Wednesday, 10 April 2013

RMS Titanic - 15 Apr 2013

I just realised that this is my 101th post!! On 15th April, it's also the 101th anniversary of the sinking of Titanic. And this post is Brandon's drawings especially on Titanic. What a coincidence. 

Since our visit to the "Pirates of the East" exhibition in Marine Life Park, Singapore last Dec, he had started his drawings on ships. He spent a while drawing pirate ships, then this year, he came across the study of Titanic at school, and he has been on it ever since then. On his own, he looked through the internet for stories about the ship, how Titanic sank, went through the National Geographic documentary video on the ship and even simulated the sinking with his Lego. It's not just his drawings, but we find it quite amusing watching his enduring interest on one subject. Hopefully he'll move on to some other things soon cos we're tired of listening to the Titanic soundtrack. These are some of his recent Titanic drawings.

Early pirate ship drawings....

In-between, his other favourite ship is the aircraft carrier.

Homemade aircraft carrier from cardboard.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Misconceptions about Down syndrome

I will be sharing three disabilities that are increasingly prevalent: cerebral palsy, autism disorders and Down syndrome from my experience as a volunteer at PKIK (read more).

XianJin followed me to PKIK during the school holidays in March. He's kinda 'stunned' to see the environment and disabled kids in the beginning. And pretty nervous like me too. He played some soothing music in the background while we're attending to the kids. Classical music does have a very calming effect. When he's more warmed up, he even helped to guide a student. He observed that during a task to hang clothes peg on a line, the student had arranged them in a repeated similar colour pattern. Like XianJin, many of us have some common misconceptions about people with learning disabilities.

I think most people can pick out a person with Down syndrome. People with Down's have some characteristics that make them look like each other, eg  eyes that are often almond-shaped and upward-slanted and flatter facial features. But, they're not all the same. There's much diversity within Down's like there's also diversity within typical people.

I am currently guiding Ken at the Day Training Programme. He is like a typical 14-year old who's curious and playful. He likes paper planes. 

My experience is that people with Down's are wonderful, warm and have much potential for learning (but they can be stubborn too). Ken has attended some formal education at a primary school before joining the PKIK programme last month. Thus, he has a pretty good understanding of language, instructions, rules and schedules. It's been a joy guiding him at the centre. 

There're many Down's people I met at PKIK who can live independently and able to speak clearly. Therefore, it came as a surprise to me to find out that Ken, who has so much potential, does not talk - not even a single word. Just because there's no speech, it doesn't mean that he cannot think or interact with us. He experiences the world in a different way and sees things very differently. 

I've been observing him, but it's still too soon to say anything. But he does surprise me from time to time with the things that he can do. The reality is he can do a lot. It's just that our society has a different value or perspective of this difference. That's why we have labels of good or bad, normal or abnormal. We're all unique, that's why we do not act the same, speak the same or think the same. So, have you looked? With the right intervention, people with disabilities have special talents just like the rest of us.

How Early Intervention Can Help Autism

I will be sharing three disabilities that are increasingly prevalent: cerebral palsy, autism disorders and Down syndrome from my experience as a volunteer at PKIK (read more).

Autism is a common disability at PKIK, something like 7 out of 10 students have autism disorders (the other 2 for Down Syndrome & 1 for CP). It's a broad term, meaning the child can be a little autistic or very autistic. The disability can be devastating that may require institutional care, and on another spectrum,  you've the Asperger syndrome, which is often of average or above average intelligence. 

Loges is 16yo, he joined the Day Training Programme in mid 2011. He was accompanied by his mother to attend the programme for more than a year. Finally, in March this year, he didn't need a chaperon anymore. Like many other autistic kids there, he looks like a typical child. If these kids remain still, it's kinda hard to identify those who have the autism disorders. 

Every Tuesday, we go for a morning walk around the neighbourhood with the children at the Day Training Programme. It's good for the children cos they need the exercise and fresh air. They also learn to ensure safety of themselves and other road users.

DS is a 22yo young adult but still remains at the Day Training Programme. He has attended the programme for more than 7 years, and is very familiar with the routine at the centre. He understands what we're saying and responds very fast. But, he cannot communicate with people and is always in a world of his own. 

DS did not receive any professional support when he's young. Maybe it's a lack of awareness or inadequate support structures. Maybe it's a social stigma especially in the Asian community, many would translate autism disorder into something like 'retarded' or 'crazy' and would rather keep the child at home. 

Like DS, the other kids have a similar problem. They did not receive much early intervention programme when they're young. Most of them could not make sense of the world around them. 

Music session is one of their favourites. The kids get livelier and excited - they move around and dance and make sounds during the session. 

Some parents ask why their disabled child is not learning much at the centre? We wonder if they still have expectations that their kids will learn academically like other school-going kids. Many still cannot come to terms with the lifelong condition of autism. So, what do they learn at the centre? It's not academic, but social interaction with people and self-care skills that will prepare them to live more independently when their parents are no longer able to take care of them. 

'Early Intervention' can significantly improve the outcome for autistic children, and their families. The main thing is to promote early screenings of children for the disorders. I took this advice from a parent of an autistic child:- "Seek treatment as soon as you suspect something's wrong. Don't wait and see if your child will catch up later or outgrow the problem. Don't even wait for an official diagnosis. The earlier children with autism disorders get help, the greater their chance of development and reduction of the autism symptoms."

Monday, 8 April 2013

Touching the World of Cerebral Palsy

I will be sharing three disabilities that are increasingly prevalent: cerebral palsy, autism disorders and Down syndrome from my experience as a volunteer at PKIK (read more). 

I met RuYi at the Day Training Programme. She's the first CP child I know at PKIK. At 12 years old, she has the height of a 6-year-old. I was pretty nervous as I've no idea where to start. She has such a sweet smile that put me at ease immediately. Her caretaker acted as her translator at first. I realise that she could understand Tamil cos it's the mother tongue of her caretaker. She could also understand English and Malay fairly well. 

She started with some simple motor-skill coordination puzzle. You see, RuYi sees the world from a horizontal point of view. She spends her day lying down, in bed or on the ground. She waits for her caretaker to carry her around as she has uncoordinated movements and postures. Her immobile condition did not rob the joy out of her. In fact, quite the opposite. No matter how difficult or awkward her movement and posture, she will keep trying. When I check on her from time to time, she will lift her head up to look at me, with a smile. She's so much in the present - savoring every moment she could see the world as we vertical beings have taken for granted.

She beams with joy each time I read to her. Sometimes, when it's my turn to read to other kids, I could see her trying to turn her head towards me. I couldn't help but just to smile at her. I read a book to her one day, titled "I Like". I could see her face creased and her eyes twinkled when she heard, "I like reading", "I like singing" but she was blank when she heard "I like playing". I was told by her caretaker, she has not played with other kids before cos of her immobility. It broke my heart...

RuYi has such a hunger to learn, it's rewarding to spend time with her cos she's so responsive. I came to understand that CP does not necessarily affect every part of her body. She can produce sounds though she may not talk. She cannot control her muscles cos there's some type of injury or disruption to the brain but her mind is still conscious.

She loves the music session. When you sing 'twinkle twinkle little stars', she will try to produce some similar sounds to it. She understands and enjoys music!

There are 2 other CP children that I met at PKIK. They could sit upright and feed themselves. Like RuYi, they come from an orphanage home. It's not easy to take care of CP children. They're dependent on their caretakers for almost everything. Most families are not able to support them, thus it's not strange to see quite a number of them in care homes.

Thanks to the outreach programme of PKIK, RuYi comes weekly for the physiotherapy session. After the session, she'll join the Day Training Programme with other disabled kids. The teachers and helpers take turn to attend to each child. RuYi wishes for more opportunities to listen to stories, sing, learn about the world just like other kids.  

Volunteer in Your Community - 8 March 2013

Lemongrass Tea anyone? 

This lemongrass is part of the fruit and vegetable garden grown by the young adults at Joy Home in Semenyih. This is a place where the young adults with learning disabilities learn to live ordinary lives with minimal support, with their peers and away from their families. They usually check in on Monday and check out on Friday. During the day, they will continue to go to their learning / training centre at PKIK.....

Indeed true that we don't have to look hard to find opportunities to volunteer. One of the best places is in the community we live in. A few phone calls later and I learnt about PKIK or Persatuan Kanak-kanak Istimewa Kajang. It's not a home for special needs' people, rather it's a learning or training centre for children or persons with learning disabilities. 

Currently, they have more than 90 students occupying 5 shoplots in Kajang Utama. Some of the students were referred by the nearby hospitals in Kajang and Serdang. If we can categorise the learning disabilities into low, medium or high-functioning students, the PKIK students are mainly in the low to medium-functioning groups. Majority of the students did not receive any early intervention programmes especially when they're young and some of them were abandoned in orphanages / children's homes because the families were unable to support them.

A continuing programme to train those above 16 years old who are able to move, feed and go to toilet independently. PKIK Worklink is a sheltered workshop for the trainees to learn some simple job skills as well as work-related behaviours (punctuality, social, ability to follow instructions, etc). There're a few success stories from Worklink where the trainees are now working at paid employment in the community. But most of the trainees work in this supported environment.

An in-house canteen where the trainees receive on-the-job training on food preparation and cleaning up. The daily meals and snacks for the students and teachers are prepared here. Once in a week, the trainees are also taught to do some baking and these foods are sold to parents or the neighbourhood.

PKIK is an independent NGO, not affiliated with any particular group and is dependent on public donations as well as their self-sustainable initiatives.

Related posts: I will be sharing three disabilities that are increasingly prevalent: cerebral palsyautism disorders and Down syndrome from my experience as a volunteer at PKIK.

PKIK learning/training programmes:-

1. Early intervention programme (below 6 years old)

2. Therapy programme including physiotherapy & a sensory room. 

3. Day Training Programme (above 12 years old)

4. Employment Training Programme (above 16 years old)

5. Independent Living Skills at Joy Home in Semenyih (for young adults to stay in the Group Home for a period of 2-4 weeks)

6. Other services - including parental support, sports' training and participation in Special Olympics Sports, outings etc

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Delightful Beachcombing - 23 Mar 2013

Our water chalet at Avillion, Port Dickson. It's a family-friendly resort and still well-maintained with good service. We got away for a night to chill before our back to school family routine.

Spacious room, clean, no unpleasant smell in the toilet. And a good view facing the Straits of Malacca. Trying to spot some birds cos it's still the Raptor Watch month in March. Only spotted one or two raptors but could hear many chirping sounds from the tree birds. I felt calmer listening to the birds than the traffic noise. 

Surprise, surprise, we thought nothing of the small beach with white fine sand..... but there were many seashells there. It's a very relaxing and soothing activity picking up some of them, but told the kids to pick up only those empty seashells. At that point in time, we're totally unaware and oblivious to the infamous sand flies in Port Dickson!! Later, we realised we'd such a close call. (Must remember that sandflies become active after rain)

Seashells made nice, inexpensive momentos. At home, we tried to make some practical uses of our shell collection. We spent hours and days looking for the names or groups of the seashells.

Beautiful ways to decorate our home with shells. Keep it simple!

We wanted to stargaze at night - thought we have better chances to see the stars away from the light pollution in the city. That's the only time we could relax at the balcony. But it was a cloudy night. However, we stumbled upon something really creepy..... CRABS, an army of crabs! They were combing the beach for food before high tide sweeps them away. Low tide means time to eat!

Friday, 5 April 2013

Up, up and away - 29 Mar 2013

Posting by Xian Jin

I went to the 5th annual hot air balloon fiesta with my family in Putrajaya. There were 20 balloons, not just the traditional "inverted tear drop" shape but some special ones that looked catchy. There were teams who participated from different countries. Many people were there to see the hot air balloons taking flight.

I was thrilled to get a pass to the launching site. I could see so closely the whole process of the hot air balloon getting inflated.

The crews getting the balloon inflated and ready to fly. As I got near it, I could feel the humidity and heat from the burner. 

The balloons came in different shape and designs. There were a clown, African elephants, a two-faced monkey, a green monster, Smurf and even a Sim card!!

The crew trying to patch up a hole found in the monkey balloon. If I were to fly the balloon I would not choose this because I would feel unsafe. I could see the interior of the balloon and from near it looked huge.

One of my favourite pictures because it showed the face of the clown through the interior of the balloon. Too bad this balloon has to land just after a few minutes in the sky.

Me, a photographer for a day...

Up, up and away.

A green monster, a two-faced monkey, cool gadgets - what more could we want? I guessed that the gadget was used to measure the air pressure in the balloon.

I wish to return again next year, hopefully I will get a pass to go to the launching site, and hopefully I can see new, cooler hot air balloons.

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