OrbRom Special Education Centre, founded by Heng Sophanet, specialises in providing personalised learning experiences for children with cerebral palsy or intellectual disabilities such as autism, dyslexia, ADHD or Down syndrome.
The centre tailors courses to the specific and varied needs of each student, including the development of students’ movement skill, social, and psychological skills. According to Sophanet, these approaches are incredibly effective for those with mental disabilities, offering them new lines of communication.
Sophanet, a 30-year-old Phnom Penh native, graduated with a Bachelor of Education from the Institute of Foreign Languages (IFL) in Phnom Penh in 2015. She then furthered her studies and earned a Master’s Degree in Special Education from Flinders University in Australia in 2020. She plans to pursue her Doctoral degree in psychology, with a focus on disability.
“When I started teaching students with special needs using one-on-one methods, I had a strong sense that I understood them better, as I too was once a slow learner,” she told The Post.
“When I see these children, I see myself in them. I want to get the best out of them and I do not want them to go through what I have been through,” she added.
With over 8 years of experience educating children with these types of condition, she has found that the educational needs of each child vary according to their individual symptoms. Despite similar diagnoses, each child faces a unique set of problems.
“Every child is unique, and the needs of each individual differ. Some children may show significant improvement with supervised care and guidance, whereas others with more severe conditions might require additional patience and attentive management to make progress,” she explained.
As the only Cambodian woman to have a Master’s Degree in this field, she understands that what they need most is patience, understanding, love and care. She utilises specialised teaching techniques and involves their parents as much as possible.
“The biggest challenge is delivering the news to parents that their child has an intellectual disability. It’s the hardest job, as these parents are in denial and struggle to accept it. They often feel aggrieved and ask why this has happened to their child,” she said.
“When I try to explain that Autism is not a disease but rather a disability, it can be difficult for parents to accept. The word ‘disability’ carries a lot of weight and I acknowledge that it’s tough being professional and strong when parents are emotional and in pain. Nonetheless, I know there is nothing wrong with it, we can all manage it,” she added.
Although educating and supporting children with special needs can be difficult and presents numerous challenges, this special education expert demonstrates her dedication to use her skills to enable them reach their utmost potential.
“I choose to stay in this field because I understand that the majority of people in our nation are either unaware or unaccepting of such unique circumstances. If we attempt to close our eyes and forget it, there is no chance this issue will be resolved. These kids require our support. We need to take the first step in helping them to meet their potential – and raise awareness among Cambodian society,” she said.
The Takhmao Special Education High School, in Kandal province’s Takhmao town, estimated in 2019 that there were more than 1,000 children with autism in the provinces surrounding the school.
Extrapolating from this data, they estimated that there may be as many as 20,000 autistic children in the Kingdom.