Malaysian student with Down Syndrome uses his baking skills for a good cause

  • People
  • Wednesday, 19 May 2021

Special needs child Alexander enjoys baking bread for charity. Photos: Ashley Pang

Alexander Wilhelm may only be 11 years old but he is slowly carving a name for himself as a budding baker in his Mont Kiara neighbourhood in Kuala Lumpur.

Two weeks ago, the young student with Down Syndrome chalked up a personal milestone when he sold loaves of homemade multi-grain bread and raised over RM200 for a Seremban-based non-profit school’s building fund.

“Mummy promoted my loaves of bread through Facebook. They are priced at RM8 per loaf. It’s exciting when friends and neighbours placed their orders. I am happy that I have managed to raise money for the school, ” said Alexander in an email interview recently.

His mother, businesswoman Ashley Pang, 45, said her son learned to bake bread in school during the second movement control order in January.Baking teaches Alexander to stay focused and use his cognitive flexibility.Baking teaches Alexander to stay focused and use his cognitive flexibility.

“It was an online baking class and I could join and guide him. He seemed to enjoy baking bread. One day, I asked him if he’d like to contribute financially to the school by selling the bread that he learned to make. He happily and proudly agreed. That was how the idea came about, ” said Pang, adding that her son studies at an inclusion school in KL.

An inclusion school is one where special needs students learn together with non-special needs kids.

It is commendable that Alexander is going the extra mile for charity. In the bigger picture, Pang is empowering her son to make a meaningful difference through sincere efforts.

“It is essential to learn to contribute back to the community as a form of appreciation. This will help children form a positive connection to the community. It is like the ripple effect. Gratitude and appreciation makes us happier people too.”Pang (right) says it is important for children to learn to contribute back to the community.Pang (right) says it is important for children to learn to contribute back to the community.

Pang supervises Alexander to ensure the loaves of bread are baked to perfection, as she is determined that the quality is not compromised. To make it easier for him, she has simplified the recipe steps and encourages him to use cups and spoon measurements.

“During each baking session, he needs to look for utensils, measure ingredients, read the instructions and follow the simplified steps. We work together to cut the dough and measure using a scale. Bread-making challenges his executive function skills. It teaches him to stay focused and use his cognitive flexibility, ” said Pang.

She is happy with her son’s progress, especially his skill, concentration and hand-eye coordination.

“My son likes kneading the most. He is a special needs child who very often seeks sensory stimulation. Kneading allows him to feel, press, poke and immerse his 10 fingers into the dough. It calms him very much. He is very proud to be able to do something for the new school. That excites him, ” said Pang, adding that Alexander has also donated cookies and muffins for other charitable organisations.Alexander loves kneading the most during bread-making.Alexander loves kneading the most during bread-making.

While baking is an important skill, Pang has bigger dreams for her son. Ultimately, she wants him to execute simple tasks, explore new things and build his confidence.

“My son is poor in Math. Baking teaches him the importance of Math and now, he is slowly learning that counting is such an important life skill.

“Apart from that, we have a lot of conversations, which help in his speech processing and output learning too. Through our home baking sessions, we are further strengthening our bond. I find this truly wonderful.”

Pang said it’s important that Alexander continues to learn and discover new things.

“What I can do for him is to provide the life skills he will need to live independently one day. I am putting in the seed to germinate, and watering it each day.”

During his upcoming summer break, Pang wants to organise another baking session for the Kiwanis Down Syndrome Foundation-National Centre.

“His father also gave him a target to raise RM100 to buy his own computer (of course, we are topping up the rest). His father told him he has to come up with a business plan and work on the costing as no ingredients are sponsored for his own computer-buying project. That will keep him busy during his summer break!”

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