Engineering and Autism Studies – Training Officer Stella Leong

Hi Stella! Could you introduce yourself and what you do at MINDS?

I was an engineer prior to joining MINDS. It was a big career switch from handling engineering equipment to working with our clients with special needs. I started volunteering before joining MINDS to prepare myself for this career switch. 

I am currently a training officer at Eunos Training and Development Centre (ETDC).  My job involves teaching clients how to perform their daily living activities and home living skills so that they can manage basic self-care, which brings about a better quality of life for them and their caregivers. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, I also focused on building community participation skills where clients learnt to integrate into society through simple purchases, taking public transport, outings with volunteers, etc. 

What are some challenges you face at work and how have you overcome them? 

Our clients may not be able to communicate their feelings, needs or even discomfort, which explain their anxiety or meltdowns at times.  It really takes time for direct care staff to learn their clients’ profiles, and to build rapport and trust with clients. 

I am fortunate that MINDS provides many opportunities for employees to pick up courses relating to our scope of work. Foundation in Autism Studies (FAS) – a course offered through our partnership with Griffith University – offers deep insights to understanding people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). It also equips us with various support plans to appropriately manage challenging behaviours.  It is important to put the knowledge to practice when we work with our clients.  Consistency and patience in following through with data collection of challenging behaviours, along with planning and working out the best intervention helps us overcome the challenges at work. 

What are the principles or concepts that you’ve learnt in Autism Studies? 

There are many interesting quotes surrounding people with autism. One quote by Dr. O. Ivar Lovaas left a deep impression on me: “If they can’t learn the way we teach, we teach the way they learn”.  Every MINDS client is special in their own way; our teaching and training goals are thus tailored to our clients’ needs. 

The FAS course also debunks some common misconceptions that the public may have about people with ASD. One misconception is that a person with ASD is ill-mannered or not interested in the exchange of information because they do not maintain eye contact during conversation. However, that behaviour does not mean that they are uninterested in social communication and interaction. 

People with ASD will also demonstrate restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviour.  For instance, they may start rocking their bodies to cope with anxiety.  They may insist on adherence to routines or have circumscribed interest on machines, dinosaurs, or map of Bangkok train stations.  These unique characteristics are critical information we must keep in mind when we engage our clients with autism. 

How would you apply what you have learnt in your area of work?

With the knowledge on the defining symptoms of ASD, I can plan work schedules, visual supports, and training material to engage my clients more effectively.  In the event I experience clients with behavioural challenges, I will adopt a behaviour support plan to address the behaviour, collect data (ABC, frequency charts) and identify the trigger factor.  These will be followed by discussion with my Allied Health Professionals team and strategise interventions to reduce or prevent the challenging behaviour. 

How would you summarise your experience undergoing the Foundation of Autism Studies while working?

Professor Dawn and Professor Kate are remarkable lecturers who never fail to add fun and cheer to our lessons.  They will put on skits, demonstrate examples, share experiences and conduct revisions to reinforce concepts. 

As a working mother, the online lessons and assignment preparation were rather demanding.  I could only commence studying at night after taking care of my family and household chores. I have unconsciously dozed off while reading journal papers many times! Nevertheless, the learning experience was deeply fulfilling and rewarding. 

Interested in building a meaningful and rewarding career? Click here to explore employment oportunities with MINDS!


Featured in the April 2021 issue of MINDShare – our monthly e-newsletter. Scroll down for original stories and updates from our MINDS community.