1. Physical and mental exhaustion
Working with special needs children is a demanding job.
“Having to deal with children who will scream for hours when their routine is disrupted can be very upsetting for some,” said Sherie Seow, who is training to become an educator dealing with children with learning disabilities. “This is why many teachers of special needs children burn out and leave.”
Yevon Eng, who works at special needs therapy centre Start LRC, added: “Therapists definitely need determination and overloaded passion to work with young children with special needs.”
“These children sometimes need physical prompting and some can become violent when they are acting out, so therapists need to be physically capable as well,” said Joanna Mah, a therapist who specialises in autistic children.
2. Low pay
“Let’s just say our pay isn’t on the same level as engineers,” said Eng with a laugh.
“This is a new industry,” added Mah. “So we can’t expect too much. It’s reasonable pay, about the same as a teacher.”
3. Lack of guidance
“I constantly worry whether I’m doing the right thing and providing the best service I possibly can,” said Lavender Tan, who assists special needs children with their academic work.
“There is so little governance and so many contradicting theories and schools of thought.
“You want to make sure that the child will not be made worse by your actions.”
4. Lack of professional support and upskilling opportunities
“There is a lack of professional support for therapists in Malaysia,” said Eng. “For therapists to upskill and progress, we need to attend seminars and meet with other therapists, but those are not available here. To attend seminars, we would have to go to Singapore.”
She also added that this lack of support makes therapists feel like they are not progressing in the field, which can be very demotivating.
5. The Malaysian stigma of being labelled as ‘special needs’
While awareness regarding special needs has definitely increased, society at large is still quite uninformed about learning disabilities.
“It’s sad but true – many people in society refuse to associate with special needs people. Some even think autism is contagious!” said Eng. “The stigma surrounding autism makes it harder for special needs children to assimilate into society, which is what we’re trying to help them do.”