Jamil wanted to improve and expand services for the autism community in his country and hoped that Gentry’s knowledge could inspire Malaysian doctors, researchers and computer scientists to research, develop and use therapeutic tools similar to those explored by Gentry. in 2020 she offered him a two-week Fulbright Scholars scholarship to Malaysia, which he accepted.
Gentry, Ph.D., was an assistant professor at the time Department of occupational therapy VCU College of Health Professions, and he was supposed to go to Malaysia that year, but the project was delayed due to COVID. He finally finished his scholarship this September.
The program was conducted at UiTM in Shah Alam, Selangor and included clinics and schools in Kuala Lumpur, Klang and other locations in West Malaysia.
“Those visits gave me a good feel for autism treatment in Malaysia from childhood to adulthood. I was impressed by their efforts to develop the continuum of care, including some innovative work-training methods,” said Gentry, now professor emeritus. “According to current estimates, 1 in 36 children may be on the autism spectrum; the biggest current challenge in Malaysia, as in many countries, is the shortage of doctors and teachers.
Consumer technologies can help by providing tools for communication, daily behavior and professional assistance in the home and community. During his internship, Gentry presented five 90-minute lectures on smart homes for autism, mobile devices and apps, virtual reality, robots for learning, and how occupational therapists use assistive technology to treat autism in the United States. The lectures were broadcast to 400 participants across Malaysia and saved on the National Autism Resource Center’s Facebook page.
Gentry also met with the multidisciplinary team that is developing plans for an autism village in Kuala Lumpur, consulted with doctors and parents at four autism treatment centers and provided resources in the US to support autism services in Malaysia.
“It was a very busy two weeks, but I came away with what I feel is a full appreciation of the continuum of autism services in Malaysia and some guidance on how to use consumer technology to support the daily functions of autistic people at an affordable cost. and straightforward,” he said.
In Malaysia, Gentry had time to experience the culture through tours and visits to landmarks, markets and festivals. He was also honored with an invitation to a local birthday party and lunch at the home of the host’s parents in the historic city of Melaka.
“It was so special to spend the afternoon at the home of a Malaysian Muslim family,” Gentry said. “Just great.”
One thing that struck him was that Malaysia has close-knit families.
“Many households are multi-generational,” Gentry said. “If someone has a disability, the whole family supports him. Malaysia is also a perfect example of the saying that “the future is unevenly distributed”. Kuala Lumpur, for example, is a very modern city, and just a few miles away, the old tradition of teaching monkeys to collect coconuts continues.
Gentry hopes that adding assistive technology to the traditional family caregiver in Malaysia can provide the best of both worlds to serve the autism community.
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