In Malaysia, an average of one out of every 600 children is autistic, and although the wealthy can avail themselves of private facilities to help meet their children’s needs, the poor have few reliable options. This makes it difficult for parents with autistic children to work, save money, and build a better life for their families. That’s why the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS), an Atlas Network partner in Malaysia, created the Ideas Autism Center (IAC) in order to provide autism-related services to low-income families and allow them better access to the job market.
Autism spectrum disorder is a range of complex brain development disabilities. The IDEAS center, which is the only one of its kind in Malaysia, offers daycare, speech and occupational therapy, and education to autistic children during working hours, freeing up their parents’ time and allowing them to earn a living. Many countries, particularly in the developing world, simply lack the infrastructure and funds to adequately support those afflicted with autism.
“This does not absolve the government from its responsibility but the key thrust is to reduce the burden on the government, and by extension, the taxpayer,” said Wan Saiful, chief executive of Ideas, in an interview with Catalyst Asia magazine. IAC demonstrates that civil society and the private sector can play a vital role in filling the gaps for governments, and in the process making a sustainable solution. “Our priority is to turn IAC into a social enterprise although at the moment, the model is a charitable one,” said Saiful.