultraman, Mobile Suit Gundam and Digimon on social media. One of his hottest selling items is the wire figurine of the character of Mat Kilau from the 2022 movie Mat Kilau Kebangkitan Pahlawan.

“I usually create these characters during my free time, after work hours. I enjoy working with my hands, and I like exploring my creative side. There’s something calming and relaxing about moulding clay and twisting and bending wire.”

Skill training for ASD youth

Izuddin’s success as a crafter is inspiring and a reminder of the potential of individuals on the spectrum. Studies have shown how people with autism can benefit from job training and skills development programmes that focus on their strengths and interests.

Izuddin's metal figurine is inspired by the character Mat Kilau in the 2022 movie Mat Kilau Kebangkitan Pahlawan.Izuddin's metal figurine is inspired by the character Mat Kilau in the 2022 movie Mat Kilau Kebangkitan Pahlawan.Research has also shown that those with autism often have unique skills and abilities that make them well-suited for certain types of work, such as jobs requiring attention to detail or a strong visual-spatial ability.

A 2020 study Vocational Education for Autism Spectrum Disorder Students towards the Market Employment by Universiti Teknologi Malaysia found vocational education can equip ASD students with the skills employers require.

It showed that individuals with ASD have talents and can be productive. The research, published in the International Journal of Psychosocial Rehabilitation, said investing in special education for students with special needs, especially ASD, is crucial as they are an asset to human development and can contribute to the nation’s economic development.

Izuddin is living proof that with the proper training, a person with autism can fit into society and lead a fulfilling life. He is grateful for the opportunities that have come his way. He knows that his success is due in part to the support of his mother and the training that has given him the skills to succeed.

Izuddin earns a steady income selling ceramic water jars, lampshades and pots.Izuddin earns a steady income selling ceramic water jars, lampshades and pots.“Look at me. I never thought I could succeed as I was never good in my studies. Thankfully, my parents had faith in me.

“They recognised my hidden talents and gave me all the encouragement to succeed. And now, I’m running a small ceramic business.”

Razita advises parents of children with autism to be patient and focus on their children’s abilities, not their disabilities. She adds that with acceptance and encouragement, children with autism can overcome their challenges and lead fulfilling lives.

“Even if they are not academically driven, they might have other talents... (such as) in arts and crafts. Parents must be supportive and encourage them to try new skills. Most importantly, never give up on them.”


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