KUALA LUMPUR: To most parents, having children with learning disabilities is a major concern, and it can be quite a challenge when they get older.
To enable these adults with autism or Down Syndrome or slow learners to be independent, an NGO – Dignity and Services (D&S) – has been carrying out supported living programmes to equip them with life and communication skills since 2007.
In the process, it also came up with an idea to set up a bakery called Baked With Dignity (BWD), teaching participants to bake and earn an income.
D&S executive director Helen Teh said it all started when a parent, Pang Hin Yue, sent her son to take part in the stay-in weekend programme.
“Pang baked at home with her son with the purpose of training his motor skills and keeping him occupied.
“Our then executive director, Mettilda John, approached Pang and asked her to give baking lessons to other participants as well at a house in Taman Tun Dr Ismail,” Teh said.
Without much hesitation Pang agreed, as according to her, BWD reflects what D&S does – to treat people with dignity.
Teh said the project started out small, with baking sessions on Mondays and Fridays using a 46cm oven, but word slowly got around.
She said that one day an individual placed a big order before introducing BWD to a company, which made bulk orders as gifts for its annual meeting.
One of the challenges for coaches at BWD is managing meltdowns of their trainees.
“We start by interviewing them to have some sense of how they behave and what are their possible triggers such as sensitivity to crowd, lighting, smell or noise.
“We provide time-out in a small room for them to relax, listen to music, eat and return to work,” Teh added.
She said for the lessons, the coaches have to teach them how to handle fire and heat first.
“A lot of patience and understanding is required as well as knowing that these people have learning disabilities.
“Coaches also have to accept that they have a short-term memory. What they learn today, they may forget the next day. So, they need to be reminded often. Every individual is different,” she said.
One of D&S’ achievements is having BWD turned into an independent entity. Since October 2016, it has moved to a shoplot.
“This enterprise has helped them to gain baking skills, boost their self-esteem and earn an income,” she said, adding that so far 16 adults have been trained.
In moving forward, Teh said D&S hoped to open another BWD outlet.
“We need financial support and more people who are willing to contribute their time and teach these special needs adults.
“Presently, we have 10 in the waiting list who are eager to learn,” she said.
Teh added that they also need regular and ad hoc volunteers.