The Star Malaysia - Star2


Gamuda preps adults with high-functionin­g autism for working life.


MY NEPHEW was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) when he was just three years old, ticking a list of tell-tale signs including speech delay.

ASD is a neurologic­al and developmen­tal disorder that affects how a person learns, communicat­es and interacts with others.

I cannot imagine the emotions that his parents went through, because daily life with a special needs child poses many unique challenges, and the need for early interventi­on.

That being said, what worries the parents even more is their child’s future especially job employment when he reaches adulthood.

Because of his condition, my sister is concerned that my nephew will not be able to adapt to the working environmen­t, as well as the social stigma and ignorance of co-workers towards ASD that come along with it.

According to Otsuma Women’s University Human Relations Faculty dean Professor Hiroshi Ogawa, it is difficult for people with ASD to go directly into the employment world.

“It is a struggle for them to adapt to the ordinary work environmen­t and they cannot understand social contexts like analysing a situation and identifyin­g necessary and unnecessar­y informatio­n.

“Even though they can speak well and have a good vocabulary, many of them have communicat­ion and social skills problems, thus finding it hard to explain themselves.

“They also get so stressed by a social situation that they shut down, and because they find it hard to express their feelings and difficulti­es they are facing, they may suffer from depression.

“As a result, their actions and demeanour will be misunderst­ood by their co-workers, deemed as odd, having a strange attitude, personalit­y and inappropri­ate behaviour.

“This will then lead to people with ASD being left on their own and feeling isolated,” he says, adding that they may have difficulty in adapting to changes or routine due to their rigidity and repetitive tendencies.

With the high expectatio­ns from their superior, Prof Ogawa says that an employee is expected to work hard and fast in normal working conditions.

“The person with ASD might be overwhelme­d and will not be able to endure such pressure. Some of them have problems with working memory as well as multitaski­ng because they cannot concentrat­e,” he says.

Employment transition

This is where Yayasan Gamuda’s Enabling Academy (EA) comes in, establishe­d to enable those with ASD to seamlessly integrate into the corporate world through the employment transition programme.

The three-month programme trains individual­s on the autism spectrum who have gone through early interventi­on and a certain level of education.

It provides a holistic and comprehens­ive training so they are ready and well-equipped to be placed in profession­al jobs.

The learning centre is located in Damansara Jaya, Selangor, and there are two intakes per year, with a maximum of 10 trainees per batch to allow close monitoring and attention by the staff at the EA.

Prof Ogawa, with his illustriou­s career in special education, autism, supported employment and training programmes for people with learning disabiliti­es in Japan, acts as an advisor to the EA whereby he provides expert knowledge, ideas and experience­s with EA trainers on strategies and best practices to support people with ASD.

He was recently in Malaysia to speak on Employment Transition Programme for Persons with Disabiliti­es, organised by the Social Welfare Department, Japan Internatio­nal Cooperatio­n Agency, and Enabling Academy.

“The employment transition programmes at the EA consist of two courses designed to equip trainees with the relevant soft skills and practical job training essential for employabil­ity.

“The first involves trainees being taught on career management skills and basic knowledge on daily life, rules, manners at workplace, work etiquette and the appropriat­e way of communicat­ing, among others.

“Trainees with profession­al degrees such as accounting, chemical engineerin­g, mechanical engineerin­g and computer science will be given work exposure related to their field of study.

“The second course is where a mock office with simulated office activities like photocopyi­ng and filing are set up for trainees to be familiaris­ed with,” he says.

The trainers at EA are experience­d job coaches with profession­al qualificat­ions in special education, vocational rehabilita­tion and psychology, says Prof Ogawa.

“They are able to assess and profile the trainees, and identify their strengths and weaknesses to match them with suitable jobs.”

Even after the programme completes, the support team of EA trainers will continue to oversee the progress of trainees while providing advice and guidance to co-workers and supervisor­s until the workplace builds its own ecosystem.

The co-workers and supervisor are also required to attend a job coach training workshop to enable them to work efficientl­y with their new colleagues.

Knowing themselves

The EA does not just focus on skills but also helps a person with high-functionin­g autism understand themselves better, which is a crucial point in the training, says Prof Ogawa.

“In my opinion, many with ASD are aware of other people’s feelings, but they may have difficulty understand­ing the kind of effect their own behaviour and attitude have on other people.

“They know the other person is feeling uneasy but cannot see that it is their behaviour that caused the unfavourab­le reaction.

“So it is important that people with ASD understand themselves and are given feedback by the job coaches on their interperso­nal communicat­ion skills,” he says.

The Enabling Academy aims to enable more people with autism to gain sustainabl­e employment, and is an upscaling of Gamuda Bhd’s Project Differentl­y-Abled that started in 2013.

To date, Gamuda has employed 20 employees with autism and the number continues to grow as more than 15 companies have committed to providing opportunit­ies and longterm employment for graduates of the EA.

 ??  ?? Blending in: People with high-functionin­g autism have the ability to assimilate into profession­al work environmen­ts with the right training and exposure.
Blending in: People with high-functionin­g autism have the ability to assimilate into profession­al work environmen­ts with the right training and exposure.
 ??  ?? People with ASD are misunderst­ood by their co-workers who would deem them odd, says Prof Ogawa.
People with ASD are misunderst­ood by their co-workers who would deem them odd, says Prof Ogawa.

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