Working with people with special needs is always a pleasure, as Husna “Anna” Ahmad of BOOKISH’N’MORE in Singapore happily tells us. She loves how each day is different. In fact, she still gets a lot of surprises. :)
“All individuals are able to perform any job you give them independently if you’re able to identify their needs accurately and make adaptations,” Anna says. “Even after years of working with them, I (still) notice that there’s always something unique about each and every one of them.
“No one method that you successfully create for Person A would exactly be the same for Person B,” she adds. “I feel that there’s always something I need to adapt and modify.”
As the founder and owner of BOOKISH’N’MORE, Anna knows this scenario all too well. She describes BOOKISH’N’MORE as “an online store that provides tools and activity books for preschoolers and individuals with special needs”, with a “current staff of two individuals with autism who recently graduated from a special needs school last year”.
A store is born
Anna also happens to be a special needs teacher at a special needs school, which gives her a unique perspective.
“I noticed the challenges that some parents faced,” she relates. Among them: “External therapies were too expensive for average and low-income families; there was no manpower to bring their children out to events catered to individuals with special needs (in case of a meltdown); and whether the parents were working or homemakers, they simply didn’t have time to create activities to engage their children.”
Hence the idea for BOOKISH’N’MORE. “That’s when I decided to create resources and materials to sell, as I wanted to help and empower the parents,” she recounts.
“I started selling in Carousel, where I had great feedback for more of such activities. After two years, I decided to register BOOKISH’N’MORE as a business.
“My vision for BOOKISH’N’MORE is it’s to be run mostly by individuals with special needs. I’d like it to be an avenue where they can advocate and provide for themselves in the future.” And be able to promote their progress and well-being even further.
Things are looking up
With BOOKISH’N’MORE, Anna has much to look forward to.
“The best parts about running BOOKISH’N’MORE? Seeing the images in your brain come out in book form; empowering parents who bought the materials, as well as individuals with special needs; providing a source of income for them; and seeing my vision for BOOKISH’N’MORE slowly unfold,” she states.
What’s more, being around and in touch with individuals with special needs keeps Anna on her toes. “You always have to think, think, think… How can I improve and make things better? How can I help them achieve what’s required of them?
“You learn about life, to be grateful for the minute things. You learn not to take things for granted. You see things in a different light,” she points out.
What about the challenges? “There’s having your books copied and sold. It happened once when I was selling in Carousel,” she admits.
“Also keeping the cost low, and yet provide the best-quality materials. We tried and have minimised our earnings, but the books might still seem pricey because of the materials used.”
But it’s all worth it
Because Anna’s most memorable experiences and discoveries shine through. :) This is just a taste of what happens despite, and even after, the obstacles she goes through. Let them inspire you. :)
#1 Her first employee
“Getting my first individual with special needs working for me, where he cut and assembled the pages to make the books, is definitely on top of my list. I saw my BOOKISH’N’MORE vision slowly come to life.”
#2 Her first pop-up store with Sonder Soiree
“I worked alongside vendors who had similar beliefs and dreams. Even if they were from a different field, having a socially conscious business was what brought us together.”
#3 Being able to empower families
“Everyone needs help at one time or another. If I could help them, why not?
“There was a parent who bought the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) from me as his child wasn’t speaking yet. After relaying my knowledge and how to use PECS, the parent kept trying it – until one day, the child spoke without a need for it. Today, the child speaks in full sentences, asks questions and makes comments. It’s like a dream come true for them.”
#4 Finding “gems”
“Synthetic paper that’s waterproof, tear-proof and non-toxic is a dream for any educator or parent with children who tend to bite or put things in their mouths, or have challenges controlling their saliva. For hygienic reasons, you can just wash it under running water. It works 100 per cent better than laminated paper. Trust me.” :)
#5 Learning to illustrate her own books
“I used to use commercial free images for my books, and then experimented and taught myself to make my own clip art through Illustrator and Powerpoint. But it took a long time to create one image. Engaging an illustrator was one of the wisest decisions I’ve ever made, because that’s when I saw my books come out more beautifully. But without much capital, I had to invest in learning how to use Illustrator instead. Today, I illustrate my own books.”
And Anna’s tips for livening up an activity for individuals with special needs:
• “Always work with their interests.”
• “Reward all their efforts.”
• “Be patient. It might take them many months before they capture the concept or lesson.”
• “Respect their fears and dislikes. Don’t belittle their fears and efforts.”
• “Make an activity interesting and motivating to get them to learn. There’s no benefit in getting them to learn through fear of punishment.”
• “Work on conceptual knowledge (understanding) rather than procedural knowledge (steps to get the right answer).”
• “Always start with manipulatives or concrete items before using an activity-based book.”
• “Personally, I love messy or sensory play. This includes but is not limited to rice, flour, beans, pasta, coloured sand, instant snow, water, coloured water or bubbles, food colouring, self-made slime, snow or Play-Doh. I’d incorporate these into most of my lessons to get them to experience, feel, smell, see and hear the things I need them to learn whilst enjoying the play, and get them to learn without them realising it.”
• “Movement is inevitable. Getting them to move also works their brain, thus I don’t force any on-seat behaviours (unless, of course, we have to do tabletop activities). I don’t fear the mess, because when they use up their energy by learning through play, they’ll eat better. And when they’re eating, you can start cleaning. Another way is to involve them in the cleaning – another skill they’ll pick up.”
For more information and suggestions, don't forget to check with your doctor. :)
How can we help?
If Anna’s journey makes you think about how you can assist – and share your skills – with individuals with special needs, she has this to say:
“There are many opportunities out there. You can approach any special needs school or agency, and register your interest to be a volunteer. It’d be a great start and eye opener if you’re still very new to this field,” she reflects.
“Alternatively, you can write to us if you’re interested in working with individuals with special needs. When we conduct workshops for them, we can collaborate with you to come up with activities for the session.
“You can also help us by sharing what we do; perhaps direct people with special needs who are looking for job opportunities to us. We’d love to work with people with different abilities and talents. And maybe, if you have an event, we’d love to contribute or participate in your event. It would create more job opportunities for people with special needs.”
Go to BOOKISH’N’MORE to begin. :)