Celebrating differences in autism

On April 7, the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes (OLL) celebrated World Autism Awareness Day, an initiative championed for the first time under the guidance of parish priest, Fr Gregory Chan.

Apr 19, 2024

She Jun Wei (with violin), is a testament to the fact that disability is no barrier to thriving.

KLANG: On April 7, the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes (OLL) celebrated World Autism Awareness Day, an initiative championed for the first time under the guidance of parish priest, Fr Gregory Chan. With a heartfelt commitment to inclusivity, particularly for children with disabilities, this event cast a spotlight on the autistic community, aligning with the global observance on April 2.

The formation team at OLL, alongside a dedicated committee that included parents of autistic children, spearheaded the preparations. Their goal was to enhance awareness and deepen understanding of autism, showcasing the realities faced by those on the spectrum. Attracting over 120 attendees from diverse backgrounds and faiths, the event exemplified unity and a shared commitment to support and understanding.

Fr Gregory, in his opening remarks, highlighted the theme Embracing the Spectrum: Celebrating Differences in Autism. He commended the varied assembly of participants, stressing the importance of compassion, understanding, and kindness toward those with autism. His message was underscored by an illustrative story of an autistic child's encounter with prejudice, further emphasising the need for empathy and acceptance.

The event featured an inspiring musical performance by autistic brothers, She Jun Wei and Aidan She Jun Yuen, on violin and keyboard respectively. Their talent and determination served as a powerful reminder that disability does not limit potential.

Three speakers were on hand, each providing invaluable perspectives on autism. Among them, Ruth S. Arunasalam, an acclaimed authority with over 25 years of experience in the field of autism education, passionately tackled the stigma associated with autism. She emphasised the critical need for customised interventions and the recognition of each child's distinctive abilities. One of her memorable statements, highlighting the critical nature of prompt intervention, powerfully echoes: “Every minute wasted is a minute lost.” Ruth continues to help countless parents and children on the spectrum through her educational initiatives at Ruth Training and Development Academy.

Joel Antony, a certified Autism Fitness Coach and the visionary behind J8 Autism Athletics, illuminated the diverse hurdles encountered by families raising children with autism in Malaysia, championing enhanced assistance and integration avenues. Amidst the formidable challenges, Joel’s remarkable transition from attaining his LLB Hons to wholeheartedly embracing the mission of empowering the autism community via sports training resonated with a powerful message of optimism and fortitude. Through a delightful group activity, he immersed the audience in the intricacies of autism, eliciting laughter while imparting a deeply moving insight.

Ivy Philip, the Founder of EmployAble Malaysia, held the audience in rapt attention with her engaging talk on creating inclusive employment opportunities for people on the autism spectrum. She urged a societal shift towards inclusivity, emphasising the need to focus on the social model of disability. This model advocates for recognising the unique needs and strengths of autistic individuals, rather than dwelling on perceived deficits, a contrast to the traditional medical model.

Ivy underscored the importance of dismantling biases, presuming competence, employing respectful language, and ensuring accessibility to cultivate an inclusive environment. She pointed out that inclusive employment extends beyond the benefit of providing meaningful and sustainable opportunities to autistic individuals; it enriches organisations with diverse viewpoints and a reliable workforce, positioning these individuals as invaluable contributors rather than burdens.

The event also featured a Q&A session, offering a platform for engagement and exchange, especially beneficial for parents seeking advice and support.

Participants left with a greater awareness and a commitment to inclusivity, reflected in the feedback from attendees like Timothy and Franzeene, parents of a child with Down Syndrome, who expressed their realisation that children with disabilities can excel in various aspects of life, emphasising the importance of nurturing individual potential. Similarly, Nelisha, a mother of four, found inspiration in the event's alignment with Christian values of love and acceptance.

Those interested in connecting with the experts from the event, may reach them as follows: Ruth (016 2498169), Joel (019 9100962), and Ivy (012 5003750). — OLL Formation Team

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