What would you do if you’re out and see a child leashed to their mum?
Some of us, despite ourselves, might wonder about the ethics of a mum physically restraining her child in this manner. Others might look on and sympathise with her struggles.
Singapore mum leashes her child
Such judgments are a harsh fact of life for Madam Esah Lim, who “leashes” her son when they go out of the house.
What staring passers-by don’t know is that Madam Lim’s 27-year-old son, Ivan, has severe autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). As she shared with The New Paper, she is forced to place a physical restraint on her son for his own safety.
This ensures he will not run off and harm himself, giving the worried mum peace of mind. Ivan has run off on two occasions previously, with one incident resulting in him being hit by a car.
Sadly for Madam Lim, this safety precaution doesn’t just mean extra care while out — it often means braving the critical stares of passers-by. “People stare. They don’t understand and think it’s strange, but I do this for Ivan’s safety so I don’t care about what they say.”
ALSO READ: Why are mums so judgmental?
This is just one of the ways in which children with autism require special kinds of care and attention. According to a help guide created by clinical psychologist Ted Hutman, children with autism thrive with a highly structured daily schedule and prefer communicating nonverbally.
Furthermore, due to their high sensitivity to stimuli like light, they are more easily stressed out – what onlookers only perceive as ‘throwing tantrums’.
Parents of children with autism thus need to devote far more time and mindfulness to them. The tenacious Madam Lim knows this all too well – she has not taken a vacation in 27 long years. With her son requiring constant supervision, she has tirelessly devoted her attention to his well-being.
Changing mindsets about autism
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Autism isn’t the rare condition we sometimes imagine it to be. In Singapore, 1 in 150 children has autism, according to data from KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital and National University Hospital. This is in fact higher than the World Health Organisation’s global figure of 1 per 160 children.
Furthermore, passers-by can sometimes be a little quick to conclude when we see parents and children with autism out and about.
But as Samantha, mother of 3, put it: “I know how it’s like with kids. I’d rather people pass judgment about me than lose my kid. I would probably think that that must have been the last choice the mum had.” Like all of us, parents of children with autism are doing their best to practise care and safety. By being extra welcoming and mindful in public spaces, we can offer one another support in our different parenting struggles.
How can you be a supportive ally of autism families? Here are some tips:
1) Be compassionate — and influence others to do the same
Image source: iStock
Most of us have seen children running from their harried parents, or being restrained as with Madam Lim’s son. Though it’s only human to pass judgment when we see others’ unusual behaviour, remember that both parents and children are likely doing their best to navigate in society.
Whether or not these children have autism (and it’s always best not to assume!), all parents would gladly appreciate a kind look or friendly words from those around. And if you see others filming videos or passing rude comments, seize the initiative to intervene.
2) Offer a listening ear
Sharing our feelings is a simple and wonderful way to alleviate stress, as confirmed by the American Psychological Association. If you have friends with children diagnosed with autism, let them know that your listening ear is ready to come to their aid.
3) Boost your understanding of autism
With so many online resources to turn to for information about autism, all the knowledge you need about its symptoms is at your fingertips. By learning about why those with autism exhibit certain behaviours, you’ll be able to sympathise and interact better with them.
ALSO READ: 5 early signs of autism in toddlers
4) Take extra care with your words
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‘Sticks and stones may break my bones…’ As we all know, however, words also have the power to hurt. Being incautious of what we say about autism can be hurtful, even if we are offering advice.
In a Straits Times interview, Mrs Leong Geok Hoon, mother to autistic son Keat Mun, recounted a doctor’s callous words: “You know that your son is not completely normal and will always be like that. He falls between the cracks; he has IQ but is not normal.”
Rather than using hurtful words like “not normal” or “mentally ill”, it’s easy to replace them with more accurate terms like “child on the autistic spectrum”. When in doubt, don’t be afraid to ask the parents what they’d prefer!
5) Teach your kids
Now that you’ve gained a better understanding of autism, pass it on to your kids! Teach them to see autism in a positive light and be compassionate towards their peers with autism. If possible, you can even set up playdates or commit to volunteering with your child.
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