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Kids just as sweet

Parents of children with autism have to grapple with the many misconceptions surrounding the condition.

YONG: “Good Morning! This is Yong. How can I help you?” Amy: “Is this Autism Support Centre?”

Yong: “This is Parents’ Resource for Autism or PR4A. Who am I speaking to?”

Amy: “My name is Amy. I want to ask about autism.”

Yong: “How can I help? Are you a parent?”

Amy: “Yes, I am a parent. I want to know why autistic kids like to beat people.”

Yong: “Amy, how old is your son?”

Amy: “Not my son, I have a daughter and she is in Year One now.”

Yong: “How is she doing in school?”

Amy: “She was beaten on the back by this autistic boy recently. The autistic boy disturbs the class and because of that, she cannot concentrate in class. I want to know if autistic people can hurt people, why they are still allowed in a normal class?”

At that particular moment I was about to give her a piece of my mind and tell her off, but after taking a deep breath and keeping my emotions in check, I started to chat with her for about 90 minutes. I am very happy to say that I have made a new friend of Amy and now she will be another spokesperson on behalf of my two sons who have autism.

Had I told her off, I would have made another enemy and she would not have a nice word for someone who has autism. As parents of children with autism, we have been in situations where we were asked or told the following: “Is autism contagious?” “Are they psychotic?” “Will he hurt people?” and “If he cannot be quiet, please stay at home. You should discipline your kid.”

Apparently the boy in Amy’s daughter’s class has autism and has been teased by his classmates. Kids will be kids. They love to play around without any bad intention. According to Amy, the boy tends to be quiet and usually cannot stand loud noise, so he uses his hand to cover up his ears. Apparently the kids in the class like to tease him because he is different. It comes to a point where he cannot take it anymore and acts to defend himself. Sadly, we only notice his act of self-defence but are blind to what he is going through.

I told Amy that kids with autism are usually victims of verbal and physical abuse. Amy admitted that her daughter likes to tease the boy too. I told Amy that from our experience, they are the sweetest boys and girls in the world. They don’t feel resentment, they don’t feel hatred and they are usually very happy to be within their own space.

Life is stressful for parents of children with autism due to the lack of awareness and public stigma. In fact, it drains the financial resources, and taxes the health and relationships of parents and siblings involved.

Some of my kind friends tried to comfort me saying, “They are going to recover”, “God has a bigger plan for you”. We, the parents, know the future of our children is not going to be so bright.

What we really want is for them to be independent in a society that can accept them for who they are. They may have some disabilities but inside them, they want to be happy and accepted by society.

The not-so-kind ones used to say, “You must have done something wrong in your past life and this is karma”. That really hurts a lot. If I have done anything wrong in my past life or even current life, I should be punished instead. The kids are innocent and should not be paying for my sin. This line of argument comes from friends who do not have much exposure to medical information and awareness about autism.

Hence, anything that is not explainable, they attribute to repercussion. I usually try my best to explain to them about the whole autism issue and hopefully they will have the awareness to help someone in future.

When someone from the medical profession like Dr Amar Singh sparked off a debate on “classical autism” versus “new autism” following an article he wrote in a local newspaper, it naturally upset parents who are trying their best to cope with the situation.

Dr Amar Singh implied that “new autism” is caused by, among other things, lack of family interaction and lack of play. He also pointed out that Chinese children predominate among the cases of “new autism” and that the parents are predominantly from the upper middle-income group that is represented by the affluent, high-flying professionals.
Let me share my side of the story.

When my wife was pregnant with our eldest son, about four weeks into the pregnancy I went to a bookstore and bought a storybook titled 365 Bedtime Stories. For each day of the year, I read the story of the day to my unborn child. On top of that, I also sang nursery rhymes almost every night to my child in his mummy’s womb.

When he was born, I was the one who bathed him every day even though my wife was a stay-at-home mother. His developmental milestones were perfect, and he even won a Baby of the Year contest in 2001.

My house is full of toys, so much so it is like a toyshop. We enrolled him for playgroup every weekend at a play centre. We brought him to the beach and played with mud and sand. Despite all the nurturing, eldest son has autism. My second son is also not spared.

From my experience, I gather that autism does not discriminate. It affects all races, rich and poor alike.


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