As Lao Tzu once said, “A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.” And such is the journey of one strong lady by the name of Karen Choo since 2009. She hopes to see a brighter future for children with special needs in Malaysia and has been working towards her goal step by step.
Karen Choo, the founder and leading lady of Hope Bridge I Care Centre.
Passionate about children with special needs, Karen has participated in multiple courses to help her create a more in-depth teaching method. She started her journey as a behavioural therapist at Autism Partnership Limited before becoming an assistant class teacher at Autism Partnership School (APS) in 2009. Not long after, Karen gets a promotion to be a class teacher at APS itself. Since then, she has never stopped finding the best way to teach special needs children of all group ages.
Karen believes that as an educator, especially for special needs, “We should plan for their future as well.” This is why she founded Hope Bridge I Care Centre. To look beyond teaching basic life skills and venture further into planning for what a special needs child should do. As special needs children are attached to what is familiar to them, it is even more crucial that they be given continuous input that helps them to become independent adults.
That’s why she reached out to IGL Coatings; to create a future for special needs children in the automotive industry. And we’re very proud to say that we fully support this notion of giving these special children real life exposure. We hope this collaboration will inspire more companies to take similar steps and provide exposures in other industries as well.
What Hope Bridge I Care Centre will expose their teenagers to is car washing. Sounds simple enough right? That’s why we wanted to explore more about Hope Bridge I Care Centre and the progress they’ve made so far in training their special needs teenagers in washing cars. So we sat down together one insightful afternoon for a fun sharing session with Karen.
How did the idea come about? Of having these teenagers exercise their motor skills and learning through physical activities. Which also gives them some sort of exposure to how real life works.
This has been my dream for children for autism. I just want to work something up for the children. How it came to be was when I came back from Hong Kong. While there, I trained myself in a variety of teaching skills from one of the companies that had their headquarter in the US. So when I came back to Malaysia and did an attachment with a local consultant, I find that our ideas go in different directions. This inspired me to go freelance instead and Emily is my first customer. Still is and I’m very happy that she joined me in this effort.
Of course, this is not purely my idea. I did a lot of research on how educators overseas do it. And even in Malaysia within these couple of years, I’m seeing more parents start their own cafe in hopes of training their special needs children. So I thought of going the same route [creating a place to train special needs children using real life exposure]. But of course, as with any project, comes a financial restraint. So I decided to do what I can with what I have at the moment.
But what really pushed me was when I realized that these children are turning into teenagers. I know I have to plan something for them. At first I didn’t know what it was that I should do, I just followed where the path led me. That’s when I started looking into what educators outside of the country are doing.
Standing proud and loud with her team at Hope Bridge I Care Centre.
And what about their progress? In terms of learning to wash the car and coping with the environment. You mentioned before that these teenagers need to be accustomed to the working conditions for them to feel comfortable when they actually start for real.
They have actually started training about a week and a half ago with one of IGL Coating’s distributor, Tom. Our supervisor came with the teenagers to learn about the correct way in washing cars.
But even before entering their practical phase, we’ve started giving them ideas on how to do it. The idea of washing cars is already something taught at the centre but it’s just on a play pretend basis even when we use real cars. To be honest, I use my own car for them to practice on because I want them to test on the real thing itself. But their skills have not been used in a working kind of situation where they will need to be very proper and everything needs to be done thoroughly.
This is what I meant by these teenagers do have the idea because we do have car washing sections at the centre. But then again, it’s just another concept to them. However, as our teenagers love water and they love using the vacuum, it wasn’t a big hurdle to pass.
Oh? So they’re not bothered by the loud vacuum sound?
Actually no. It’s a sensory thing and they love vacuuming. They enjoy it and they never threw any tantrums. They just do it.
What about the people who have had their cars washed? What were their responses like?
Granted we’ve only tested on the teachers’ cars, our worries were more on the teenagers themselves. Because they love playing with water, if we don’t supervise them properly, someone will end up getting drenched. They are after all still trying to understand the concept and might feel like it’s something to play around with. So in a split second, anything can happen.
Now that sounds like something happened. How about telling us something memorable that happened while the teenagers were learning how to wash the cars?
Actually something did happen! We had one girl that is part of the team and I guess we weren’t fast enough in responding to her. And water just flew everywhere. But aside from that, nothing much happened.
Do you think this is something that other special needs learning centres should do too? Letting the kids have fun outdoors and at the same time letting people be a part of it? Not necessarily in terms of washing car but just generally being outdoor, being with the society, and let society be part of them.
Many learning centres in Malaysia offer community services, any special needs educator can vouch for the same wherever they go. They offer real life experiences in terms of what these children should know about everyday life such as going to the bank, buying groceries, and also working so that they can become independent adult in the future. But we should strive to go further for a more wholesome real life experience.
Our aim should no longer be just about play pretending in a controlled environment. It should be more than just preparing food in the kitchen, baking in a small oven, or just doing simple transaction at the market. It should be about creating a local workforce pool that is ready to be tapped into. There is a huge opportunity waiting for these children. It’s just a matter of who is willing to start it and who is willing to support it.
Last but not least, please give us some final words. Let our readers know how they can assist you in the car washing activities and the special needs home itself.
To be honest, our special needs children are, to us, normal. It’s just that they have limitations. And working with normal people comes with limitations too. It comes back to how patient we are in guiding and nurturing them with continuous practices because in the end they will still get the idea and they can complete the task. And for me, they are more reliable when they work. They are more compliant when listening to orders, so why not give these children a chance.
They don’t have the capability to twist the meaning of their words. As a result, the children are very straightforward in terms of their socio-emotional behaviours. When they’re angry, they’ll be angry. When they’re happy, they’ll be happy. Even aggression towards others are not out of malice. Its more impulsive rather than a planned action. So in a way, their reactions are out of pure honesty rather than trying to impress anyone.
As for the car wash activity, we’re having our car wash fundraising event soon. It will be at the Hope Bridge I Care Centre itself starting April 15th, 2018 (see further details at the bottom of this article). We’re fully using IGL Coatings’ products for every vehicle that comes for service. So why not experience being with special needs teenagers yourself and be the judge? Our teenagers are sure to impress you with their skills!
That concludes our interview with Karen Choo of Hope Bridge I Care Centre. It was both eye opening and refreshing for us in IGL Coatings to hear in-depth insights about how children with autism can have a brighter future. And it’s something that everyone can be a part of too.
Gone are the days where disabilities in general are seen as a dead end. Instead, we as a society should strive to accept and include these special individuals as part of our lives. Not as a charity case but as a proper, functioning and working adults who can be independent.
Again we’d like to thank Hope Bridge I Care Centre for this chance to collaborate. It’s a chance for us to give back to society and create more job opportunities for children with autism.
Don’t forget to join them this April for Autism Awareness Month! Hope Bridge I Care Centre is hosting a fundraising event that doubles up as their first trial run. So why not join the fun and get your car washed at the same time?
CAR WASH FUNDRAISING EVENT
Date: 15-30 April 2018 (Weekdays only)
Place: Hope Bridge I Care Centre
Address: 58, Jalan SS18/1C,
47500 Subang Jaya,