Little REACh Shoppe is a special Lions REACh’s effort in providing vocational and independent skills training for children and young adults with autism to become independent. While adults with autism have their unique gifts, talents, and skills which they have cultivated over a lifetime, a sad reality is that an overwhelming majority of teens and adults with autism, perhaps as high as 80 percent, do not have suitable employment. At present, only about a third of all people with autism can live and work in the community with some degree of independence. Since employment constitutes a major component of a socially meaningful and productive life, the absence of employment for young adults with autism only increases their isolation and dependence on impersonal third party resources for survival.
The idea of Little REACh Shoppe came about as we look at our children and think of their future. We have a group of children becoming adolescents, and the adolescents turning into adults who need to eventually stand on their own two feet, and be able to be involved and contribute to the community. The need to find suitable employment for adults with autism presents a challenge to us. Professor Dato’ Dr See is the lady who has made this idea into a reality. She is the brain and the mover of this special project. The parents of the centre were invited to invest RM 1,000 as venture capital to fund the operation of our new business. There are 30% of our parents who participated to show their support towards the project and are aware of the relevance of this project in the training of their children.
A comprehensive training was planned at the centre. The centre started training concepts of money, proper way of greeting and serving customers, and appropriate social behavior in simulated setting. When the children were ready, they were taken to the supermarket to shop – see the arrangement of products and look for products at the supermarket; buying the products and paying at the counter. They practiced these skills for six months. When the Little REACh Shoppe was set up and ready, the children were brought to the shop to transfer their learning into a real setting. This process of training them in simulated setting and transferring the skills at the supermarket and eventually to the Little REACh Shoppe make the transition easy and less frustrating for the children.
It is our hope that the Little REACh Shoppe will eventually train the children to arrange products on the shelves, sell the products and manage a shop so that they can eventually seek employment at other businesses or work in the community, thereby ensuring their employability, sustained income and overall quality of life, and enabling them to achieve greater independence.
Loh Guan Lye Specialists Centre is a hospital with vision. The hospital collaborates with Lions REACh in this project as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility. The hospital provides a venue free of rental for us to set up this shop. Loh Guan Lye Specialists Centre is the first private hospital in Malaysia with the vision of including children and adults with autism into the hospital and society. The hospital has a multidisciplinary team that assesses and provides treatment for children with special needs, and this shop brings new hope to parents of special needs children generally and autism specifically. Dr Mary Quah, the CEO of the hospital has extended kindness and generosity via this engagement in helping make this shop a reality.
Similar concept of such business for people with autism is found in other countries. There is “Roses for Autism” in Connecticut, US. Started in 2009, Roses for Autism is the first non-profit social enterprise founded by Ability Beyond Disability, dedicated to providing opportunities to individuals with autism and other disabilities in the business world.
Another example is call the Extraordinary Ventures (EV), which was started by a few parents in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, who realized the difficulties associated with an ASD child’s transition into becoming a functioning member of the society. EV’s mission as non-profit is to employ adults with autism to create small businesses. Their business includes scented candles and bath salts that are sold on their online store and through retail locations; and EV Laundry is a wash-dry-fold, pick-up and delivery laundry service that serves the students of UNC-Chapel Hill and surrounding community.
Little REACh Shoppe is the first shop in Malaysia and Asia located in a private hospital that is run by people with autism. Our vision is to nurture good working habits in financially independent, and friendly children and adults with autism. Our aim is to advocate for inclusiveness of people with autism into the society through education, training and employment.
Products that are sold in the shop include gluten and casein free food, a variety of organic and health food, handicraft and souvenirs made by the children of Lions REACh, and gifts. We strengthen the children’s talent or strength in handicraft production and thus enable them to earn an income for themselves. In order to promote the children’s handicraft, parents and teachers carry out the training for the children to design and make different kind of greeting cards, fold the origami box and paper bag, sew the hand towel and tissue box and thread the beaded keychain.
The Little REACh Shoppe’s operating hours are from 10am to 4pm on weekdays and 10am to 1pm on Saturday. Our children, age ranging from 13 to 20 years old are required to carry out their duty at the shop under their parent’s supervision at least once a week for two hours. During the school holidays, we also encourage all the children in the centre to work at the shop. Besides their parents, supervisors play an important role to supervise and monitor the progress of the children from time to time.
So when a person walks into Little REACh Shoppe to buy a product, “You Shop To Make A Difference In The Life of People With Autism”.