SIX months ago, a Taarana pupil who could only crawl had to be taught to walk. Another child was enrolled at the special needs school fresh from a bad experience at a private school.
Taarana, which opened in June, is the first affordable special needs school in the country. Recently, Taarana’s 30 children took to the stage in a concert at HELP University College’s theatrette. The children, aged 5 to 15, who were dressed in colourful clothes performed taekwondo, yoga and dance routines.
At the end of the performance, they sang the song When You Believe to show their new-found confidence after enrolling at Taarana. Vijayaratnam Foundation chairperson Datin Umayal Eswaran said the pupils had shown tremendous improvement at the school.
“We want the children to seize the moment. It was very brave of them to be up on stage before a hall full of people,” she said. Umayal said special needs education and equipment was expensive and as such joint effort between the public and private sectors was needed to provide affordable education for special children.
She hoped that with more awareness, support would be forthcoming. Umayal said there were many societies for special needs children, such as the Cerebral Palsy Children’s Association of Penang and National Autism Society of Malaysia, but there was no umbrella body overseeing them.
Yvonne Ser, 40, said she had to take her autistic child, Yuan Shan, 10, out of a private school after she was beaten up by a teacher for refusing to stand still. “I am glad and relieved that my child has started to learn again. After 10 years, this is the second time she has faced a crowd on stage,” said Ser, in tears.
She has put Shan on a special diet for autistic children. Shan is undergoing chelation therapy. Taarana deputy principal Christina Jeremiah said the children were given lessons in dance, taekwondo, yoga, living skills, among other, to boost their confidence.
“The children will only start to get involved in learning and follow instructions if they are motivated.
“To put them at ease for the concert, we told them that the people were present to see them perform, and not that they are obliged to,” she said.
Nurhidayah Mohamed Ibrahim, the school’s occupational therapist, said: “We provide sensory integration therapy, behaviour modification, play therapy and speech therapy to the special needs children.
“Although Taarana adopts the peer learning concept to improve the children’s social skills, we observe their individual progress regularly and follow-up based on that,” she added.
She said they worked closely with parents of each child to tackle underlying issues.