It was five years after the birth of their first daughter, that Josephine Teo, 49, and her husband welcomed a second addition to their family, their son Wei Lun. Other than a case of jaundice, everything seemed well with Wei Lun showing good development, and the family was happy to have another child in the family.
However when Wei Lun turned 18-months-old, there was a visible slowdown in his development, especially in the area of his speech. “We initially thought that it was normal for boys to show slightly slower development as opposed to girls who usually mature earlier, and we didn’t think too much of it.”
An early diagnosis
It was when Wei Lun turned three that Josephine brought him for a diagnosis under the advice of the principal of the childcare centre that Wei Lun was then attending, as he would not play with other children in the centre. The doctor confirmed that Wei Lun was autistic and recommended that he go for therapy as soon as possible. When Josephine first heard the news, she was stunned and saddened, her mind full of worries about her son’s future, particularly about how society would view him.
Using all means to help
Josephine immediately did all the research she could about autism and eventually signed him up for private therapy as she recognized the value of early intervention.
Wei Lun first started with speech therapy. It was there that Josephine was recommended to start Wei Lun on occupational therapy. There, she learnt that because of his condition, Wei Lun was not appropriately developed, physically.
Josephine also learnt how she could help Wei Lun develop his skills at home. “I was taught to make simple visuals and use repetitive actions to teach him about concepts such as colours and directions. So after work I would go through the exercises and track his progress. However it was challenging as after just a few minutes he would not be able to concentrate.”
Disciplining Wei Lun was also difficult. “He had no fear and would climb up on chairs and tables. I learnt that I had to learn to control and teach him when he was younger. This is because it would be harder to do so when he got older. It was most important to be firm, not angry.” Josephine also requested that his child psychologists and therapists drop by Wei Lun’s childcare centre to help the teachers there to better understand his condition.
Getting an education
Wei Lun was eventually transferred to Rainbow Centre, a special education school, to cater to his educational needs. Josephine also stop working as Wei Lun would need more attention and help, especially as his sessions at Rainbow Centre only lasted two hours each time. While Wei Lun attended sessions, Josephine would meet with other parents whose children were also in Rainbow Centre and they would share and encourage one another, forming an informal support system that Josephine was very grateful for.
As Josephine wanted the best possible for Wei Lun, it was also during this period of time that she learnt to be more vocal in order to protect her son and do what’s best for him. “I kept pestering them to move Wei Lun to the four-hour long class as it would be better for him. I soon became well-known in the entire school.”
Not without setbacks
Through the therapy sessions as well as school, Wei Lun started to show progress. However when he was eight, he started to experience a change in character. “He would start screaming and shouting out of the blue, attempting to dash and dart about, not allowing you to hold him.”
This was Josephine’s worst fear – regression after all the progress that had been made. What made it all the more bewildering was that the change came out of the blue and there were no known triggers. “It was very disheartening as it felt like I had gone back to square one.” The family worked together to try to find ways to help Wei Lun during this period of time. “We would hold his hands and try to calm him down. We also created a naughty corner where we would literally have to corner him in the area so that he would realise that his behaviour was wrong.” After about six months, he reverted to being calmer, more like his previous self, similarly with no obvious catalyst for the change.
The next hurdle was puberty, as many parents would see huge changes in their child which could swing either way, much improvement with better behaviour, more eye contact and compliance, or regression in all that he has achieved. For Wei Lun, he made the change for the better, something that the family was grateful for.
Progress through the years
Wei Lun has made much progress throughout the years, with the help of therapy and his school. “I am reminded of how far Wei Lun has come, especially when other people who may not have seen him for some time comment about how he seems to be doing better.” Josephine credits this to the early intervention that Wei Lun had in the form of therapy, adding, “You may not see the results when you first start, but it will come much later where you realise that what was done early on has had a tremendous impact on your child.”
His relationship with his siblings is also strong, especially his older sister whom he respects. “When Wei Lun was younger, his older sister would often stand up for him, even against adults who would discriminate against him. Now when his sister needs to study and asks him to lower his volume, he will do it without any hesitation. I believe that though he may not be able to communicate it, he knows of what his sister has done for him and this translates in his actions.”
Love translated to business
In Josephine’s quest to help her son, this led to her business, www.myspecialkid.com.sg, which enables her to help many more just like Wei Lun. When he was younger, his fine motor skills were very weak, and he was not able to get a good grip on pencils and markers. Thus Josephine set out to find colouring tools, as well as other books and toys that would that would be more suitable for him.
As she would frequently have to get one or two items from a certain store and another couple of items from yet a different shop, she thought to herself, “How convenient would it be if I could just get everything I needed from one store. Hence the birth of her business, where her expertise from doing research because of Wei Lun came in handy, knowing which toys would work best and how to better relate to parents who might be going through the same thing as she had previously.
Wei Lun then moved on to St Andrew’s Autism Centre where he fared well, though the road was not easy. For parents who may be in the same shoes as her she has this piece of advice, “Don’t spend too much time feeling sad, but get into action and get the help that you need. Also accept your child for who he is, because if you don’t, others won’t either.” She also stresses the importance of occupational therapy from a young age, instead of academic therapy, as this builds the foundation for long term development, something that she feels Wei Lun had benefited tremendously from. Don’t hide them but expose them to the world, she says, having herself taken Wei Lun overseas on trips, where he has managed to adapt to the changes in culture and temperatures.
Most of all Josephine treasures her time with Wei Lun, where even just the simple things are precious memories. A favourite thing for both of them to do together is to take the bus and just chat about any and everything under the sun. Though Wei Lun is only able to give her simple short responses, the smiles that she sees on his face remind her that it is all worthwhile.
A version of this article was published in Singapore’s Child Issue 179, titled “A Journey of Love”, written by Seow Kai Lun.
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