February 26, 2019 marks an important milestone for autism awareness in the country with the first autism-friendly shopping mall in Malaysia being launched.
Sunway Putra Mall, in an effort to support and raise awareness on Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), presented “Autsome” (Autism is Awesome), an initiative to educate the public about the disability and to advocate as well as celebrate the autism community.
“Today marks a very significant milestone, both for the mall industry as well as Sunway as we begin a new chapter in making malls more inclusive for those who have who have autism spectrum disorder or ASD in short,” said HC Chan, CEO, Sunway Malls & Theme Parks, Sunway Putra Mall in his speech at the Autsome campaign launch.
“As at 2014, an estimated 1% of the world population has ASD, with the United States estimating one in 68 children or 3.5 million Americans living with ASD. In Malaysia, there are approximately 300,000 people living with ASD,” he said.
Autism is recognised as a developmental disability. However, awareness of ASD remains low in society with much misconception and prejudice. When children with ASD have meltdowns or throw tantrums in public spaces, it is often inaccurately blamed on bad parenting. In cases where ASD is made known in a community, the lack of knowledge casts apprehension towards this development disability.
“Statistics show that one out of every five Malaysians is gathered in a mall,” continued Chan, “This means a mall is where the community gathers at large. There are 600-over malls in Malaysia. That is why it is important for malls to do their part.”
Speaking on the need to be less judgmental but more understanding, he said, “It is only through better awareness and understanding that we can collectively have acceptance at multiple levels. We believe this is important in creating a fairer society.”
He further emphasised that Sunway is committed to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals where two of those 17 goals are to reduce inequalities and create sustainable cities and communities.
“In our vision to become Asia’s model of sustainable development, we are projecting a more inclusive and sustainable pathway.”
Every Tuesday is Autism Friendly Shopping Day
Since January 8 this year, Sunway Putra Mall has designated every Tuesday (except public holidays) as Autism Friendly Shopping Day.
Every Tuesday, families with autistic individuals can enjoy:
- Autsome Kit ─ a welcome kit consisting of a car sticker, a wrist band for easy identification and useful information on how the autism friendly facilities can be enjoyed will be given out. Parents can register online and collect the kit at the Concierge Counter, Ground Floor.
- Dimmed Lights and Volume Down Music ─ Lights and Music at the common areas and participating outlets will be dimmed. These outlets will have a Priority Lane.
- Reserved Parking ─ Parking bays in Basement 1 are reserved every Tuesday for the convenience of families with autistic individuals.
- Shopping Assistance ─ Customer Care is able to lend a helping hand to carry shopping bags and further assistance when required.
- Autism Friendly Facilities ─ Calm Room (for meltdowns and emergencies) and Sensory Wall (walls with sensory friendly textures).
Yeoh, in her speech commended Sunway Putra Mall for its initiative in raising awareness for autism saying it helps bring light to the issue of parents with autistic children who face difficulty when undertaking a seemingly simple task like shopping in a crowded mall.
In terms of the number of children with ASD in the country, she said her ministry has captured only the numbers of those who registered.
“As of 31st Dec 2018, Jabatan Kebajikan Masyarakat has registered 21, 287 children with autism. This amounts to only 12.2% of the total number of 174, 459 persons with learning disabilities.”
Overall, there are only 513,519 Orang Kurang Upaya (OKU) card holders across Malaysia, she mentioned and this number shows that registration is low.
“One of our tasks is to encourage parents and people with disabilities not to be afraid but to come forward to JKM and register. When you register with JKM as a OKU card holder, you are entitled to many benefits from the government and the private sector. However, if you don’t register, then we will not have the statistics and the true representation of the true number of affected people out there. The OKU registration with a subcategory for learning disability in children will further help government schools to better understand the problem and facilitate the child’s learning process.”
On a related point, Yeoh brought out the case of the autistic boy who was wrongly arrested by the police recently. The lack of awareness on autism resulted in the wrong action being taken on the boy.
“We have already answered in parliament that my ministry together with PDRM and also NGOs like NASOM will be gathering together to have a new SOP and guideline drawn up for frontliners such as PDRM, to better handle people with autism. We are expecting this to be launched in April this year,” she said to a round of applause.
NASOM Maestro Sings ‘You’ve Got A Friend In Me’
The event later proceeded with a choir performance by the NASOM Maestro who sang two heart warming songs to the delight of the crowd.
There was an Autsome Bazaar showcasing products made by autistic individuals such as comic books, drawings and paintings, cookies and accessories, free Autism Screening organised by ABC Therapy Centre and a film on autism titled Redha screened courtesy of TGV Cinemas.
Watch REDHA Trailer Here
Redha, which means “acceptance” is a 2016 internationally acclaimed, multi-award winning film directed by Tunku Mona Riza. A tragic but triumphant story, the film is based on a real life account of a boy with autism and how his family copes with the situation. (The film was shown in cinemas in 2016 and can now only be viewed through special screenings.)