April is Autism Awareness Month and three families share their experiences of raising autistic children.
UP till the age of three, Bobby* never said a word to his parents. He had little eye contact, and often threw tantrums.
His behaviour worried his mother Patricia*. But Bobby was her first child and she thought he was a late bloomer.
“I thought it was normal for children to behave like that – I had no other child to compare him to. It was not until my cousin, who is a teacher, alerted me about how different he was from the other children that I started to take notice of his behaviour. Still, I was hoping he would eventually grow out of it.”
When he didn’t, the 37-year-old homemaker was at a loss.
“Whenever I took him to the mall, he would start throwing tantrums if he did not get what he wanted. He would kick and scream, and sometimes for no reason at all. It was embarrassing for me because people would just stare at us. When I took him to a party, the other kids would be playing and he would just stand in a corner. I didn’t know how to explain it to my friends; I had to always blame it on mood swings.”
Patricia wasn’t at all prepared when the word “autism” came up during her research. And it didn’t help that her husband, instead of being supportive, was all for sweeping Bobby’s issues under the rug.
“My husband works very long hours and rarely has time to spend with our son so he doesn’t notice the things I do. I tried telling him about my worries but he would brush me off and say: ‘Nah, you’re thinking too much. Bobby will be fine.’ It was very frustrating for me.”
It took Patricia almost a year before she finally convinced her husband that they needed to bring their son for a proper diagnosis. After consulting a developmental paediatrician, Bobby was diagnosed with high-functioning autism.
“I was a bit depressed after that but I knew I had to move on. For my son’s sake, I had to be strong. I was mostly afraid of his future for him. I couldn’t imagine him relying on others for the rest of his life,” says Patricia.
Bobby, now four, has since shown marked improvement in his speech and social skills, after undergoing therapy at a special education centre in Selangor.
Nevertheless, Bobby’s family is still struggling to accept his autism, and that’s why she cannot reveal her identity. Patricia and her husband have no plans to have a second child.
“It’s been trying, but we are slowly coming out of our shell. Sometimes, I still find it difficult to have to explain to people that my son is autistic. Bobby goes to a mainstream kindergarten now and his teachers know nothing of his condition. For me, it’s better that way because I want them to treat him like a normal child,” says Patricia.
According to special needs educator Mishantini Sanderasagran, it’s not uncommon for parents to be in denial even after a child has been diagnosed with autism.
“Some parents may feel that they need to keep the condition a secret hoping their child will grow out of it one day. They may even feel that mixing around with normal children will take the autism away from their child. At the end of the day, it’s really about understanding what autism is,” says Mishantini, 34, who is the programme director of A.L.R.I.T.E, a play and achievement centre for autism in Selangor.