“By the young age of 3½, my son, Kai was diagnosed to have high functioning autism. We were living in Beijing at that time and Kai (now 12), who went to the school where I was working as a human resource practitioner, started struggling to make sense of what school is. Eventually, the counsellor advised us to send him for a diagnosis and that was how we learn he was autistic.
“We had no idea about autism or ‘special needs’ until then. It was like we were thrown into this whole new world where we had to quickly make sense of what everything meant.
“It was very traumatic and stressful process for our family. My wife, Jen and I had a lot of differences on how to manage Kai. It got to a point where we were considering a divorce because we were just not agreeing.
“Eventually we quit everything in Beijing and went to Australia for four years. I took up psychology and counselling and worked with special-needs individuals who were recovering from clinical depression. That helped me as that was when I first began home-schooling my son. We returned to Singapore in October 2014 and Kai has since been conditionally admitted to Pathlight School.
“Kai would share a lot of jokes with schoolmates because he thought they are laughing with him but they are actually laughing AT him.”
Kai’s struggles in school
“We tried placing Kai in a mainstream school in Australia, but it turned out to be too stressful. The school would often call me to pick him up because he had a meltdown — a violent tantrum, hitting and punching anyone or anything — becoming very, very aggressive. I rushed to the school and find him being pinned down by five adults on the carpet floor. Each adult was holding one limb, another holding down his head and body because he was too agitated — he was only about 5!
“In school, Kai would share a lot of jokes with schoolmates because he thought they were laughing with him but they were actually laughing AT him. His schoolmates would tell him to go do silly things like lifting up the skirt of a female classmate or go and punch another person and he will do it, because he values their friendship! Then he would get punished; suspended for three days, then five days, and then he was thrown out of school, given his history of bad behaviour.
“We did employ shadow teachers, but that didn’t work because it was expensive and the teacher got clawed and bitten very badly! I eventually took over but had to remain hidden in the school library until they notified me to come and take him home. In the end, I could not show up at all except when the school called me.
“I used to spend the whole day, sitting by the phone waiting for it to ring. When it did, it was like having a heart attack. And even if it didn’t ring, I would keep frantically checking to see if the battery was charged or if data was switched on... Eventually, it affected our mental and emotional wellbeing as a family.
Read on to find out how ignorant onlookers criticised Ng's parenting
Judgment from the public and others
“Through the years, there have been friends and family who have told us that we were bad parents because we can’t manage our kid.
“We have been at playgrounds where other parents have told us, ‘Your son should be sent home, he shouldn’t be playing with us and he is so violent.’ We were playing at a local public pool once and Kai loves to re-enact the kung fu fighting scenes he saw in the movies. Just like every other rambunctious boy, he enjoys it and I would play along.
“I also wanted to teach him that he can play but without involving any physical contact, I explained that in the fight scenes in Hollywood movies, no touching is involved and nobody gets hurt. Some parent came up to me and said what I was doing was very violent and that this is a public area and, ‘I am going to tell the life guard about this.’ We left the pool because we didn’t want to cause a scene.
“As parents, we pride ourselves on being on the teaching end of the relationship but in the process of parenting Kai, I found that I’ve learnt a lot from him too”
“As parents, we pride ourselves on being on the teaching end of the relationship but in the process of parenting Kai, I found that I’ve learnt a lot from him too.
“Jen and I made a lot of mistakes, particularly in the area of behaviour management. I had to constantly reflect on how I could improve as a parent; embarking on a journey to approach my child not as someone I needed to ‘manage’, but as a person whom I could build a relationship with.
“I’ve learnt to listen to, as well as share experiences with him on a deeper level — like a ‘courtship’ in which couples appear to do silly things that are significant to both parties. Kai has turned me into a more empathic, calm, patient, resilient and more forgiving individual. I have also learned to accept that I, too, make mistakes and not beat myself up as much as I did in the past.
“I would encourage parents to free yourselves from the carrot-and-stick approach to parenting — while Kai still gets disciplined for doing something wrong, it is no longer the focus of our relationship.”
Lawrence Ng, dad to Kai, 12. Ng also blogs about his parenting journey.
Photo: Lawrence Ng’s blog
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