Royal support for Learning Ladders Society
By Narissa Noor

Her Royal Highness Paduka Seri Pengiran Anak Isteri Pengiran Anak Sarah binti Pengiran Salleh Ab Rahaman yesterday attended the official launching of the Learning Ladders Society, a society for early intervention of autism and other developmental and learning disabilities.

Also attending the event was the Deputy Minister of Health, Pehin Orang Kaya Pekerma Laila Diraja Dato Paduka Awang Haji Hazair bin Haji Abdullah, diplomats, parents and other government officials.

Registered in 2007, the society was founded by a dedicated group of parents who wanted to help improve early diagnosis and early intervention services in the country.

"Raising a child with autism is challenging and puts a tremendous strain on the family, both financially and emotionally ... parents sometimes face rejection, criticism, and even isolation," said Dr Sharina Hj Yunus, President of the Learning Ladders Society, in her opening speech.

Primarily formed to provide the much-needed emotional support, she added that through the society parents are able to gain support, share information and educate themselves on the best ways to help their children.

Being the second most common developmental disability, Dr Sharina asserted that one of the most successful intervention strategies for autism lies with Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) and members are given the opportunity to explore its benefits.

"ABA is a scientifically proven and well-researched technique and is widely practised as a means of improving the outcome of children with autism," she said.

She also expressed appreciation for the efforts of the government and other non-governmental organisations involved with managing autism.

"It is well-known that no two autistic children are alike," she stated as being the reason it is called Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). "What works for one child may not necessarily work for another."

With an estimated one out of every 150 children born everyday diagnosed with some form of ASD, the society's presence in the community, she asserted, simply provides parents with more options to help their child.

Records show that in Brunei there is an estimated 400 known cases of ASD.

According to Kerri Wilson, a Behavioural Therapist for the Learning Ladders, children with autism need motivating reinforcers to learn. "It's about breaking down all the things that the children do into little steps and teaching those explicitly step-by-step until we get the child into a more normal state of development."

Riana Aji, mother of five-year-old Raiyan Omar Jefri, said that her son was diagnosed a year ago and despite having enrolled him in kindergarten, engaging him in conversation was difficult and he began developing ritualistic and obsessive behaviour.

"After meeting Kerri... we realised that in the first four years his mind probably didn't compute all the things that he was seeing... and when we began ABA therapy... the progress has been amazing."

When asked how the therapy has helped her son, she said, "The way that they are being taught opens (their minds) and he has improved a lot in the five months (of therapy)."

Although Raiyan is academically able (having been promoted to Primary One), Riana added, "There is still a long way (to develop) his expressive language and social skills.

"Learning Ladders is now my family as no one else could know what we are going through," she said, adding that the lessons she has learned from the society has been invaluable to her as a parent.

In their endeavour to establish a Learning Centre, which provides intensive ABA Therapy to a small number of autistic children, the society has received generous pledges from the business community.

Representatives from DST, Premium Ford Motors, Grand Motors, P'fection Beauty Concept, Aifa Sdn Bhd and Sunlit Advertising were present for the signing ceremony to mark the occasion and as a symbol of the society's appreciation for their support.

Prior to the signing ceremony, guests viewed a short video, which personalised some of the issues faced by those affected by autism.

Her Royal Highness was then presented a pesembah of works of art by some of the children, after which she met with the therapists and parents, and interacted with the children. - Borneo Bulletin (23rd May 2008)