Raising an autistic child is not easy; he sees the world around him differently. What appears normal to us may be chaotic for him, and vice versa. He might be unable to comprehend simple and unforeseen changes to his routine; and communication with an autistic child often requires much caution and patience.
This mum recently had a nerve-wracking experience with her autistic child in Singapore.
Autistic son lost in Singapore
It was Friday morning rush hour for Ms. Brenda Tan. According to The Straits Times, she and her 12-year-old son Calder Kam (a student of St Andrew’s Autism School), were about to leave home for the school bus stop.
Just as they stepped out of the flat, Ms. Tan remembered that she hadn’t taken a book for Calder to read, in case the bus got late. She got back in, grabbed a book and hurried out. But Calder was not there.
She frantically went to the void deck and then, checked in each of the 18 floors in her block in Hougang. He was still nowhere to be found.
She called up a woman on the school bus to check if he had boarded, but he wasn’t in there as well.
Shared her plight on Facebook
She ran from pillar to post in search of her autistic son. She left her contact details with a fruit stall vendor, a porridge stall owner and a neighbour. As a last resort, she also shared her plight through a Facebook post, which was shared over a thousand times. Her husband filed a police report.
Finally, after what seemed like eternity, after 3 hours, she got a call from the police. Calder had been found; at Terminal 1 of Changi airport.
Ms. Tan believes that Calder must have walked to the nearby bus stop, and taken bus number 27. The ride to the airport would have taken about an hour, so he must have been waiting for at least two hours when auxiliary police found him, in the arrival area of Terminal 1.
In the end, it was a name card that saved the day. Police found a name card in his bag with the line, “This belongs to my son Calder who has autism”, written on the back, and called Ms. Tan up.
Not the first time
Apparently, this wasn’t the first time Calder had got lost. The Straits Times quotes Ms Tan as saying, “My son was lost twice before. Once, he wandered off when I was buying groceries at Hougang Green mall. Another time, he ran down the stairs and across the corridor to another part of the block.”
But each of those times, she was able to walk and locate him. “This is the first time he took public transport to somewhere so far that we couldn’t find him ourselves,” she adds.
Taking care of autistic children
The exact cause of autism remains unknown, though it is heartening to know that researchers are making breakthroughs in the field. Apart from medical care and therapy, here are some simple, everyday things that will help make a difference, when it comes to raising an autistic child:
- Stay positive, love your child: Treat your child with kindness and respect. This will help him to grow up feeling like a complete and capable person. Never apologise to someone about him being autistic (and especially not in front of your child). Your child is different; embrace the difference, autism and all.
- Maintain a consistent schedule: Autistic children generally find change to be chaotic. Routines work best for them, so they understand what happens next. Avoid making unnecessary changes and confusing them.
- Create a soothing environment: Choose natural or full spectrum lighting wherever possible. Autistic children are generally sensitive to loud noise. They might want to retreat to a quiet area when they feel extremely disturbed.
- Safety first: Autistic children are known to fiddle extensively with things, so make sure you have your safety barriers in place. Set boundaries and explain safety rules to the child.
- Expect stimming: Stimming refers to repetitive behaviour, as in movements and sounds. Autistic children feel good while stimming. It is their way of preventing meltdowns, increasing self-control, and focussing. Some children can stim in a harmful way though, like bang their heads repeatedly on the wall, so the parent should watch out for such behaviour.
- Encourage special interests: Come across that child who can barely talk, but is a genius at solving puzzles? Autistic children are known to be exceptionally intelligent in some areas. These areas provide joy in their lives. Parents might want to help them improve their skills in these areas, it would increase their self-confidence as well.
- Know your child: Understand what overtly stimulates your child. What sensory stimuli causes him to have meltdowns or shutdowns. When the child is disturbed, he may start crying, covering ears, show panicked stimming, and avoidant behaviour.
- Have regular health check ups : The autistic child may not be able to communicate if he is not keeping well. So the parent must always be extra alert and sensitive to his needs.
- Encourage communication: Talk to your child. Even if there is no response, keep communicating and interacting with him. Autistic children might avoid eye contact and keep stimming, but they might be listening to every word of yours. So keep talking and explaining things.
- Choose fun therapies: Choose therapies wisely. Avoid therapies that force the child to comply to things, and are excessively long. Allow your child to be himself.
- Be prepared for emergencies: Like this case, what happens if the child gets lost? Always prepare a name card ready with the child’s and parent’s details. You might even want to hang it on his neck. Some people opt for tracking devices, which can be tracked by a mobile app.
Ms Tan has been quoted as saying, “Many (autistic children) cannot express themselves… so they just walk and walk, while caregivers scout for them. It’s important for the public to help. When they come across these children who often cannot answer questions well, find contact particulars they may have with them and contact the caregivers.”
Also READ: Early signs of autism in toddlers
(Source: The Straits Times)
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