Education for all – except autistic children?

ACCORDING to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word “special” when used to describe something or someone is defined as distinguished by some unusual quality or being in some way superior. Are autistic children considered and treated as special? In Malaysia, it is much easier to get an estimate of the number of children owning a particular type of phone than to get statistics about autistic citizens.

Each year, every child enrolling in a public school receives a grant of up to RM800 to ensure each and every child in Malaysia receives an affordable education. But is that grant truly applicable to every child in the country? What of autistic children, especially those on the severe end of the spectrum, who are denied entry to public schools or kindergartens?

Special needs children have a particular set of needs and sometimes require specialised attention and care compared with neurotypical, or “normal” children. But specialised care comes with additional costs. It is always essential to evaluate whether we are giving special needs children more attention because they are special or actually slacking in giving them our best because they are too “special”.

Developing a successful private school is much easier than establishing an autistic learning centre, especially in terms of funding. In the Klang Valley alone, you can find a private school almost every 10km. Private schools are major profitmaking platforms so it’s much easier to find investors for them than for autistic centres.

So that oft-heard “education for all” cry is not accurate because autistic children denied entry into public educational institutions are forced to enter private autistic centres – and for those in the B40 (lower income) group, such private education is not affordable.

Why do some children seem to be more deserving than others? Are autistic children less deserving than neurotypical children? Do autistic children deserve less? In fact, more so than other children, autistic children need a well-structured education to prepare them to cope with a future where their parents/guardians are gone – a common concern among families with children on the spectrum.

It is this situation that Inisiatif Sokongan Autisme Nouri (Insani) was created to address. Insani aims to provide the highest quality of care and therapy for autistic children at the lowest cost. But developing educational centres for autistic children is not at all easy as finding financial support is a huge hurdle. So can we truly say in Malaysia that education is for all?


Research and funding executive, Yayasan Pendidikan Insani

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