Helping OKU children reach their full potential

Among rehabilitation activities are art and culture therapy exercises, drawing, colouring and stamping using crayons or colour pencils, sewing and weaving, as well as musical skills

by SITI BHALQIS ABDUL JALAL/ pic by BERNAMA

STEPPING into the Community Based Rehabilitation Centre (PDK) in Permas Jaya, Johor, it was clear to this writer that she had had certain misconceptions about the place.

She thought it was a centre for the rehabilitation of juvenile delinquents or substance addicts. Instead, she found it to be a place that teaches persons with disabilities (OKU) the skills needed to improve their livelihoods and general wellbeing — with the active participation of the community around them.

There are seven categories of OKU there, and they range in age from four to 30 years old. Everyone Involved PDK is an OKU programme that is based on prevention, rehabilitation and development.

The programme runs on the active involvement of family members, as well as the local community. This is done by jointly developing the capacity of OKU people and teaching them skills suited to their particular disability.

PDK Permas Jaya was established in 1993 and is the first of its kind in Johor Baru.

Today, there are eight other PDKs in the Helping OKU children reach their full potential Among rehabilitation activities are art and culture therapy exercises, drawing, colouring and stamping using crayons or colour pencils, sewing and weaving, as well as musical skills district, namely PDK Tanjung Puteri, PDK Kempas, PDK Tunku Tun Aminah, PDK Nusajaya, PDK JohorJaya, PDK Ulu Tiram, PDK Kota Masai and PDK Puteri Wangsa.

The PDK Permas Jaya supervisor Norizah Melan said the centre practises a “school-like” concept, but with the involvement of parents and the local community in teaching and practising the skills taught to the trainees there.

“Some of the trainees have Down syndrome, autism and cerebral palsy, while others have physical deformities or are hearing-impaired,” she told Bernama in an interview at the PDK recently.

Trainees are provided with pre-vocational training through classes that teach them farming, cooking, sewing and craft making

Learning Independence

Norizah was one of the trainers at the PDK before becoming a supervisor in 2007. She said each programme is tailored in such a way that trainees from as young as four years old could learn and develop their self-management skills.

It is easier to teach OKU children how to sit still and pay attention while they are still young, she said. This is also true when it comes to teaching them skills like using the toilet, eating and wearing clothes.

Such skills may seem basic to some, but the trainees’ ability to perform them is a measure of the success of the programme in improving their self-sufficiency skills.

The trainees also undergo exercises that improve their gross and fine motor skills as these are essential in aiding them to learn more complex skills in the future.

Gross motor skills refer to the ability to use the large muscles in physical movements like walking and jumping. Fine motor skills are those that require a higher degree of focus, control and precision such as putting food into the mouth, buttoning shirts and holding small items.

“Trainees are also provided with pre-vocational training through classes that teach farming, cooking and craft making. We are also planning to set up an advocacy class to improve trainees’ self-confidence in public places,” she shared.

A trainee focusing on the needle and thread

Love and Compliment

There are 45 trainees at the centre with eight trainers supervising them.

It takes a high degree of patience to teach these skills to OKU children, as trainers would need to repeat an exercise multiple times before a trainee would be able to understand or follow them.

It is important to teach with love and compassion, said Norizah. In fact, praises and compliments go a long way in helping trainees learn.

“Many of the trainees see us as their mothers because of the vibes that we give off. We are kind and gentle when teaching them.

“The compassion that we give helps build their confidence and lessen their shyness around us,” she said.

She added that it is essential for parents to adopt an open and positive attitude when it comes to accepting their children’s short-comings.

Parental support and encouragement are crucial to the success of the programme as each child has unique potentials and abilities, all of which could be revealed and honed through programmes at the centre.

“Parents shouldn’t be hesitant to send their children here because we have the avenues and amenities to help children with disabilities.

“I hope parents don’t feel shy or embarrassed of their OKU children. Believe in their abilities. If parents don’t believe in their own children or (don’t) want to help them, who then would? Don’t be embarrassed to send them to a PDK,” she advised.

It takes a high degree of patience to teach these skills to OKU children

Seek Help

Homemaker Noormala Salleh, 57, said her son Mohammed Haiqal Abual’as was a slow learner who had difficulty in executing even basic tasks.

However, after joining the programmes at the PDK, her 16-year-old son is now able to use the toilet on his own. He now even has the confidence to make friends.

“Prior to this, I had no idea a facility like PDK even existed. I only found out after asking a colleague with an OKU child,” said Noormala, who enrolled her son in the centre in 2009.

She sends her son to the centre every Monday to Thursday at 8.30am and fetch him at 12.30pm.

Noormala praised the PDK programmes and methods as they are effective and easy to follow. However, she iterated that parental involvement is equally important in ensuring the success of the programme.

“The cooperation between the parents and trainers is absolutely essential. Parents cannot hand over all of the responsibility to the trainers — they need to work together to help their children develop these necessary life skills,” she said.

The trainees and supervisors at a PDK in Pahang. The programme runs on the active involvement of family members, as well as the local community

Opening Up

Another parent, Lela Hakimudin, also found significant changes in her eight-year-old daughter’s abilities after sending her to the centre.

The 40-year-old, who lives in Permas, said her daughter Siti Nur Balqis Md Lazim suffers from developmental and hearing issues.

“My daughter wasn’t able to speak or walk. She could only creep. However, after three years at the school (PDK) where she received physiotherapy and follow-up medical treatments, she is now able to walk on her own.

“This, to me, is a big and meaningful change. Compare this to when we first joined the PDK — back then she was so frightened of people that she would hide under the table. She didn’t want to learn,” the single mother recounted.

Siti Nur Balqis is now also able to follow her teacher’s instructions.

Lela said her daughter is now able to interact with her using simple sign language, such as to indicate a greeting or to eat.

“Now, when I make porridge, she would be able to grab a bowl, scoop some for herself and eat.

“Previously, she refused to even leave the house because she was terrified of the idea of meeting other people. She would only interact with her siblings,” said Lela, adding that Siti Nur Balqis is the youngest of five children.

Among rehabilitation activities at the centre are art and culture therapy exercises. Trainees would be taught to draw, colour and stamp using crayons or colour pencils. They are also taught sewing skills by sewing together fabric scraps and weaving skills using coloured paper.

Trainees also learn musical skills where they are taught to clap, dance and sing, as well as focus on sounds and surroundings. — Bernama