Independent education offers options for autistic students to integrate with society, workforce

In the 1970s and 1980s, many children with learning disabilities were kept at home with no opportunity to learn. Today, not only are they entitled to schooling just like everyone else, but there is also tertiary education to be considered.

Teenagers on the autism spectrum don’t always benefit from a traditional learning environment. Instead, what may help them is something that’s personalised.

Independent education such as technical schools and baking classes cater to the unique needs and strengths of each student.

Dr Shoban Babu Ravana wanted his son, Roshan Babu, to have an education just like all other children his age. He refused to see obstacles, only opportunities.

“Roshan was sent to a regular government school where all his friends and teachers gave him equal support,” said Dr Shoban.

“Currently, he is completing his diploma in IT and we hope that he will be able to handle that. His intellectual faculty is moderate, so hopefully he will be able to cope.”

Roshan enjoys IT, especially coding. This is an ideal environment for him to use his capacity for problem-solving, and his enthusiasm is boosted by his understanding companions. He is motivated to pursue IT because of his family’s belief that it is suitable for him. The combination of personal interest and familial support fuels Roshan’s passion for IT, making it an obvious career choice for him.

Dr Shoban knows that Roshan’s main challenge is communication, especially when it comes to putting his thoughts forward.

“We were worried about how society would accept him and how he would cope with his current abilities to live a normal life.”

Coding is precise and doesn’t require him to talk as much as a career in sales or customer service, for example. In addition, IT skills are valuable in the current digital era because they offer a variety of opportunities.

In Dr Shoban’s opinion, IT is a tool that enables Roshan’s development and success by fusing his enthusiasm with pragmatism and evolution.

Many parents choose vocational training if their children are on the autism spectrum. Being skills-based makes it easier to pick up a trade, such as cooking and fixing things, or coding.

Vocational training has been found to be effective in helping autistic people get a job and remain employed. Independent education can provide opportunities for students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to develop work skills and explore vocational interests.

Nazean Jomhari, a senior lecturer at Universiti Malaya’s Department of Software Engineering, always sought the road less travelled when it came to her son. She and her husband tried various therapies for her autistic son, now aged 21.

“In the United Kingdom, we went through occupational therapy, speech therapy, horse riding therapy, and water therapy. However, there was no soul therapy for his spiritual needs. Thus, after coming back from the UK in July of 2010, my husband and I started our own Quran therapy for him.

“My son was involved in the ‘Program Pendidikan Khas Integrasi’ or Special Education Integration Programme when he was in a government school in Malaysia. The school recommended that I involve my son in inclusive lessons, but I refused as I did not want him to stress out about schoolwork and examinations,” Nazean said.

Instead, the couple focused mainly on giving him lessons and therapy with the Quran. Wanting to give her son an equal chance as his peers and not risking discrimination, Nazean is reluctant to disclose what her son is doing now. She prefers to keep his identity private.

As someone on the autism spectrum, Shafiq Badarulhisham made history when he graduated from Universiti Malaya two years ago.

“Some autistic students are usually given the introduction or concluding parts in their group assignments, but in my university, I was given the chance to explain the main part of the presentation,” Shafiq said.

He attributes his success to his supportive tutors, lecturers, and friends who didn’t see his speech delay and autism as stumbling blocks.

“During lectures, I took a longer time to understand, compared to others. So, to cope with that, I usually recorded the lectures via my phone to review back at home.

“My advice to those on the autism spectrum who want to continue their education is: Don’t give up; don’t use any excuses as a barrier to not work at something; and find friends who support you, and not those who influence you negatively,” he added.

Research has shown that students with ASD may struggle with social-emotional readiness in traditional classroom settings. However, through exposure and targeted interventions, those with ASD can develop better social skills and build larger social support groups and networks.

Independent education can offer a more positive and supportive environment for students with ASD to develop these crucial skills.

Through community-based vocational partnerships, independent and skills-based education can help students with ASD transition successfully to the workplace.

Overall, independent education can provide a more tailored and supportive environment for autistic students to develop academically, socially and vocationally.

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