Why job training is important for individuals with autism in Malaysia


With the right support, young adults with autism can have opportunities for growth and contribute to society. Photos: Nasom

According to the Department of Statistics Malaysia’s 2022 Person With Disability Statistics, there are 674,548 persons with disabilities (PWDs) in the country.

Out of this total, only 3,724 persons with disabilities had jobs in the public sector; the country has over one million civil servants.

The Department of Labour Peninsular Malaysia (JTKSM) reports that for private sectors, 14,252 PWDs have been employed from 1990 to 2018, out of the 13.74 million workforce in private sectors.

From this figure, there is a lack of statistics concerning the employment of individuals with autism in the public and private sectors, says National Autism Society of Malaysia (Nasom) chairman Julian Wong, 44.

With tailored guidance, young adults with autism can secure employment through vocational training. With tailored guidance, young adults with autism can secure employment through vocational training.“There is a common misconception that individuals with autism are incapable of independence or handling employment. Overstimulating work environments can cause sensory overload for those with sensory processing issues. Additionally, people with autism, who often thrive on routine, may find adapting to a new work environment challenging.

“Employers must offer on-the-job training through initiatives such as buddy systems, mentor-mentee programmes, or assigning dedicated supervisors who understand the unique needs of new hires with autism,” explains Wong in an interview in Kuala Lumpur.

Autism is a life-long neurodevelopmental condition that affects the brain.

Wong explained that supporting PWDs is vital for inclusivity and diversity, enriching organisational culture and creativity. It fosters equality, tapping into diverse talents and perspectives.

“Employers’ lack of awareness on disabilities can lead to stereotyping, doubts about reliability, and a misunderstanding of both the specific needs and strengths of these individuals.

“Communication challenges include inaccessible applications, interview formats and company communications. Additionally, social aspects of work, like interviews and networking, can be overwhelming for some individuals. People with autism, for example, might struggle with open-ended questions or changes in routine,” shares the father of three.

To tackle employment barriers for persons with autism, Nasom organises awareness workshops where they educate companies about the value of hiring PWDs, highlighting their skills, perspectives and loyalty.

Wong (left) hopes for acceptance, inclusion and understanding from society for Raelan and other children with autism. Photo: Julian Wong Wong (left) hopes for acceptance, inclusion and understanding from society for Raelan and other children with autism. Photo: Julian Wong

“Nasom also participates in job fairs and recruitment programmes. We try to connect PWD job seekers with potential employers. We also collaborate with disability advocacy groups and government departments to leverage expertise and resources,” says Wong, adding that Nasom organises training programmes like baking, housekeeping and packing for its members.

His son Raelan Wong Sheng Yan, 16, is diagnosed with autism. Wong is thankful he started Raelan on early intervention as a toddler.

Today, Raelan goes to a school for special needs children.

“Enrolling children with autism in a specialised school offers tailored support crucial for their unique needs. Such schools provide individualised education plans, sensory-friendly environments, and trained staff adept in managing autistic traits. These schools also foster understanding and acceptance among peers, reducing stigma and fostering inclusivity.”

In conjunction with World Autism Day today, here are organisations that have taken extra steps to provide employment opportunities to people with disabilities.

Ho (right) aims to empower Chia with tailored support for future independence in the workforce. Photo: Katherine Ho Ho (right) aims to empower Chia with tailored support for future independence in the workforce. Photo: Katherine Ho

Family support

Persatuan Kebajikan Sinar Cahaya Istimewa (PKSCI) in Kepong, KL was formed in 2014 for children with autism and Down syndrome.

The centre provides social support services, pre-vocational and skills training, as well as job training. It was formed by Katherine Ho, who was concerned with the welfare of her autistic son, Jonathan Chia, 28.

PKSCI supports 23 young adults with autism, Down syndrome, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and Asperger’s syndrome.

Run by volunteer parents, the centre employs a special needs teacher and an assistant to help these individuals. The young adults paint and make necklaces and ornaments for sale. They receive an allowance based on earnings received from sales and from donations. They earn between RM100 and RM400 per month depending on the sales of their finished products.

Mohd Adli (right) with his wife Nozilan Mohamad, and their son Muhammad Luqman. Photo: The Star/Samuel Ong Mohd Adli (right) with his wife Nozilan Mohamad, and their son Muhammad Luqman. Photo: The Star/Samuel Ong

Empowering visions

Seven years ago, Mohd Adli Yahya, 59, founded Autism Cafe Project to train autistic youth to be independent and enable them to earn an income. The cafe, located in Kota Damansara, Petaling Jaya has four autistic youth, including Mohd Adli’s son, Muhammad Luqman Shariff, 25, who is diagnosed with low-functioning autism.

They offer a variety of items including homemade cookies, pastries, Malay kuih, nasi lemak and nasi kerabu – all crafted within their culinary capabilities.

Mohd Adli plans to set up a chilli farm next. The pilot project is taking place in Kuantan, Pahang.

He plans to sell ground chilli paste, chilli sambal and pickled chilli made from the farm’s chillies.

Bakery with a cause

Bake With Dignity (BWD), a social enterprise under the non-governmental organisation Dignity and Services, was established in 2007 by a group of caregivers dedicated to teaching their special needs children culinary skills.

A baker with special needs working in the Bake with Dignity kitchen in PJ. Photo: Pang Hin Yue A baker with special needs working in the Bake with Dignity kitchen in PJ. Photo: Pang Hin YueLocated in Leisure Commerce Square in Bandar Sunway, PJ, BWD also operates a counter at a popular grocery chain at Tropicana Indah, Petaling Jaya. Employing 15 staff members with learning disabilities, including autism and Down syndrome, BWD’s bakers, aged 18 to 66, tackle various tasks according to their abilities, ranging from rolling dough to baking techniques like piping and icing.

Gainful employment

In 2013, Gamuda embarked on its Project Differently Abled (DA), a programme aimed at creating employment for individuals with different levels of autism.

These special employees do clerical work in different departments including group human resources, trading, contracts and commercials, and group finance.

Four years later, Gamuda established the Enabling Academy, aimed at preparing more people with autism for gainful and sustainable employment.

The academy conducts a three-month employment transition programme that trains and places young adults with autism into companies that embrace diversity and inclusion in their workforce. So far, 96 youth with autism have undergone training at the academy.


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