Raising a child with special needs isn’t easy ― Mohammad Zulkarnean shares how his son’s educational journey is helping.

“We are a family of four, soon to be five. My wife and I have two kids, Luthfirrahman, who is 3, and Fadhlurrahman, who is almost 12.

We discovered that Fadhlur had autism when he was 5. We noticed that he was a little different since he was 3, as his speech was delayed and unclear. What worried us was that he was not able to focus on anything, and could not sit in one place for more than 5 minutes.

Even when he watches a TV show that he loves, he was not able to sit still, and would need to run around. We sought advice from our GP, who gave us a referral for suspected ADHD.

When he was diagnosed with autism, we had no idea what it was and never knew anyone who had a child with autism. We were worried as to how we should manage the condition appropriately, but we were able to accept his diagnosis. We thanked God that we had a healthy child, which to us, is the best blessing a parent can have.

What worried us was that he was not able to focus on anything, and could not sit in one place for more than 5 minutes.

Having a child with autism teaches us to be more patient and accepting. We need to slow our pace down and be patient. Fadhlur is turning 12 soon and is already almost 1.8m tall. A normal child would be more independent at this age but with him, we need to prepare him mentally before doing anything or going anywhere. Sometimes, when he loses control in public, we will need to sit him down and calm him before moving again.

Fadhlur is very helpful and loves his family a lot. He adores his little brother and protects his mother. He never eats anything without offering it to mummy first. He’s willing to sacrifice his favourite food, or snack if his little brother wants it. Fadlur also helps his grandfather, who is an amputee, by helping him move his wheelchair around in public.

Once when, his newborn little brother due for checkup, we brought Fadlur along to the clinic. When the doctor wanted to check his baby brother, he stood up holding the doctors hands and said ‘This is my brother,’ which made us all laugh.

Not everyone can accept or would excuse a child with autism. Perhaps, like us before, they have no idea autism even exists.

Fadhlur has faced challenges in public a couple of times. Because of his size and sometimes slow reaction in crowded places, he may sometimes obstruct others, or accidentally bumps into them. When we make him apologise, not everyone is always to accept the apology.

But there are people who realise that he is not neurotypical. Some do accept the apology with a smile, and even remind him politely to be more careful next time.

One incident I will never forget ― once, he accidentally hit an elderly lady while pushing a trolley at the supermarket. I made him apologise to the lady, and as he reached out his hand to her to apologise, she pulled him in and gave him a big hug. ‘It’s all right boy, such a good boy you are,’ she said. That scene almost drove me to tears: It meant so much to me, coming from a stranger.

Some do accept the apology with a smile, and even remind him politely to be more careful next time.

He goes to Rainbow Centre Yishun Park School and enjoys it so much that we were surprised to learn that he didn’t want to miss school ― he is always worrying about falling sick as he is afraid he will not be able to go for class.

When we remind him that he needs to show good behaviour in public, we point out what he has learnt in school. While he was previously unable to talk or communicate much, he is now able to argue with us! He used to be picky with food, but now he will even choose healthy foods when we dine out as he learnt about this in school. He eats a lot of vegetables and keeps reminding himself that it’s healthy, while munching away!

He is quite popular in school with the teachers and fellow students. During a Good Progress Award ceremony that we once attended, when his name was called, many teachers and students cheered him and the emcee even said, ‘Yes, our superstar. We have a superstar on stage!’

Often, when the word ‘autism’ is heard, people react awkwardly, like it is the end of the world.

I recently shared with a colleague that I have a child with autism, and she teared. I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad reaction, but my wish is simple ― that society needs to be more aware* of this condition.”

Mohammad Zulkarnean, 37, lives in Singapore with his wife, Nurlinda Yunus, 33, and sons Luthfirrahman, 3, and Fadhlurrahman, 12.

Photos: Mohammad Zulkarnean

* Check out the new Sharity website ― it provides easy access to Primary school students, teachers and parents to teaching resources and information on topics (like how to interact with persons with disabilities), so as to build a more inclusive society.

Also check out other dramatic true stories here.

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