Post-lockdown norms will challenge those teaching autistic kids

Feilina Faisol of the National Autism Society of Malaysia says children will have to unlearn what had been painstakingly taught to them about interacting with people.

PETALING JAYA: Teachers attending to autistic children are bracing for the challenges of new ways of interacting with them in the post-lockdown era.

Social distancing will be the most difficult norm to observe, particularly for those in early intervention programmes, according to Feilina Faisol, chairman of the National Autism Society of Malaysia (Nasom).

Speaking to FMT, she said early intervention activities, such as teaching the children how to hold a pencil, would normally require physical contact.

“You need to hold their hands,” she said.

Giving another example, she said some children would need to be held down in lessons on sitting.

Social distancing, along with the wearing of masks and regular washing of hands, are among the practices the health ministry is advocating in its bid to contain the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to Feilina, autistic children can be trained to acquire habits although it would take time.

In fact, she said, they would be better than other children in keeping to required practices once these were ingrained in them.

“One you train them, they will never leave home without the mask and they will automatically practise social distancing.”

Nasom has 16 centres nationwide and 550 students.

Feilina said the students would now have to unlearn what had been painstakingly taught to them about interacting with people.

Because some autistic children have experienced social isolation, they prefer not to interact with others. To change this, Nasom has been encouraging them to hug their teachers or shake their hands.

“It’s going to be a very confusing period for them,” she said. “After being taught to salam their teachers, they are going to be told they can’t do that anymore.”

Feilina said parents would have to play their part in helping their autistic children adapt to the new norms. “They need to do the same things teachers do in school.”

Hasnah Toran, the director of an early intervention centre for autistic children called Genius Kurnia, said parents should speak to their children about the changes expected after the movement control order expires.

Parents who educate themselves on helping their children would find the children adapting well, she said.

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