Last evening , a friend VK asked me, “How is your elder son doing?”
VK is a kind man who is temporarily taking care of a child in neglect. Out of concern, he asked how I coped with the challenges of raising a child with special needs.
My elder son, Kyan, aged fifteen, is a boy inflicted with autism, a lifelong developmental disability that is characterised by difficulties with social interaction and communication, and limited by a fixation on repetitive activities.
I told him, “I am thankful. He is doing great!” In fact, it gladdened me to hear others asking about him. Just last week, Kyan’s former school teacher, ST also told me, “I love to read about Kyan. It always brings sunshine to my heart just to see his name. ”
ST is so right. Kyan is a child who brings sunshine. Raising a child with special needs is challenging, but it also comes with rewarding moments.
My Reward: A Cup Of Sweet Corns
Last Saturday, I was engrossed in a novel while waiting for my children to finish their breakfasts at McDonald’s. All of a sudden, the reading spell on me was broken by the voice of my son.
“Papa, eat!” came a thunderous voice. It came from Kyan, who looked intently at me as he shoved me a half cupful of corn.
My heart was melted by his gesture to share his cup of corns with me. After all, it was uncommon for autistic children to show generosity and affection.
Excitedly, I sent a text to my wife, “Kyan just shared his cup corn with me on his own accord!”
“That’s just his habit,” came her reply.
I know my wife has always taught Kyan to split his cup of corns into two portions to share with his younger brother Conan, who gives him half a piece of hash brown in return. But that morning, Conan had bought his own cup of corns, so Kyan turned to me instead.
Even if it was just a habitual action, it made me feel good. At least he thought of me.
A Magic Moment
For a long time, I was worried that autism had incapacitated Kyan’s ability to think of others in their absence. It seemed to me that when people are out of sight, they are out of his mind.
Over the last 15 years, four maids have come and gone. Some were close to him. But he had never asked for anyone of them after they left. Even if he cared, he never showed. Or more rightly, he was unable to express how he felt.
Occasionally, when I was overseas, I would ask my wife, “Did Kyan ask for me?” Her answer was always a no. I stopped asking completely.
Then something happened in early March this year. I was on my way back home from airport when I received a text message from Conan. He wrote, “Dad, come back home quickly! Kyan has been asking for you.”
Accompanying the text message was a photograph that I would never forget. My son was looking out for me behind the steel gate of the house. It was the magic moment that I had been waiting for years.
Little Strokes Fell Great Oaks
Depending on the condition of the child, there is no telling how long it would take our child to give us these rewarding moments. But as the saying “little strokes fell great oaks’ goes, do not underestimate the power of persistent small efforts. Even dripping water can penetrate through rocks, it is just a matter of time that autistic children will show us that they can be as affectionate as any other children.
Perhaps, by now you can guess why I have been singing a self-composed song to Kyan all these years. The lyrics go like this, “Papa loves you so. Papa loves you so. Papa loves you so much so.”
I would always sing this part first, and my boy would always follow with, “Papa loves me so. Papa loves me so. Papa loves me so much so.”
One day I asked Kyan in front of his mom, “Who loves you most?”
He replied spontaneously, “Mama!”
Then on second thoughts, he quickly changed, “Papa loves me most!” to the chagrin of my wife.
My wife protested, ‘Conan, your dad has been brain-washing your brother!”
We all laughed heartily.
Raising a child is joyous as long as we never cease to look at the positives.
William W K Tan
25 May 2019, Saturday