Students@SPM 2023: Love, Connect, and Empower: Exploring the Vital Role of Public Health in Supporting “People with Special Needs”

The MQB7003 Principles of Family Health course introduces the fundamentals of Family Health. The training addresses fundamental reproductive health initiatives such as safe motherhood and high-risk Maternal & Child Health (MCH) care approaches. In addition, it includes strategies for child survival and development, as well as prevalent conditions observed in mothers and children. Also included in the course are nutrition topics and wellness promotion programmes.

The dynamic Group 3 Team Members passionately delivered and presented the following seminar approaches throughout the 8-week project for “Persons with Special Needs”, for MQB7003: Principles of Family Health Course, for Master of Public Health, Universiti Malaya. The seminar project ended in June 2022. It is with great humility to share these valuable insights, which we hope will immensely benefit everyone in the future.

Seminar Video Link Presentation, hosted by Jonas John:

1. Forum

According to the American Physiological Association (APA), children with special needs (CWSN) are those who require assistance with disabilities that affect their physical, intellectual, or emotional development. This includes conditions such as autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, and other developmental or behavioural disorders. There are various screening programs available in primary health care to identify children with special needs early on. The manuals of management of children with disabilities serve as a guide for healthcare professionals to organize stimulation activities for CWSN, as well as a reference/teaching tool for training parents and carers in the management of CWSN.

According to a survey conducted by UNICEF in 2019, 58% of Malaysians surveyed felt under-informed about disability. This highlights the need for greater awareness, acceptance and education on the subject. To address the gaps in understanding and support for CWSN, there are several approaches that can be taken. These include strengthening the perception of our community, empowering individuals with knowledge, educating to normalize persons with special needs, community engagement, building inclusive environments such as inclusive playgrounds, and collaboration with all relevant ministries.

There are various schemes available to support CWSN in Malaysia, such as Children’s Aid and the application for an OKU card. There are initiatives in place to improve the education of CWSN, such as the Malaysian Education Blueprint, the Special Education Integration Programme and the Zero Reject Policy (2019). However, challenges still exist, including a lack of trained teachers, insufficient resources, and a lack of awareness and support from the community.

In conclusion, it is important to recognize the needs of CWSN and provide them with the necessary support and resources to help them reach their full potential. This requires a collaborative effort from all stakeholders, including the government, healthcare providers, educators, and the wider community.

2. A Short Film: Broken

Picture: Teaser; drama poster by Group 3 (Credit: ‘Aziezah Anhar)

Stigma is pervasive in the lives of autistic individuals and their families, and it contributes greatly to the difficulties faced by families who are raising autistic children. Parents and carers may feel responsible for their child’s behaviour, experience social exclusion and isolation, and suffer from low self-esteem and poor mental health. This raises the likelihood of suffering self-stigma, which compounds these and other negative outcomes. Hence, there is a need for interventions that assist parents and family carers in coping with the stigma associated with autism and avoiding the internalisation of stigma. Community support and awareness would be needed to make this challenging world a better place.

The objective is to unify the community in the fight against the stigma attached to autism and special needs in general. These small efforts are made with the hope that they will benefit society. This short film was made as one of our projects and premiered on 16th June 2022 at our Seminar: “Persons with Special Needs”.

This Autism awareness project was an effort to increase understanding and reduce the stigma associated with Autism. The project was intended to educate the public about challenges faced by individuals with Autism and their families.

It is important to support caretakers by providing access to resources and emotional support to autistic people and the caretakers. By working towards these goals, we can create a more inclusive and supportive society for individuals with Autism and their families.

3. Outreach Project

These paragraphs are the summary of the outreach program conducted by Group 3, which aimed to empower people with special needs in the community. The program consisted of three separate interviews with a PhD candidate, a professor, and a politician, and outreach activities at a special needs education class. The focus of the program was to identify and eliminate barriers to inclusion for people with special needs and to promote love, connectedness, and empowerment.

A) Interview with Arif:
Arif, a PhD candidate with autism, shared his experiences of facing attitudinal barriers from his teachers who discriminated against him. However, he was fortunate to have the support of his elder brother, who helped him enrol in university where special allowances were made for him to complete his studies. Arif’s story is an excellent example of eliminating programmatic barriers and providing equal opportunities for people with special needs.

B) Interview with Prof. Ruzita:
Prof. Ruzita, a physically challenged professor of economics, shared her experiences of facing physical, social, and transportation barriers in her life. She also highlighted the importance of eliminating these barriers to promote inclusion for people with special needs. She commended the efforts of Group 3 in taking up this cause and advocating for change.

C) Interview with YB Senator Fadhlina Siddiq:
The interview was conducted informally with YB Fadhlina in May 2022. YB Senator Fadhlina Siddiq discussed the challenges of promoting inclusion for people with special needs at the policy level. She emphasized the need for political will and financial support to implement policies and infrastructure for people with special needs. She acknowledged the efforts of Group 3 in raising awareness about the issue and pledged her support and highlighted the importance of advocacy. Government and society as a whole are responsible for assisting individuals with special needs.

Interviewer: Nuraini Rudi

D) Outreach Program at Sekolah Kebangsaan TUDM Subang
Group 3 engaged with special needs education teachers at Sekolah Kebangsaan TUDM Subang to empower them with the knowledge and experience gained from the interviews. The teachers were motivated by the success stories of Arif and Prof. Ruzita and were able to identify red flags in their students. Group 3 also organized various games and activities to motivate and empower the students.

Projek Semarak Kasih UM – SK TUDM

E) Is the Faculty of Medicine, Universiti Malaya – wheelchair-friendly?

Lessons Learned and Conclusion:

From the forum, drama, interviews and outreach activities, we identified six barriers to inclusion for people with special needs, including attitudinal, programmatic, social, physical, transportation, and policy barriers. It was recognized that eliminating these barriers is essential to promoting inclusion and empowering people with special needs.

Overall, the project was a success and the ability to create awareness about the challenges faced by people with special needs hence continuing the efforts to advocate for change and promote love, connectedness, and empowerment for people with special needs at various levels.

Special Acknowledgement:

Course coordinator: Dr Maslinor Binti Ismail
Group 3 Leader: Nuraini Rudi

Group 3 Team members :
Aida Wati Zainan Abidin, Atika Che Omar, ‘Aziezah Norul Anhar, Farha Mohd. Rais, Freddy Maung Maung, Jeshua Navaraj, Jonas John Posko Amalaraj, Md Imam Hasan Limon, Mohamad Shahiri Abd Ghapar, Mohd Azli Fakri bin Abdul Aziz, Mohd Azman Abas, Mohd Tarmizi Che Ali, Mohd Zulkarnain Bin Mohd Nor, Muhamad Shukry Khalid, Nurhajar Asmad Mohd Yusoff, Qamarul Ariffin bin Samin, Rathna Kalaiselvam, Shivani Xaviar, Siti Mariam Mohtar, Rosli Kolob, Then Moli Othayamoorthy, Wenjing Wang

Ability Conference 2022, by Group 3, a wrap-up picture with the course coordinator, Dr Maslinor Ismail.


The seminar concluded with the distribution of pledge cards with the theme #BECOOL to the entire audience, as part of our efforts to make this advocacy for people with special needs a lasting journey.

Pledge card #BECOOL prepared by Group 3

Read more on Persons with Special Needs:

Ras Adiba Radzi – TEDXMonash – 2019

Deaf UM student, Dr Anthony Chong earns PhD

Disabled professor, Professor Dr Ruzita fights to give OKU students a chance for success

UM Special Needs Policy

School Accessibility Checklist

#personswithspecialneeds #publichealth #masterofpublichealth #SPMDepartment #universitimalaya #familyhealth #autism #stigma

The report was written by ‘Aziezah Norul Anhar (MBBS), a Master of Public Health candidate. Edited and posted by Muhammad Haizril Arif Md Mokhtar, Department of Social & Preventive Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, Universiti Malaya.

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