Monday October 15, 2012
Helping children with special needs achieve their potential
By WINNIE YEOH
Special needs children are teachable and the ‘girls in green’ are out to help every kid develop to his full potential.
PEALS of laughter and the sweet voices of children singing can often be heard from a house in Jalan Balik Pulau in Air Itam, Penang. This is Shine Like Star Children Learning Centre which serves children with special needs such as autism, Angelman syndrome, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and learning difficulty.
Every Thursday from 8pm to 10pm, a group of volunteers dressed in apple green polo T-shirts turn up at the centre to make learning fun for the children. There will be singing and storytelling sessions before the children split up for classes.
Working with the children has been a rewarding experience for boutique owner Lim Jie Ying, 26.
“I signed up as a volunteer without any prior knowledge of how to interact with special needs children. It might take some time for them to warm up to you and when they do, they can be very affectionate,” said Lim. She recalled that she felt slightly dejected initially when the children did not take notice of her.
“I was sure they would open up to me once they got to know me better. True enough, they slowly got used to having me around and eventually grew fond of me.
“Now they would give me a hug or hold my hands whenever they see me,” said Lim, her face lighting up as she talked about her experiences.
Bank manager Ooi Ai Hoon, 37, who was with the centre from day one, said she had always wanted to reach out to the less privileged and teaching special needs children helped her to unwind after a hectic day at work.
“I feel that special needs children are often ignored or neglected by their peers. I had imagined them to be difficult to get along with, but it turned out that they can take instructions well and are a joy to be with,” said Ooi.
Founded in March last year, administrator Lim Phaik Kian, 47, said that the centre was a community service arm set up by the Penang First Assembly of God (Mandarin section) as there was a growing need to assist special needs children and their parents.
Lim was a goldsmith before she opted to leave the lucrative trade to become a full-time kindergarten teacher six months ago, after she got involved in voluntary work.
“The centre aims to explore the potential of every child and help improve communications within the family,” she said.
“When we first started the centre, we realised many parents needed help in reaching out to their children, or to help their children to learn.
“Aside from special needs children, we also take in their siblings as they are sometimes neglected by their parents who are often preoccupied with their special needs child. Sometimes this triggers behavioural problems in their other children.
“Children with special needs often face rejection from the community and it is important for them to feel accepted. Currently, we have six children on our waiting list,” said Lim.
Volunteer Lee Mooi Sok, 33, said her seven-year-old son, who is autistic and a slow learner, has shown improvement after going to the centre for about a year.
“Before that, he had minimal speech and a short attention span. Now he has picked up more words, makes eye contact and has become noticeably sociable,” said Lee.
She added that she had also picked up extra skills in the course of helping the special needs children at the centre.
“I feel encouraged when the children become more responsive to us. While helping other children, I also get to learn more techniques from other volunteers, which I can apply on my son back home. Every little bit we do helps. Whatever goes around, comes around,” Lee added.
For enquiries on Shine Like Star Children Learning Centre, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.