Mr Wong Shyh Shyan, Director of SI World, is a man with a vision. He envisions an ideal society where people with special needs are able to enjoy every aspect of life equal to any other person – probably because he understands how it feels to be “different”. As a dyslexic child himself, he was at the receiving end of his classmates’ insults and bullying. Hardly anyone had heard of dyslexia at that time, and Mr Wong went through his childhood and teenage years being labelled as stupid and a slow learner, only finding out about his condition at the age of 22 when he was studying for his Masters in Special Education.
|Mr Wong Shyh Shyan, Director of SI World|
Armed with his M.A. plus a Post-Graduate Certificate in Sensory Integration, Mr Wong worked hard to achieve this vision. But after starting a number of sensory rooms in various centres, Mr Wong realised the urgent need to have more affordable and accessible treatment for individuals with special needs, especially young children, the age group that will benefit most from early intervention.
Setting up SI World
In 2006, Mr Wong and his partners decided to establish SI World with the intention of training parents to provide treatment for their own children to save on costs. However, it was not so easy a task for busy parents, and, as such, in 2007, SI World opened its first professional therapy centre in SS2, Petaling Jaya. Today, SI World has expanded to 11 centres in Kuala Lumpur, Selangor, Kedah and Sabah. However, their mission remains the same: To provide quality professional services at affordable prices.
Excerpt from Kiddy123's interview with Mr Wong
Kiddy123: Mr Wong, could you tell us more about sensory integration therapy.
Mr Wong: Basically, human beings have eight sensory systems:
The process of the brain organising and interpreting these sensory experiences is called sensory integration. Each of our senses work with the other senses to form a picture of what is going on around us.
For most people, sensory integration occurs automatically without effort. But for people with disabilities, sensory integration does not develop so well and there may be sensory integrative dysfunction, a sort of “traffic jam” in the brain where certain parts do not get the sensory information that a person needs to function properly.
On the other hand, the ability to attend to a task also depends on the ability to screen out non-essential sensory information, background noises, or visual information. The child with special needs who frequently registers sensory information without the ability to screen out the non-essentials is often easily distracted and hyperactive, while another child who may not register some sensory input is seen to be unresponsive to stimuli.
The main form of sensory integration therapy is a type of therapy that places the child in a room specifically designed to stimulate and challenge all of the senses. During the session, the facilitator works closely with the child to provide a level of sensory stimulation that the child can cope with. The main principles are to provide “just right” challenges to the child to obtain an adaptive response and to encourage active engagement by using the child’s preferences to initiate therapeutic experiences.
Kiddy123: What are the conditions that can benefit from sensory integration therapy?
Mr Wong: Most neuro-developmental disorders can benefit from this therapy. SI World’s therapy centres have treated almost the full range of disorders. To name some of them: Autism Spectrum Disorder, Down Syndrome, developmental coordination disorder (dyspraxia), language disorder, speech sound disorder, social communication disorder, specific learning disorders (dyslexia, dyscalculia), cerebral palsy, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
However, the results may vary depending on how early the child is brought for treatment. Another factor is the severity of the disorder. The earlier the child starts treatment, the better will be the outcome. I am happy to say that parents today are more aware of these disorders and children are being brought in earlier now. Previously, the children used to come to us at around primary school age, but nowadays we see more and more 2 and 3-year olds coming in for therapy.
Kiddy123: Since 2006, how has SI World widened the scope of its services?
Mr Wong: In 2006, we started with only sensory integration therapy. As the needs increased, we introduced physiotherapy services at our centres in 2012, occupational therapy in 2014, and speech therapy in July 2015. Starting this year, we also have a child psychologist on board.
We have also organised workshops for educators to help them cope and interact with children with special needs, and are helping the Pusat Pemulihan Dalam Komuniti (PDKs), Kelas Program Pendidikan Khas Integrasi (PPKIs) and NGOs to improve their facilities and services.
Starting Jan 2016, we are providing back-up education to help special needs children who have been rejected by ordinary preschools and also primary school children who cannot follow the teaching pace in mainstream schools. There are two classes: a morning class and an afternoon class from Mondays to Fridays.
Kiddy123: Finally, what advice would you give to parents who suspect that their child has special needs?
Mr Wong: Parents should educate themselves on the milestones in a child’s development so that they can look out for any signs of developmental disorders in their child. If they suspect something is not right, I would advise them to get a proper diagnosis as soon as possible. If the waiting list is too long at the government hospitals, it may be wise to go to a private hospital despite the much higher charges. If the child has a disorder, the earlier treatment is started the better.
Kiddy123: Thank you for the very useful information, Mr Wong. Kiddy123 wishes SI World all the best in achieving its vision and mission.