[Feature Article] New Straits Times: Shaping A New Future

On the 1st of March, our director, Jochebed Isaacs, was featured in the New Straits Times under the Life & Times section. 

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Shaping A New Future

Published in: New Straits Times

Published on: 1st March 2016

Written by: Meera Murugesan

There is warmth and cosiness emanating from the sunny, spacious bungalow in Kuala Lumpur that is clearly a reflection of good work being done inside.

"Hello, I'm Jo," says an attractive young woman with an inviting smile as she welcomes me into the place where she works on a cause she is passionate about.

As director of the Early Autism Project Malaysia (EAP), Jochebed Isaacs has a job that can't be compared to many others. How many of us can say that we play a role in changing the life of a child every single day?

Making A Difference

Jochebed, who has been working with children with autism for more than a decade, has a dedication to her task that is admirable but not surprising, given her background.

The daughter of Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria and Datin Rose Cheng Jayasooria, she learnt the importance of responding to the needs of others by watching her parents.

Her father was a pastor who later worked for the NGO, Malaysian Care and was once executive director of MIC's Yayasan Strategik Sosial which looked into social problems of the Indian community. He is currently secretary general of the Society for the Promotion of Human Rights.

Jochebed, who obviously holds her dad in high esteem, says her parents never believed in walking away from a person or community in need and it's a value they passed on to their children.

The young family in Sentul didn't have many luxuries but it was a happy, grounded childhood and one that kept Jochebed in touch with the realities of life. More importantly, her parents taught her that one must respond to a need.

"If more parents did what my parents did, we would be able to create a more conscientious society. My whole life, I was taught to look out for others, to help someone and to not ignore the poor or disadvantaged," says Jochebed who even as a child did volunteer work and was involved in fundraising attempts for needy causes.

These days, she and her dedicated team are helping to provide world-class support services for children with autism and their families so they can lead fulfilling lives.

Changing Lives

Jochebed, who has a master's degree in clinical psychology, first got involved in this field during her student days in Australia.

She says Applied Behavioral Analysis or the ABA approach is at the moment, the most widely recognised and effective therapy for children with autism.

ABA was first developed in the 1970s. Through this approach, complex skills to be acquired by the child are broken down into smaller components to ease the learning process and learning is paired with positive reinforcement to make the process motivating for the child.

Children are also provided with sufficient practice to ensure these learnt skills can be retained and all of this is done in an environment that is child-centric, fun and playful while being meaningful and empowering for the child.

"ABA is not just a treatment option but the solution or the answer to kids with autism if they can get access to it," she says, adding that in the US, many states give funding for ABA because it is by far the most effective solution for children with autism.

The results will change the child's life and that of his family if done early and done well and that's the main reason why Jochebed is determined to ensure it reaches children who need it.

Filling A Need

But she is also particularly concerned about children with autism from underprivileged families who may not be receiving any form of intervention.

She hopes to also reach out to such families by providing them with resources such as training booklets, videos or even work with government and non-profit agencies to train individuals from such families.

Married for seven years, the mother of an adorable 15-month-old daughter admits that like many working mums, planning her days can be a challenge.

But she's fortunate that she can bring her daughter, Eden Daesa-Rose Isaacs, to work. She has arranged for a caregiver for the baby at her workplace and this enables her to go about her day while still being an attentive mum.

Her husband, Shaun Isaacs, is a full-time employee at the couple's church but despite their work schedules, they always ensure that Eden remains their No. 1 priority. Weekends, holidays and evenings after work are always family time and they make the most out of every precious moment with their little girl.

Just as she takes motherly pride in every milestone Eden achieves, Jochebed is equally proud when the children at EAP manage to learn a skill or show a change in behaviour.

When a child with autism manages to do simple things like sit still for a haircut or say his first word or make enough progress to start school, it's a major milestone for his parents and therapists.

"For that child and his family, the future will be different and it's so rewarding to know that we have played a role in making it happen," says Jochebed.