When it comes to raising a child, it’s important to create an environment that makes him feel unconditionally loved and nurtured. However, the Lien Foundation’s Inclusive Attitudes survey in 2016 found nearly two-thirds polled said they were willing to share spaces with children with special needs, but were not willing to interact with them—and that only 30 per cent of 1,000 people felt Singapore was an inclusive society.
The challenge? Sometimes, people are not aware of these special needs and are not equipped to deal with them. Hence, many children with special needs lead lives of minimal promise and thwarted potential even as they struggle to find acceptance in a high-achieving country where children are lauded the world over for their stellar exam grades.
Take it from Lilian Kuan, mother of eight-year-old Ashwin who has autism. What was a simple consultation for colds turned out to be a life-changing moment as her family paediatrician observed that in addition to not being able to speak a word, her son was lining up little animal figures in a straight line, had no eye contact when spoken to, and didn’t respond when his name is called. These were signs of autism.
Caring for a child with autism
In addition to seeking help from a psychologist, Lilian and her husband had to learn more about the condition—through books, blogs, videos, and websites—to give their son the best care they could.
“Accept the condition of your child. Rather than pointing fingers or blaming ourselves [for why our child has turned out this way], accept the fact that he has this condition and find ways to support his development,” advised Lilian.
Not sure how to care for a child with autism? Lilian shares some tips:
- Begin the necessary therapies and be consistent in sending the child to these sessions.
- Develop the child holistically. Immerse him in his interest, be it sports, music, or art. This will help with brain development and hone skills such as concentration and cooperation.
- Be patient and loving with your child and always try to be encouraging and positive.
- Explain his condition to family and friends so they are more understanding whenever your child has meltdowns or non-typical behaviours.
- Create a support network consisting of the family, grandparents, helper, therapists, and educators who can work closely with you to help your child learn and communicate well.
- Join a support group so that the network of other parents can be a source of learning, sharing, and emotional support for you. This can be through WhatsApp groups, support group meetings, and Facebook groups, among others.
- Be mindful about bonding with your other children so they don’t feel neglected and will not resent your child with autism for taking the time away from you.
- Assess the readiness of your child for school and prepare him accordingly through therapies or activities at home such as following instructions to do a task. Conduct research as well on the school that would be most suitable for your child.
- Take care of yourself too. Taking care of an autistic child can be overwhelming mentally, emotionally, and physically so it’s important for the parents to learn how to manage their own well-being.
- Strengthen your relationship with your spouse. Develop a common understanding of how to support the child and make time for date nights to strengthen your marriage.
How to create a more inclusive Singapore for children with special needs
For Lilian, creating a more inclusive Singapore for kids with disabilities starts with awareness and education. “Just as there is diversity in culture, language, food, race, there is also neurodiversity where the difference of people is in the way they think or see things,” she said.
Parents of typically-developing children also have a key role in fostering inclusivity by teaching children the value of empathy. “A simple act of including or inviting a child to play can be a small act but will mean a lot to an autistic child who may have challenges connecting with others but still desire the interaction,” Lilian said. Her blog 8under8 shares more information about these special needs.
To empower and inspire other parents through her own experiences, Lilian is one of the speakers at the Parents for Parents! Workshop during the PEEKABOO! Inclusive Arts Festival. The festival aims to bring children from all walks of life in one venue through art camps, crafting sessions, drama and dance workshops, and public art exhibits. Held in Rainbow Centre, a school that serves children with disabilities, this festival is organised by Superhero Me in partnership with Lien Foundation and National Arts Council.
To participate in the Parents for Parents! Workshops, sign up at parentsatpeekaboo.peatix.com/. For kids who wish to attend the inclusive arts workshops and camps every Saturday and through the school holidays, sign up at peekaboofestival.peatix.com.
PEEKABOO! is also open to the public through free scheduled guided tours on 16, 23, and 30 March. Just reserve your slot on bit.ly/peekabootours (Limited slots are available for walk-ins).
Featured image’s photo credit: Superhero Me