updated 17 Aug 2014, 17:53
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Tue, Apr 29, 2014
The Straits Times
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Love keeps them going
by Grace Chew

A special day for the Bongs was Aug 26, 1997, the first time the family had a proper sit-down meal together with their son Brendon.

Brendon was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at the age of three.

His fear of eating foods with different tastes and textures led him to refuse to share meals with others and he ate only potato products.

A meal together

"He never once joined us for dinner at meal times, until he was seven.

"That day, for no reason, Brendon came over to the dining table when we were having our dinner and wanted to join us," Madam Pearl Ye, Brendon's mother, 52, recalls.

"That meal, I cried non-stop. We'd waited seven years for him to eat together with us.

"Half the plate of chicken rice ended up on the floor but I recall being so happy cleaning up the mess. I just wanted him to continue exploring new food."

Breaking silence

Today, Brendon 22, is a confident and independent individual, a far cry from when he was young.

Till the age of five, however, he was not able to speak to express himself.

Daily communication was limited to hand gestures and drawings - consequently, he frequently got frustrated and destroyed things.

Signs of obsessive behaviours also took a toll on him, causing him to suddenly grab strangers' belongings.

"There were times when we got scolded in public for not raising our child properly," she says.

Madam Ye, who was a highly driven and career-minded individual, had a hard time accepting Brendon's condition.

She gave up her career to raise him as a homemaker - and has no regrets.

"When my son first called me 'Mummy' he was not a toddler but a seven year- old. But for me that single word uttered from his lips has kept me going all these years," she says.

A look in the eye

Mrs Shirley Ng gave up teaching to care for Tobias, her eight-year-old son who suffers from Dyspraxia, a form of developmental coordination disorder.

He is unable to have a meaningful conversation with others.

He cannot converse intelligibly with others and only imitates or repeats what is said to him.

Until he was five, he could not drink from a straw, eat crunchy foods or even hold a pencil.

Today, he is able to give expected answers to typical questions. For instance he will answer 'I am fine.' when asked 'How are you?' regardless of how he feels.

But he still finds it challenging to maintain eye contact with others and to express his emotions with words and actions.

"I used to fear that my son might never talk or form relationships with people including myself," shares Mrs Ng.

That is why the first time he maintained eye contact with her, she broke down.

"Usually he is expressionless when I pick him up. But that day, he spotted me, maintained eye contact and when he came close, he gave me a wide smile, waved and said 'Hi!' before running to give me a hug," says Mrs Ng.

"It was the first instance I saw my son behaving like a normal boy," she recalls. "I cannot forget how it felt.

"For that short moment, my son and I had a truly meaningful interaction - one that I had waited six years for, one that gives me hope."

Today, when his hand grips hers firmly and a smile on his face convey to Mrs Ng her irreplaceable place in her son's heart.

Saying 'sorry'

Despite getting stares whenever her 17-year-old son Vimal Raj goes out with her, Mrs Letchimi Rajasegar always tries to involve him in everything she does.

Vimal was diagnosed with autism at age three.

He has moderate autism, which impairs his social communication and interaction abilities. He also has restricted interests, imagination and sensory processing.

"I want to help him integrate into society and be as independent as he can be so that if ever anything happens to us, he is able to take care of himself," says Mrs Rajasegar.

He still has difficulty understanding social expectations like maintaining appropriate distances when talking and laughing unacceptably loudly in public.

To help him cope with situations, they also prep him beforehand, showing photos, videos and written material to lessen his anxiety.

When Vimal was younger, he often had meltdowns because he could not express his needs.

"Those years were extremely challenging. He would lash out at us or throw things when we didn't understand him," she recalls.

"But I keep telling myself that the challenges we face, no matter how daunting they seem, are nothing compared to what Vimal has to deal with every single day of his life."

Once she was very upset. Upon seeing her cry, he removed her glasses and gently wiped her tears away. He then started saying 'sorry' to her almost as if he understood and felt responsible.

"It is in moments like this when I realise that despite having to forgo certain things in life, I have gained invaluable life lessons and most importantly, my son's unconditional love."


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