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IT TAKES a lot of compassion and commitment when teaching and providing care to special needs children.

These young children require more attention and assistance in their learning so that, later in life, they can stand on their own and not only take care of themselves but also contribute to society.

In August 2015, His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah, the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam said in a titah, “Caring for this special group of (differently-abled) people is indeed a part of our responsibility, as is their education in terms of spiritual of otherwise.” His Majesty also cited guidance portrayed in the Al-Quran on the need to care for the differently abled. “Assist them to lead a life that is at par or similar to others in society; pray that they may achieve the happiness and prosperity enjoyed by the community,” said His Majesty. “Such are our expectations for them.”


One of the agencies committed to the care and support of the special group is the Society for the Management of Autism Related Issues in Training, Education and Resources (SMARTER) Brunei.

A special needs centre for Individuals with Autism (IWAs), SMARTER is a non-profit organisation (NGO) that ensures IWAs receive guidance and appropriate programmes to expand their full potential.

“If you are going to open or run a special needs centre, one has to think what is your reason behind it? Are you planning to make a living out of it? Is it because of your passion to help and ensure full quality service will be provided to these special needs children?”, said SMARTER's deputy director of clinical practices Ma Lourdes Radovan to The Brunei Times.

Running an organisation is not easy as you need to have a good team, she added. “This means that you need to have dedicated staff who believe in your dreams and aspirations, and have the will power and commitment to stay,” she said.

“For me, my work leading SMARTER’s action team is not just an occupation. It has become my responsibility to provide care and guidance to IWAs, their families and to all the staff that I work with. It has become my life, my passion and my calling,” said Radovan.

When asked about what it takes to be a teacher at the special needs centre, Radovan replied, “Most of the teacher-therapists at SMARTER have medical background like nurses and physiotherapists. While others have degrees such as respiratory therapy, education, language, business administration and vocational courses.

“Anyone who wishes to join our team will have to undergo a three-month training in which the applicant will be rotated across our centres,” she said.

By doing so, it will give the applicant the opportunity to find out if he or she has the capacity and skills to provide support and assistance, to facilitate and enhance children diagnosed with austism. She also noted, “Having qualifications is just not enough. A staff requires enough experience to be able to interact and assist autistic children.

Right attitude

Three things SMARTER looks for in an applicant who wants to join the team is knowledge, skills and attitude.

It is an added value if one is in the medical field as the individual would be able to better understand better the child and will have better knowledge of other conditions that may be related to autism.

“Attitude is the most important criteria we look at in an applicant. Knowledge can be gained if you study, read books or attend lectures and seminars; while skills maybe acquired when you undergo trainings and workshops.

“If an applicant does not have the right attitude towards individuals with autism, their families and other members of the team, then no contract or job will be given. An applicant should have the compassion, understanding, empathy and patience (when dealing) with IWAs,” said the deputy director.

She added: “We also look at how a child with autism would react or interact with a staff especially during the three-month training. They (IWAs) would react differently if they can feel negative vibes coming from you.”


Radovan added: “The centre uses affordable and adaptable low-cost and low-tech materials (for the children’s learning). Staff are often involved in organising the physical environment, and making lesson plans by using visual materials.

“Activities are arranged in a structured way to build and improve learning. Activities are incorporated into play lessons as this is a very powerful tool for learning in children.”

Moreover, the centre takes into account a child’s interest. “We use that interest to get his or her attention, serve as a learning tool and of course to provide encouragement to do, continue and finish their work.”


“SMARTER has six locals at the moment. One is an undergraduate university student and helps in the administration; two with O-level who work as office managers; two with O-level working as assistant teacher-therapists; and one as a general worker/cleaner.

“We try to encourage more locals to apply but unfortunately at the moment we don’t have any. Previously, the ratio of locals and foreign workers are 1:1 but most of the locals would eventually stay for a year or so and would move after finding better paying jobs,” she said.


“To teach skills to a child would take months before the child could be able to acquire it and many more months to master the skill,” she said.


The Brunei Times

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SMARTER Brunei hold  camping event



THE president of the Society for the Management of Autism Related Issues in Training, Education and Resources (SMARTER) yesterday called on the public to assist them in raising awareness on individuals with autism and their acceptance.

“SMARTER believes our individuals with autism need support and it is the society that needs to give them the acknowledgement by facilitating, accepting and embracing them into society,” said Malai Hj Abdullah Malai Hj Othman at the opening of SMARTER’s sixth camping expedition.

“We need the (public’s) help by being advocates of individuals with autism to ensure that they are not unfairly discriminated against and to maintain their rights as citizens with disabilities through understanding of the Convention on the Right of the Child and the Convention on the Right of Persons with Disabilities,” he said.

He said SMARTER’s camping expedition provides an opportunity for its students to learn valuable lessons while enjoying life experiences.

“With the two-day camp, our individuals with autism can enjoy going camping in the woods like normal children and also learn skills while having fun,” he said.

“Hopefully, such events can raise the profile of our individuals with autism through interaction with other members of the public like the students from Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD) who are here to volunteer as part of their Discovery Year programme,” he said.

The Australian High Commission, who co-organised the camp alongside SMARTER, said in a statement that the 10 Flinders University undergraduate students who are in the country for an attachment programme with SMARTER also participated as volunteers.

The head of the delegation, lecturer Debbie Smith, said that their participation has allowed the students to learn practical skills of working with individuals with autism while putting what they have learnt into practice in Brunei.

“This programme is part of the New Colombo Plan Mobility grant which funded us. The idea is to give an opportunity for our undergraduates to better understand the regions around Australia, to help make links and connections with people from these places for the future,” she said.

“This is the second year that students have come to Brunei under this programme and it will continue on for at least until 2018 so our students can immerse themselves in the culture of the country and get to know the individuals and their families that they will be working with for another two years,” she said.

According to the Australian government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website, the New Colombo Plan Mobility Programme funds undergraduates from Australian universities to participate in semester-based or short-term study, internships and research in 38 host locations across the Indo-Pacific region including Brunei.

Smith said that the visit was also a result of her personal connection with the sultanate.

“I previously lived and worked in Brunei for eight years, I also helped SMARTER set up back in 2001 and have always maintained that link even after I went back to Australia having worked at UBD,”

“I spoke with (SMARTER president) Malai Hj Abdullah last year and the Australian government was very supportive of the idea to collaborate with SMARTER for this programme and that was how it came about,” she said.

Smith said that the group from the university located in Adelaide will also attend the 8th National Conference on Autism towards the end of this month where she and her colleague will present some papers alongside other agencies like the Special Education Unit, Pusat Bahagia and the Ministry of Health.

Minister of Health Yang Berhormat Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Zulkarnain Hj Hanafi officially opened the camping expedition at the Berakas Forest Reserve and Recreational Park.

Also present was Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Health Hj Zakaria Hj Serudin.

The Brunei Times


SMARTER Brunei hopeful for new sponsors



THE President of the Society for the Management of Autism Related Issues in Training, Education and Resources (SMARTER) Brunei Malai Hj Abdullah Malai Hj Othman said that the organisation is hoping to secure funding from corporate sponsors in the near future.

Speaking to The Brunei Times on the sidelines of SMARTER’s recently-concluded annual camping expedition, he said that most of their larger corporate sponsors in Brunei had pulled their support when the oil prices fell at the end of last year.

“We are currently surviving on funding from the local small and medium enterprises this year for which I am very grateful but obviously, I still hope that the coming year will see the oil prices and economy recover to its previous levels so that we may renew our relationships with these large corporate sponsors,” he said.

He said that SMARTER’s finances remain insecure for the forseeable future despite doubling their fees in the past year.

“The fees only cover up to one-third of the monthly operational expenses, even after we have increased our fees to $250 per month but right now, we are just floating along and living month-to-month so I cannot yet say if we would be alright (financially) for the rest of the year,” he said.

“We are planning to have another garage sale in November to raise funds and hopefully we can get the necessary financial boost to secure our immediate (financial) future then,” he said.

He said that expenses were mainly allocated to pay for staff payroll and their building centre maintenance.

“We currently have 34 staff on our payroll but we also get help from student volunteers from Universiti Brunei Darussalam who are on their Discovery Year programme which brings the total number of people working at SMARTER to about 50, which is the optimum number to run the operation,” he said.

“Currently, we have about 120 students which is below the maximum capacity as usually it is six students to one teacher in each classroom,” he said.

He said that despite the trying circumstances, he has not felt the need to take drastic actions at the country’s premier autism intervention centre. “We have not put any special or extra cost-cutting measure in place as it is not yet necessary but the only difference is that when a staff leaves our organisation, there is less urgency in finding a replacement immediately.”

SMARTER was established in 2001 and was given a 14 gold-star rating by Australia’s Findlers University for reaching the standards set by the Autism Programme Quality Indicators (APQI) last year.

The Brunei Times

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