FAMILY members of people with autism spectrum disorder are finding ways for their loved ones to be accepted by the community.
Age is no deterrent in this quest, as proven by the feisty nine-year-old Serena Zara Taufiq.
Serena started her own accessories business, Serena’s Secret, at the age of seven, to fund therapies for people with autism, after seeing much improvement in her autistic younger sister who underwent therapy sessions.
Serena’s mother, Dr Wan Himratul Azliza Wan Harun, recalled how she was on the verge of giving up hope.
“As a parent, I am worried about my autistic daughter’s life after I am gone.
“Serena understood my fears and it was she who suggested that we send her sister to a centre for therapy. After seeing how much the therapy helped, Serena was determined to make it accessible to everyone with autism.
“With a capital of just RM50, Serena made RM250 in profit in her first attempt, so I decided to help expand her business,” Dr Wan Himratul said.
So far, Serena has raised RM25,000, which was used to buy therapy equipment for hatching centres and fund therapies for underprivileged autistic people, among other things.
“Serena also openly speaks about her autistic sister to break the stigma of having a sibling with special needs,” she said.
Serena said she decided on making accessories because it was easy and she learned the craft from YouTube videos.
“My family and friends are helping me out, too.
“Most of my products are bracelets which are sold for between RM5 and RM25.
“I also train autistic people to make these bracelets,” she said.
Autism Cafe Project director Mohd Adli Yahya, who has an autistic son, said greater awareness was needed not only among the public but also for parents with autistic children.
“Only about 5% of autistic people are highly skilled, so what are the other 95% to do with their lives?
“There are many learning centres in the city where autistic children can enrol but what about being independent when they become adults?
“Lack of awareness about this disorder is what causes some parents to chain or lock up their children for their unruly behaviour which can make their condition irreversibly worse.
“Give them a chance, people with autism can be productive. Each of them has to be assessed on what they like and trained to do a particular task of their liking.
“For example, my son likes the sensation of water running through his fingers and I have trained him to wash dishes. Somebody has got to do the dishes, so why not my son?
“Likewise, there are those who love to talk and we can train them to manage the front desk. With proper intervention, autistic people can contribute to society,” he said.
Adli said the cafe in Puchong had been operating for two years, proving that people with autism can work.
“I hope more corporations will come forward and hire our services, so that people can see what autistic people can do for themselves. Autistic people do not need sympathy but tolerance and understanding.
“Through that, we can create more awareness on autism and provide job opportunities to those with autism at the same time,” he said.
Serena’s Secret and and Autism Cafe Project set up booths at Tropicana Medical Centre once a month.
House of Chantek, a beauty spa, occasionally joins them to offer manicure services, among other things, and part of the proceeds goes towards helping non-governmental organisations associated with autism.
Representatives from Microsoft were also present to show their support.
Its corporate and government affairs director, Jasmine Begum, said the company began hiring people with autism a couple of years ago.
“The interview sessions for people with autism are tailored to suit the abilities that we seek and specific job or task that is required of them.
“As corporations, we can also support projects run by people like Serena and Adli.
“For example, we cater nasi lemak from the Autism Cafe Project for our lunch events and give bracelets from Serena’s Secret as gifts,” she said.