Early Autism Project Malaysia https://autismmalaysia.com Mon, 04 Oct 2021 05:28:08 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.1.1 http://autismmalaysia.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/cropped-eapsiteicon.png Early Autism Project Malaysia https://autismmalaysia.com 32 32 EAP Family Day 2021: Oh, The Places We’ll Go! https://autismmalaysia.com/2021/09/eap-family-day-2021-oh-the-places-well-go/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=eap-family-day-2021-oh-the-places-well-go Wed, 15 Sep 2021 01:48:25 +0000 https://autismmalaysia.com/?p=29167 Of possibilities and overcoming hurdles in life. Perhaps the phrase sounds familiar, especially to the fans of Dr Seuss. The same phrase has been the...

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Of possibilities and overcoming hurdles in life. Perhaps the phrase sounds familiar, especially to the fans of Dr Seuss. The same phrase has been the core of our celebration this year for our annual EAP Family Day. 

Once again, just like last year, we brought Family Day online! The pandemic did not stop our excitement nor stop us in making this as celebrative as possible. 

We gathered together to celebrate EAP Family Day 2021 on 21st August. The day started early as we set up multiple devices, ready for the livestream. The anticipation arose for the production of this year’s play with the theme Oh, The Places We’ll Go! 

As we huddled in front of the screens, multiple online meeting rooms were opened just to connect with the team virtually. As promised, the livestream of the production started at 10 o’clock. Instantly, our attention was caught. 

The production was about the journey of a group of travellers visiting the seven continents of the world. The travellers meet different people (or “animals”!) and experience different cultures in Antarctica, New York, Rio de Janeiro, Paris, Africa and Australia, before returning to Malaysia. In the play, our amazing kiddos showcased their talents in dancing, catwalking, playing music, art and craft, using multiple modes to communicate, and even acting! Throughout the play, we were all amazed by the kiddo’s performance and quality of production, and it definitely was nothing lesser than a stage play we used to have in the past years.

The play also featured two late passengers who weren’t able to board the airplane on time together with the others. Instead, they decided to part ways and find different routes to catch up with the group. As they tried different modes of transportation and routes, they experienced more and more challenges, where they found themselves stranded in different places. No matter how hard they tried, they were one step behind and weren’t able to catch up. They made different decisions and were forced to be outside of their comfort zone as they continued with the journey. 

Luckily enough, they were able to intercept the group, reuniting with them as they arrived at the last stop of the journey together. They had a moment to celebrate that they managed to reach the destination together even though they didn’t follow the same route as the other travellers. They tried their best finding alternative ways and eventually came up with their own experiences on their stops and that was just as meaningful. 

This representation applies for children in general, as they grow up. Admittedly, this is more relevant to kids with autism or any other condition. Even if they are not like others as they might take longer to get where they need to be, their journeys are equally precious. Working with children with autism could not be compared to actually raising one. We honour all the effort, love and patience that their families pour in as they care and raise their children. We witnessed how families have gone to great lengths in their effort and support, which enabled their children to keep going and keep progressing. It is the love of parents, siblings and family members that bloom the seed of hope. 

We dedicated a part of the production to celebrate each of our children, sharing one of the most remarkable progress that they have made yet and embracing all the hardships that they went through. Each child has their own unique journey that deserves to be acknowledged and we are honoured to be part of that progress.

I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability – to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It’s like this…

When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy. 

You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. 

The Coliseum.

The Michelangelo David. 

The gondolas in Venice.

You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. 

It’s all very exciting. 

 

After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives.

You pack your bags and off you go.

Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, 

“Welcome to Holland.”

 

“Holland?!?” you say. “What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy!

I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.”

But there’s been a change in the flight plan.

They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.

So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.

It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around… and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills… and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.

But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy… and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.”

But… if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things… about Holland.

Behind the Scenes

The pandemic situation this year increased the overall level of challenge to create a successful production.

It was definitely not easy but also a fun ride for all of us. There were many hilarious moments behind the scenes while the recordings were taken and the bloopers released during the credits got all of us laughing. It was definitely one of the highlights of the wonderful memories we had working with our children.

Celebration

In making the celebration more exciting, we delivered gift boxes to all families where they can experience the adventure of going around the world first-hand. The box was filled with different toys and activities that represented each continent, and the children had a great time with it!

As for the team, the celebration continued post-event and the team was greeted with a pleasant surprise! Our two amazing pilots, Neeshallini and Tiffany, known for their hilarious jokes and attractive accents made a comeback from our Annual Dinner with the same theme, last December. The celebration was to honour the Family Day team, led by Evie Tan and Darshinaa Velavan, with the help of Shan, Grace and Abel from the Stories team, as well as the whole EAP team that made the Family Day production possible!

All in all, we were happy to end the celebration with smiles and laughter. It was a great day filled with laughter and it has been such an honour for us to stand together with the families, as we watch the children progress to the best of their potential.

After all, it’s the journey that matters most and not the destination. We celebrate each and every achievement and milestones of the children along the way!

Check out our EAP Family Day 2021 Highlight Video!

“You’re off to great places! Today is your day!

Your mountain is waiting, so get on your way!”

-Dr. Seuss <Oh, the Places You’ll Go!> 

 

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Affordable Toys – Fun-Guaranteed! https://autismmalaysia.com/2021/08/affordable-toys-fun-guaranteed/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=affordable-toys-fun-guaranteed Tue, 24 Aug 2021 13:25:56 +0000 https://autismmalaysia.com/?p=28275 In this season staying at home, it can be a handful for parents trying to manage their children and occupy their time fully at home....

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In this season staying at home, it can be a handful for parents trying to manage their children and occupy their time fully at home. At times like these, the handy tools that could help parents out, giving you a breather while your children are having fun, are none other than — toys! Here we have compiled a series of toys that you can get online, in the hopes to ease your toy-hunting journey.

Gross Motor Ideas:

1. Tunnel

A play tunnel is a great indoor alternative to gross motor activity that children often play outdoors in the playground. Other than crawling through the tunnel, you can also play interactively with your children using this tunnel (e.g. while your child is inside the tunnel, shake the tunnel gently to mimic a tornado/earthquake, or pulling the tunnel across the room)

Get it here: Lazada

2. Kaleidoscope velcro dartboard

A fun and safe way for your child to practice aiming and throwing! You can also modify the distance to increase the challenge, or make it competitive by recording the points for each player! 

Get it here:  Decathlon

3. Cones

These colourful cones are multipurpose, as you can design a variety of activities with them. From dribbling a ball and cycling around the cones, to stacking according to colours and ring toss, the possibility is endless!

Get it here: Shopee

4. Spiky Stepping Stone

Other than providing interesting sensory input, this spiky stepping stone also trains one’s balancing skills! You can also set rules (e.g. only step on yellow stones/step on alternate stones) to make things extra fun!

Get it here: Shopee

Sensory Play Ideas:

1. Kinetic Sand

Let your child build sandcastles at home! Kinetic sand has a soft sandy texture, yet comes together well to form structures. 

Get it here: Shopee

2. Playfoam 

This squishy toy provides an interesting sensory exploration opportunity for your child! It also trains your child’s creativity in forming these foams into different shapes and items!

Get it here: Shopee

3. Soft Rubber Noodle

A good toy to occupy your child during transition or waiting times! Fidgeting with this may also allow your child to blow off steam, or replace inappropriate play behaviours!

Get it here: Shopee

4. Textured building blocks

These blocks spice up your child’s typical play routine by providing sensory input whilst training their gross motor skills in stacking and building!

Get it here: The Entertainer

Fine Motor Ideas:

1. LEGO/Building Blocks

Besides building structures, fixing these small lego enables your children to exercise their fine motor muscles too! Do keep in mind to have close adult supervision when your children are playing with toys with small parts!

Get it here: Lazada

2. Wooden Peg Board

This classic peg board trains hands eye coordination, as well as colour recognition and categorization!

Get it here: Shopee

3. Pretend Play (Doctor)-Simulated Operation

Other than developing fine motor skills, this pretend play set also cultivates imagination skills, as your children pretend to be little doctors performing a surgical procedure.

Get it here: Lazada

Water Play Ideas:

1. Inflatable Swimming Pool

One of the must-haves at home is an inflatable pool! Most children love water play or just making a good splash! But, other than using it as a pool, you can also use it for messy/sensory play by filling it with different materials!

Get it here: Shopee

2. Water Blaster

Water play with water blasters almost always guarantees fun! Other than shooting with water, you can also train aiming and motor coordination by shooting objects at a distance (paper cups, blocks etc.).

Get it here: Lazada

3. Water Beads

Squish it, smash it, let it roll, this popular sensory toy grows in the water and is a great material for water and sensory play! 

Get it here: Shopee

Arts and Crafts Ideas:

1. Paint Your Own Mini Tea Set

Unleash your child’s creativity through this painting activity! You can also organize a pretend play tea time for your child with their masterpieces after they are done!

Get it here: Shopee

2. 3D Folding Activity

Introduce your child to the fantastic world of origami through this activity! Folding crafts also train fine motor muscles, attention and coordination!

Get it here: Shopee

3. Sand Art

This classic craft comes in a variety of colours and pictures catering for a range of children of different age groups and preferences! 

Get it here: Shopee

4. Mould and Paint Animals

Spend quality time and engage with your child in this craft activity! Learn about different animal features and sounds while making your unique magnets or pins!

Get it here: Shopee

Pretend Play Ideas:

1. Kitchen Playset

Pretend play encourages imagination and cultivates interest in children! Let your little chef cook up some meals in this fun pretend kitchen! 

Get it here: Shopee

2. Pretend Play Set

Other than learning about different occupations and the tools they use, pretend play is also a good way to develop language skills! Take turns, role play different characters with your child and have fun!

Get it here: Shopee

Alternatively, there are also busy boxes that you can get to occupy your child! To raise awareness on autism, The Hope Project by EAP Malaysia collaborated with Malaysia Toys and curated The Blue Busy Box

The Blue Busy Box contains 5 fun art and crafts and sensory play activities that could keep your child entertained.

10% of the proceeds from your purchase of The Blue Busy Box goes to The Hope Project, a non-profit initiative by EAP Malaysia with the aim to make world class services for autism accessible for all!

Check out how you can set up play stations at home to encourage variety in play and structure in the home here!

Play Stations – Setting Up Your Home (6/8) | Autism at Home

For more ideas on play, check out our Play series on Autism At Home!

Introduction to Play Series (1/7) | Autism at Home

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Sibling Play https://autismmalaysia.com/2021/08/sibling-play/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sibling-play Wed, 04 Aug 2021 02:19:11 +0000 https://autismmalaysia.com/?p=27799 If companionship is priceless, siblings are one of the greatest gifts a child can get in life. Siblings, or “hand and leg” in Mandarin (手足),...

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If companionship is priceless, siblings are one of the greatest gifts a child can get in life. Siblings, or “hand and leg” in Mandarin (手足), is a special bond between one and another that is likely to last a lifetime. Siblings play a major role in the development of any child, especially for a child with autism. Studies have shown peer-mediated social interventions are effective approaches for autism (Tsao & Odom, 2006). Having a play companion is beneficial, as it enables opportunities of learning and interacting that is necessary to develop essential communication, language, and social skills. Being possibly the first peer they come across in life, siblings are the apt role model for children with autism, as they grow up under similar circumstances and share most of their childhood together. Sibling bonds also tend to be stronger and are more likely to last through trial and error as two individuals figure out the ways to get along with each other, surviving arguments or fights that commonly occur when children start interacting and playing with each other. 

Challenges of sibling play for children with autism

Sibling play is a familiar term here in EAP as a great booster in developing play skills. It is usually suggested when kids have mastered some play skills and are looking to expand their ability to tolerate multiple challenges when playing with others. However, there are a number of challenges that we need to take into account when we start introducing sibling play. 

Children with autism may find playing with others challenging, due to two main reasons:

  1. Restricted interests or inflexibility; and
  2. Limited social and play skills

According to the DSM-5, one of the key characteristics of autism is the restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour, interest, or activities. Association between repetitive behaviour and limited play activities was also found, where autistic children with more repetitive behaviour engaged in less play activities (Honey et al., 2007). 

a) Different ways of playing

Some children with autism prefer to play in ways that are different from typically developing children, resulting in a struggle for children with autism to play with others. For example, a child with autism may prefer looking at the spinning wheels of a toy car rather than engaging in a race. Kids with autism might develop rigidity in their play routine, where they would insist on their own way of playing, and any disruption may be upsetting for them. Developing their motivation to play with others would require a series of practice in extending their tolerance by challenging their rigidities in a systematic manner.

b) Dissimilarity on the progression of development of play and social skills

In addition, the dissimilarity on the progression of development of play and social skills between typical children and children with autism also adds on to the challenges for sibling play. Oftentimes, children with autism experience delay or deficit in development, especially in areas of social communication and social interaction (White et al., 2007). The lack of engagement (or joint attention) that is commonly observed among children with autism hinders them from sustaining their attention on one play activity or item together with someone else.

c) Deficit in social skills

A successful group play requires players to acquire a certain level of fluency in multiple social skills, including the ability to understand and follow instructions, identifying intention and emotion, abiding social rules of turn-taking and sharing, and so on. As an area that most autistic children struggle in, the prerequisite of social skills increases the challenge of peer play for kids with autism. Other than that, some children with autism find it difficult to engage in imaginative or pretend play, where social imagination and extensive executive functioning skills are required. All of these challenges can sound a bit too much to combat all at once, hence this is where sibling play comes in handy.

Benefits of Sibling Play 

In spite of all the challenges children with autism face in playing with others, sibling play is an effective, conducive and generalized way of teaching them the necessary skills needed to navigate in this world that possibly hold concepts that are largely foreign to them. 

a) Generalization of skills

Sibling play is a chance for children with autism to practice and generalize their learnt skill with another individual. This is applicable to a whole range of skills including engagement, attention, communication, language, play and social skills. Other than providing the platform to practice skills, sibling play can be a great introduction to playing and getting along with others, an avenue to learn the expectations and rules of playing with others. 

b) Teaches children with autism that playing with others is fun!

Most importantly, sibling play paves the opportunity for children with autism to understand and realize that playing and interacting with others are fun! It is definitely a milestone achieved when our kiddos start looking forward to and enjoy sibling play, and it is a magical moment to witness the beginning of sibling bonds that last a lifetime.

c) Support for children with siblings with autism

Furthermore, sibling play also helps children that have siblings diagnosed with autism. By encouraging them to interact and play together, sibling play enables children to learn more insights about their siblings and autism, helping them to understand their siblings better when interacting or playing with them. 

A well-guided sibling play helps develop children’s empathy and social skills, where they can learn about mediating the differences between people. Having the exposure and practice in the early stages of life to play and interact with their autistic sibling may help in fostering the sense of responsibility and gaining various skills including social skills and problem solving skills. 

Other than that, sibling play promotes sibling bonding and encourages positive sibling relationships in families with children with autism. Sibling play includes the typical developing children into the journey of understanding and guiding their autistic sibling, preventing situations and feelings of neglect or lack of attention on siblings of autistic kids. 

Carrying out a Successful Sibling Play

Note: If your child does not have a sibling, the following can be applied for peer plays as well!

The goal of sibling play varies depending on the needs of the family and the children. In order for sibling play to be a successful and positive experience, multiple strategies and ideas can be implemented while you plan for sibling play at home. 

1. Skills of the children

When identifying the type of play activities, it is important to consider the skills of both your children. 

According to the developmental milestones of play by Parten (1932), after the unoccupied and solitary play stages, children typically reach the spectator/onlooker stage at 2 years of age, and start playing alongside other children (parallel play) between 2 to 3 years old. Associative play starts at around 3 years old,  when children engage in similar play activities or share certain tools, for example, building sandcastles in a sandpit. Lastly, children engage in cooperative play at around 4 years old, where play activities get more complex and rule-based, and they need to work together to complete or achieve the goal of the play activity. Examples of cooperative play include completing a puzzle together, treasure hunt, hide and seek, football, etc. 

2. Customization of the play activities

One important element that contributes to the success of sibling play is to customize your play activity according to your children’s skill level, and always start from the stage where your children can be successful. For instance, if your children struggle in sharing or working together, start with associative play where they only need to share one tool, and gradually build up their rapport and skills from there. Keep in mind that reward and reinforcement is essential when your children are learning how to play together. Whenever they are behaving nicely, such as tolerating each other, sharing or taking turns, celebrate and cheer them on. A big reward after they finish playing together also helps build the positive association towards sibling play. 

3. Giving predictability and setting expectations beforehand

Besides, having predictability is also crucial to ensure a successful sibling play. You can start by preparing a social story, video model and schedule. Inform both of your children about the flow of the sibling play session, rules and expectations, choices of play activities, and reward through a social story. If applicable, you can also include game/activity instructions into the social story, or show them a video model of playing the game/activity while you read the social story to them. Remember, the better they understand the rules and expectations, the higher the probability of them carrying out the sibling play independently and successfully. 

It also helps to motivate them if they know the reward they can expect if they follow the rules and behave expectedly. Having a schedule for sibling play sets a structure and is especially helpful in introducing sibling play among your children. Once sibling play becomes an established routine and they are fluent with the expectations, the use of schedule can be eliminated, where your children can engage in a fluid style of play time together.

Here are some ideas of sibling play activities and instructions for each stages of play, where you can customize according to your children’s skill levels:

ART AND CRAFT

One simple art and craft activity is painting. You can add variations into the play activity by replacing the tools (e.g. using cotton buds or vegetables to stamp, dropping paint onto salt, mixing paints of different colours, painting toilet roll/cardboard box/ceramic tiles wall).

Parallel Play– in the same room, have both of your child paint on their own with their own set of tools

Associative Play– while painting, let them share the tools (paintbrush, paint, or item to be painted-huge box, wall or large piece of paper)

Cooperative Play– have your children complete one picture together (in charge of one colour/tool each)

 

SENSORY PLAY

One popular example of sensory play would be water play, which is versatile and often a promised fun time. You can have a toy wash, scooping and pouring, sailing paper boats, or even shooting each other with water! 

Parallel play– have your children playing with toy wash (animal figurines/car wash) in their own tubs near each other.

Associative play– have water play together in the same tub, with their own toys/tools.

Cooperative play– shooting each other with water guns, or throwing each other with water balloons!

 

TOY PLAY

An example toy for sibling play would be puzzles (or lego, building blocks etc.). There are many ways to go around with puzzles, but do consider your child’s ability and customize the  play activity by balancing challenges and keeping them successful.

Parallel Play– in the same space, have your children complete their own puzzle with their own set of materials. 

Associative Play- scatter the puzzle pieces around the room and have your children find the pieces for their own puzzle.

Cooperative Play– organize a treasure hunt for the puzzle pieces of ONE puzzle set. Your children will need to find the pieces and complete the puzzle together.

(For building blocks or legos, give your children a picture of the target structure, and have them build it accordingly)

 

Under the current circumstances with the pandemic, sibling play would be the most conducive option of peer play for your children. Though the goal of sibling play may differ, ultimately, it should head towards the direction of having your children play together without much intervention from adults. A more structured sibling play with close prompting and supervision may be needed at the start, or for children that have limited abilities, however, do keep in mind on fading off in order for them to practice the skills learnt. Arguments and fights will happen as sibling play progresses, but it is important to let your children solve it among themselves, once they acquire the ability to do so. At the end of the sibling play session, debrief both children and always remember to reward and praise them on playing together. 

To learn how to support siblings of children with autism, check out our video below!

For more and information on play, please refer to the play series we launched through Autism At Home! Stay tuned and feel free to check us out at @eapmalaysia on Instagram or Facebook!

References

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.).

Honey, E., Leekam, S., Turner, M., & McConachie, H. (2007). Repetitive behaviour and play in typically developing children and children with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of autism and developmental disorders, 37(6), 1107-1115.

Parten, M. B. (1932). Social participation among pre-school children. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 27(3), 243.

Tsao, L. L., & Odom, S. L. (2006). Sibling-mediated social interaction intervention for young children with autism. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 26(2), 106-123.

White, S. W., Keonig, K., & Scahill, L. (2007). Social skills development in children with autism spectrum disorders: A review of the intervention research. Journal of autism and developmental disorders, 37(10), 1858-1868.

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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQ): PLAY https://autismmalaysia.com/2021/07/frequently-asked-questions-faq-play/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=frequently-asked-questions-faq-play Mon, 12 Jul 2021 01:35:12 +0000 https://autismmalaysia.com/?p=27157 “Play gives children a chance to practice what they are learning”– Mr. Rogers Following the release of our play series last month at our own...

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“Play gives children a chance to practice what they are learning”– Mr. Rogers

Following the release of our play series last month at our own online resources platform, Autism At Home, we have prepared a series of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) in hopes of guiding you through supporting your children’s play times at home. 

Developmental Milestones of Play

1. I have never seen my child being interested in any kind of toys before and do not wish to continue spending money and testing his interest. Are there any alternatives to this?

One of the benefits of toy play is for the child to be able to keep themselves occupied while playing appropriately. Some children may not have a natural interest in toys and this can be due to not fully understanding how to play with the toy. However, this can be encouraged through rewarding the child for giving it a try. For example, each time your child shows the effort of playing with the toy car we were enticing him/her to play with, we will reward him/her with his favourite play/food or anything that is motivating to him/her. This is to pair a positive association with the toy play itself.  Separately, it is also important to observe your child’s interests and look for toys with features that your child is likely to be attracted to. If your child likes throwing, bowling or paper airplanes may be a good starting point; if your child is amused by light and sound, musical toys or spinning tops that emit light and sounds may be worth a try. For more information on how to play with your child and build on your child’s interest in playing, check out our free online resource on “Making Learning Fun”!

We understand children’s toys can be quite a hefty sum. There are alternatives such as searching on Pinterest for ideas and hacks using items that can be easily found at home and/or making your own toys for the children. In Malaysia, there are also more affordable options from Mr DIY (just word of caution about the toxicity levels of the materials!). Additionally, we would suggest having a toy library or toy rotations with family, friends or neighbours. This way, it helps to save on expenses while at the same time the children get a variety of toys to play with.

2. My child is 5 years old and still prefers to play alone. Is this an indicator of autism? Should I be concerned?

Based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) on Developmental Milestones, children would start to “rather play with other children” than on their own by the age of 4 and “want to please friends” and “be like friends” by the age of 5. (Click here for a free copy of the CDC Milestone Moments Booklet).

However, when a child prefers to play alone, it does not necessarily mean there is a problem. It depends on various factors related to the child and the situation they are in. If the child is continuously reluctant and shows negative behaviours towards the idea of playing with others, then it is important to find out why. It could be due to shyness, lack of social skills or other more serious reasons that need to be addressed immediately.

While playing alone has its own benefits which is fundamental for the growth and learning for the child, playing with others teaches social skills and values such as empathy, cooperation, negotiation and teamwork. This can be gradually encouraged starting with people that the child is generally more drawn towards and following the developmental stages of play i.e. parallel play, associative play, cooperative play.

Interactive Play

1. My child is not into tickling and touch, mostly related to his senses and sensitivity, how should I go about this?

There are plenty of other ways you can play interactively with your child without having too much physical contact! You can try using a blanket (get your child to sit and hold onto it while you pull the blanket across the room, or roll your child into the blanket like a burrito!). For more interactive play ideas, you can check it out here: Interactive Play

2. As I try interactive play, my child seems to be afraid when I act in a dramatic way. He started to avoid me and would even cry if I continued trying. What should I do?

Your child may not be used to the switch in your disposition if this is the first time you acted in a dramatic way. Do try to tone down and start with something familiar and observe how your child reacts. Try and catch what would interest them best; be it loud and dramatic sound or perhaps a more quiet play like tickling them using soft toys. Follow their lead until you manage to find what they really enjoy. Check out our free online resource on “How to be Fun” for your child!

3. When I try interactive play with both of my children, I find it challenging to get them to play together. The interactive plays that older sibling enjoys are too advanced, while she is disinterested with the interactive plays her younger sibling enjoys. What can I do to balance both of their interests and get them to enjoy interactive play together?

It would be ideal to find a play that can incorporate both your children’s interests. Depending on the age gap between your children, developmentally it may be age appropriate for the older sibling to have moved on and developed different interests, however there are important skills that the older sibling could learn such as tolerating other people’s choices and other people’s perspective. It would be worth speaking to the older sibling and rewarding the older sibling separately for tolerating and playing nicely together with the younger sibling.

Separately, you can try to have your children get used to playing with each other. Breaking it down, you can have them playing side-by-side with each other, but with their own toys/games. Then, gradually move on to activities that require them to share certain items (e.g. paint brush/tools) and finally, have them play cooperatively (treasure hunt, building a puzzle together or passing the ball to each other). You can insert the interactive elements (e.g. singing together, chasing each other) when they are more comfortable to play with each other, and always remember to praise and reward them when they are playing nicely together, and especially tolerating playing with each other!

Toy Play

1. My child is able to play with toys appropriately, but treats it as a chore and would only do it when we are supervising closely. When he is alone, he would succumb to stimming or playing with toys inappropriately. What can I do to make appropriate toy play enjoyable for him?

It is recommended to perform a motivation assessment to identify what your child prefers and is motivated for. If the goal is for the child to be able to play independently and keep himself occupied with appropriate play, providing a play that the child is familiar and motivated for would set him up for success.

It is also important to praise and reinforce your child whenever he is playing appropriately, in order to build a positive association towards appropriate toy play. This pairing of an unpreferred play with a preferred activity will help to strengthen motivation.

2. My child is only interested in toys that are for kids way younger than him. Is this an indicator of developmental delays?

A child’s interest is not a direct representation of his/her capabilities, hence a child’s interest in toys is not a good indicator of his/her corresponding level of development. It is important to note that the age appropriateness of the activity can impact socialisation when in a peer or group setting. It is however advisable to consult a doctor or specialist should you have concerns regarding your child’s development.

3. I am reluctant to expose my child to toy play as he only plays toys in the same inappropriate manner i.e. arranging each piece or component of the toy into a line. He gets into a big meltdown when his play is interrupted. What should I do?

It is recommended to have a separate set of the same toy and expose your child to other fun ways of playing with the toy by playing next to him. Do note that we are not forcing him to do the same, but helping him see that there are other ways of playing with the toy that hopefully picks his curiosity and interest to want to try.

When managing rigidities and controlling behaviours, a gradual and systematic approach to challenge the behaviour is recommended. You can introduce toys that have an established structure (e.g. train tracks) before moving on to toys that have a loose structure (e.g. lego/building blocks). Guide your child closely in playing appropriately, and always praise and reward your child when he is following the steps, playing appropriately and even attempting to try new ways of playing!

Sensory Play

My child is not interested in sensory play. It could relate back to his sensitivity and inability to tolerate certain textures, as he couldn’t stand getting dirty or wet, and would cry if we did not clean up or change his clothes right away. Are there any ways to encourage him to keep trying, even when it is uncomfortable?

To keep your child successful and play times enjoyable, it is recommended to start off with materials that your child is comfortable with. On managing your child’s tolerance issue, it is advisable to approach it in a systematic manner, by gradually varying the degree of exposure and time. Remember, it is important to reinforce and praise your child for being brave in trying and tolerating new things that  are potentially uncomfortable.

2. My child likes to put everything into his mouth, and sensory play often ends up to be an eating feast for him. Understand that sensory play is open ended, and it is hard to draw the line on what is appropriate or inappropriate. How should I break down sensory play so that my child can learn to play appropriately (e.g. scooping and pouring pasta instead of just eating)?

Sensory play is a great opportunity for sensory exploration, hence it is typical for children to explore by putting sensory play materials into their mouths. Do ensure that materials are edible, and always have sensory play under close supervision. If you would like to decrease the likelihood of your child eating all of the materials, consider having sensory play after mealtimes.

As it is part of sensory exploration, sensory play is best done in a free form with little structure. However, if you would like to expose your child to different ways of playing, you can demonstrate it to your child first, then get them to try it out.

Independent Play

1. I want to expand my child’s ability in occupying his time but as I add more activity he seems to be upset and less successful. How should I address this?

Other than making sure that your child is fluent and familiar with each of the activities, it is also important to make sure that the progression is kept at a pace that your child is successful at in terms of the time he has to keep himself occupied rather than the number of activities he needs to do. Gradually increase the duration in smaller intervals and always reinforce your child when he is behaving expectedly.

2. My child enjoys company and doesn’t like to be left alone. It is hard for me to ignore when he calls out to me and would cry if he is ignored. I do not want to discourage his initiation as he was communicating to me but the goal is for him to play alone. How do I manage this?

Communication would play an important role here. Before starting with independent play it is important for the child to understand expectations and have predictability. Break down the skill by starting with a shorter distance between you and your child as well as the time he is left to be on his own. Reward them for each time they are able to play independently and you can move on slowly in increasing distance and time of play.

3. My child engages in stimming behaviours and plays inappropriately if we are not close to guide him. Would independent play encourage stimming behaviours  and discourage children with autism from playing with others? How should I balance this?

The aim of independent play varies accordingly but it is mainly to develop children’s ability to occupy themselves appropriately and allow parents some time without having to constantly supervise their children. In terms of stimming behaviors, ways to help with this is to use play activities that have a clear end goal. Example for this is a puzzle, where there is a clear cut of what finishing the play would look like.

Always reward and praise your child when they are playing and behaving appropriately. Do keep in mind the child’s capability in playing certain toys, as in order to play independently, they need to first learn the skill to play with toys appropriately.

Imaginative Play

1. My child has the prerequisite skills for imaginative play but struggles in imagining and doesn’t seem to understand when we try to do imaginative play. How should I break this down so my child is able to engage creatively, rather than treating it like a task?

Imaginative play comes from the knowledge and information that children already know. As a start, we can expose them to multiple things that are happening in their surroundings such as showing a realistic scene or story of going to the barber, having a meal at a restaurant and even riding a train. Consistent with the effort to create positive association, try to use what interests them best and start from there. We can lead this part so children can learn while observing, with no demand on them to come up with any scripts.

2. My child has the vocabulary and is able to talk in therapy but less likely so with us, the family. Thus, engaging in imaginative play is hard for us. I know he engages somehow with teachers, but rarely engages with us at home. What should I do?

This is not something rare, rest assured. The structure in a session makes it more conducive for kids to communicate as there are set expectations in sessions. In order for the child to be able to participate in Imaginative Play with family , we shall first focus on generalising the expressive skills with family. Once the child is able to communicate with family, the possibility for engagement would be limitless.

Games and Sports

1. I would like to expose my child to play with others, but due to his rigidities he struggles in tolerating other kids when they don’t play according to his expectations. How should I manage this?

Addressing the rigidity issue, changes should come gradually to keep children successful in coping. Start off by explaining expectations of playing with others and the consequences of their actions. Perhaps expose them to one friend or sibling first before letting them play in a bigger group. The process of exposure to playing with others should also be done gradually. Having them playing side-by-side with each other with no need to share the toys and move on to activities that require them to share certain items (e.g. paint brush/tools). Once they are able to do so, have them try to play cooperatively (treasure hunt, building a puzzle together or passing the ball to each other).

Remember to reinforce and celebrate every time they are coping well with these changes!

2. My child struggles in taking turns and coping when he loses. We would like him to learn to play cooperatively, but it often ends with a meltdown when things do not go his way. What should we do?

Losing is not easy to handle, even for us adults. Acknowledge that the child’s feeling is valid, yet there are better ways to deal with it. Ideally, we would want the child to learn social skills and be able to have fun with their friends when they go out and play. We can start with explaining how winning and losing works, and how to cope with it, through social stories, video models and even roleplay. Next, practise! Take some time with your family and have a game time together. Use the chance to model coping methods and practise it with your child. Once they are better at tolerating losing, you can let them experience it in the real world, with friends.

3. My child tends to be a bit rough when it comes to physical games/sports, and though he understands the rules of games, his impulsiveness often gets him into trouble. How should I guide him to be more aware and careful when he is playing with other kids?

With kids that have more awareness and the skill to understand others’ perspectives, it would be helpful to explain to them the consequences of their actions. For kids that struggle in understanding others, it would be better to set clear expectations on playing with others. These can be done through social stories and video models, following with roleplay, which involves acting out scenarios. Finally, when your child is better in managing his impulse, generalize this skill by exposing him to the real situation-playing with others. Constantly reflecting and reinforcing when your child is playing nicely are also crucial to encourage the expected behaviours.

We hope this helps answer some of your questions related to play! If you have any further questions, feel free to email us at enquiries@autismmalaysia.com or contact us at +603-2094 0421 or +6013-319 0301.

References

The post FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQ): PLAY first appeared on Early Autism Project Malaysia.

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EAP Staff Outing 2021 https://autismmalaysia.com/2021/06/eap-staff-outing-2021/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=eap-staff-outing-2021 Tue, 29 Jun 2021 01:23:17 +0000 https://autismmalaysia.com/?p=26681 I don’t know if you knew, If you knew that this is what you’d do. Being in the Hi-5 and Do This crew, The deliverer...

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I don’t know if you knew,

If you knew that this is what you’d do.

Being in the Hi-5 and Do This crew,

The deliverer of smiles and peekaboos.

 

I don’t know if you knew,

If you knew you’d be a cheerleader,

Of clowning, gym-ing, singing,

They’re really part of being a teacher.

 

I don’t know if you knew,

If you knew of the hits and punches to come,

Of kicking, swiping and pinching

And the screaming, some days your ears boy they do get numb.

 

But I sure hope you know,

That you know you made that smile,

That laughter and those sillies,

Helping write these stories, really just WOW!

 

And I sure hope you know,

That you YOU helped them come so far,

First word, first school yep first poo,

There really isn’t anything you can’t do.

 

Amidst all the spoken and unspoken

For all the teaching and healing of hearts broken,

We see the miles of extra,

We hear the sometimes tears in the car,

Do know in this crazy you’re really a lifeboat,

Oh wait, I think the ‘in’ term is GOAT!

Smarts aside, do know we SEE YOU through and through

For the special that is YOU, a huge THANK YOU.

-Charmaine Koay-

 

Unsung heroes are not our style. With “celebration” being one of our core values here in EAP, other than celebrating our beloved kiddos, it is also our culture to celebrate and appreciate each and every team member of our EAP team. With regards to that, it has been a tradition in EAP to organize Staff Outing annually, a day of celebration to appreciate and honour our team, whilst having fun and enjoying each others’ company. It is a shame that this year we still could not spend this meaningful time in the same room physically, but to our amazing EAP Events Team, the possibility is limitless. On the 19th of June, we had our Staff Outing online and it was awesome!

The day started as early as 8 in the morning and we were pumped as we played a quick icebreaker game on where we would like to go once the pandemic is over, and had input time with our director herself, Jochebed Isaacs. The highlight of the day was definitely the Staff Outing game challenge itself where we were assigned to groups, with the mission to solve interesting riddles and work through a series of mentally challenging games in the shortest amount of time, in order to gain the first place!

“It is all fun and games,” they said. “Stay on green!” they said. 

Of course, with the burning desire to bring glory to our teams, we were all too excited to acknowledge the kind reminders from the Events Team. The theme for the game this year was “To Be Decided” and it was reflected by reliving memories of past years and the hope of a better future. Each section of the game was dedicated to a certain decade starting from the 1990s up to the 2030s, where we solved riddles on songs, TV shows and even cartoons! It felt like we were traveling in a time machine, on a delightful trip down memory lane, which also gave us a glimpse of the possible future. 

The whole activity boils down to the values of appreciation, gratitude, and hope. As we reminisce on the joyful times, it was a good remembrance of the fulfilling life we lived before the pandemic. Those were the times where we enjoyed human contact and interaction, that we might have taken for granted, and it feels more surreal now than ever. It also reminds us of how we are still in the midst of battling through the pandemic. At the end, we were reminded that life is more than what we have now, and we can look forward to a better time. In this challenging time, we have each other to rely on and soon, and know that these challenging times shall come to pass.

Other than that, we also had a highlight celebration for our director, Jochebed Isaacs as this year marks her tenth year of being the director of Early Autism Project Malaysia. Reliving the years she had served in the company, Jochebed answered questions about how those times had been for her. It was a great time listening to her interesting stories, reflecting on her unwavering and inspirational commitment to lead the company in making a difference to the world.

It felt great to be able to spend some time with the whole team. It was such an honour to be in this noble mission in helping autistic kids together but today is about celebrating the team, to let go and have fun. It was a space served for us to recharge together as a company.

We also took the chance to celebrate Teacher’s Day as a company, to honour all of our staff that have been such amazing educators and teachers to all the kiddos. The Media team prepared a touching video for the team that featured highlights of the achievements and sacrifices that therapists pour in each day, the dedication supervisors give, and the attention senior supervisors always offer. 

It brought tears and laughter, a moment of warmth.

Celebrating Teacher’s Day had made Staff Outing thousandfold greater. Voicing out how our therapist, supervisors and the whole team make a difference by teaching the kids different types of skills and knowledge as they go on each day. We also want to celebrate all the teachers out there who have been and are still shaping the new generation in the nation.

This year, the theme for Teacher’s Day is Berguru Demi Ilmu, Bina Generasi Baru which translates to Learning for the Knowledge, Building the New Generation. The nation had been severely impacted by the pandemic and it had been withholding education for a long time. 

The students were faced with multiple changes every now and then as the government worked out a plan that would benefit as many people as possible. Alongside these plans and changes, stood the teachers that are always willing to do their best. As much as the kids need to adapt and relearn what learning in school should look like, teachers work double the effort. They had been creative and flexible in making sure they were able to reach the students and keeping them successful despite not being there physically. It was a remarkable moment to see the educators of the nation rise above all and do what we used to see as unthinkable. Malaysia and online learning have never been in the same sentences before, not until the pandemic hits. We were reaching milestone by milestone each day, education in any possible way. It had not been easy, not a single moment of it was a breeze. 

Here in EAP, we honour all the teachers and educators out there. You really are heroes. All your effort and sacrifices shall bloom in the form of a greater generation in the future. 

And celebrate them, we will.

To teachers out there, thank you.

It is in your heart to provide knowledge and kindness to the younger generation of Malaysia, and we have no other words than, TERIMA KASIH.

The post EAP Staff Outing 2021 first appeared on Early Autism Project Malaysia.

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Happy Father’s Day: Fatherhood & Autism https://autismmalaysia.com/2021/06/happy-fathers-day-fatherhood-autism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=happy-fathers-day-fatherhood-autism Tue, 15 Jun 2021 03:00:58 +0000 https://autismmalaysia.com/?p=26016 “My Father is a Superhero” Growing up, I believe many of us have written a poem with this title. Indeed, fatherhood is not a simple...

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“My Father is a Superhero”

Growing up, I believe many of us have written a poem with this title. Indeed, fatherhood is not a simple venture, what more for fathers that are raising children with autism? The demands of fathering kids on the spectrum quadruples in many forms, from financial resources, navigating the family as well as the day-in and day-out tending to a special needs child. Nonetheless, they work their hardest in fighting for the best chances for their kids, be it therapy sessions, schools, future, and overall quality of life, they make every effort to provide the greatest they can offer to their kids.

Kinship bliss takes a different form for fathers of children with autism. For some of them it is an impossible luxury to hear a “daddy” from their child, yet all they provide is unconditional love and support, as well as the unwavering faith in their children’s potential. In conjunction with Father’s Day this year, we have interviewed two amazing fathers, on their journey of fatherhood raising their child with autism. Here, they shared all about the challenges, achievements, lessons learnt, and how raising a child with autism makes their hearts grow bigger.

Dr. Satesh

Dr. Satesh is the father of Dylan, a 7 year-old boy with autism.

  1. What is the biggest change(s) your child has brought to your life?

Dylan’s presence as my youngest son in the family has enhanced our joy and happiness as a family unit. As an individual, he is a very loving boy and enjoys spending his time with the ones who care for him. He was diagnosed with ASD 2.5 years ago, when he was 4 years old. We observed that as a 4-year old, he wasn’t responsive to instructions, lacked eye contact and was non-verbal. Because of these milestones which he had yet to achieve, we brought him to a medical specialist and subsequently to EAP, post-diagnosis. Obviously, the biggest change occurred when we as a family realised that Dylan needed special care and support due to his diagnosis and this shifted my perspectives and made me re-prioritise what was important to me, in my life.

  1. As a father of a child with autism, what are the challenges you face that are usually overlooked?

The challenges faced, normally centre around the need to constantly attend to his wants and behaviour. Any lack of attention given to him results in him behaving erratically. It is a challenge because I need to also allocate time to the rest of my family as well as to my professional life. However, I realised that the opportunity which arose from this challenge was that it allowed me to spend a lot of time with my son, understanding his needs and learning how to manage his behaviour from what I learned at EAP.

  1. What are your proudest achievements of your child?

The proudest moment was when he was able to imitate words, verbally. He was about 1.5 years into his therapy at EAP and he was doing very well at his imitation programmes. One day I thought I would try and sit him down and attempt to get him to repeat some easy, three letter words. I started with the word “car” and he repeated the word, loud and clear. I continued with a few more words and he was able to repeat them well enough. Needless to say, I immediately jumped onto the phone with his supervisor, sent her a video and we started the verbal imitation programme after further probing. I recall when the rest of the therapists at EAP Bangsar heard Dylan speak, they were overjoyed and surprised – definitely the proudest moment. 

(Dylan receiving his certificate from the Deputy Minister of Education, Teo Nie Ching)

An honorable mention was him getting a certificate from the Deputy Minister of Education at one of EAP’s family days. That was nice to see. 

  1. What are the lessons raising a child with autism has taught you?

The biggest lesson learnt was patience and understanding. Early on in his diagnosis, I didn’t understand the reasoning for his behaviour. I thought it had to do with him just being naughty. Throughout the years and education learnt from EAP, I began to understand what was behind his behaviour traits and this taught me to be more patient and to analyse his behaviour before responding to him. In the last 3 years I have definitely become a more patient, calm and tolerant person – which is nice!

  1. What is your Father’s Day message for all the dads out there? Can you offer some encouraging words to the other fathers who are also raising a child with autism?

Children are a gift. You truly learn the meaning of unconditional love when you become a father and this is amplified when you have a child with special needs. A God fearing person once told me, “God only gives these children to angels” and my wife always says that she is thankful that Dylan is in a family that can care for him and give him the best possible support so he can excel in life. I am aware that there are families out there that cannot afford the support that I provide for Dylan. I take solace in knowing that in today’s world we know quite a bit about ASD and how therapy can be administered to support children with ASD. Techniques are easy enough for parents to learn and practice with their kids, if they cannot afford to pay for therapy. Dylan and I are the lucky ones and to those fathers who are raising a child with ASD, enjoy the journey – I know it’s not a planned journey, but you are behind the wheel and your child is a passenger you’re in love with.

Andy

Andy is the father of Isaac, a 4 year-old boy with autism

  1. What is the biggest change(s) your child has brought to your life?

Having a child is always a challenge, but having a child on the spectrum brings a whole new set of challenges. I guess with Isaac being our first child, we never had any prior understanding of what the differences were between a typical and atypical child, we were just parenting Isaac and that was that.

Having Isaac has really changed the way I view the world and more importantly myself. Isaac really has helped me develop my levels of focus, patience and understanding as a parent. I also find that I am more empathetic towards other people’s needs and I am definitely less judgemental. Overall, Isaac has made me a better person.

Regardless of the challenges and the changes that have been made, I have a greater understanding and appreciation of what it means to love a child, regardless of their ability.

  1. As a father of a child with autism, what are the challenges you face that are usually overlooked?

I guess the biggest challenges are the ones that parents with typical children sometimes take for granted, such as potty training or learning to read etc. With Isaac, he still has the capacity and potential to rise to these challenges, but they need to be thoroughly thought out and planned – that’s the key challenge, the planning of everything.

Regardless of what challenges we meet, these are the things that make Isaac who he is. Plus, they are not really seen as challenges anymore, they’re now just part of our day-to-day routine.

  1. What are your proudest achievements of your child?

For most parents, it’s the big things that are seen as proud achievements – first steps, first word etc, but for me, it’s the small things that fill me with pride more – following a simple instruction, 100% complete engagement at a single moment in time, a loving interaction with Jacob (his brother) – offering a kiss and hug because he wants to show affection. These are the things that fill my heart with joy and make me proud of Isaac and the progress he makes on a daily basis.

  1. What are the lessons raising a child with autism has taught you?

Initially, things will go wrong more than they go right – but it gets better. You just have to remain patient and understand that your child is doing all they can – they just need to be guided a little more to achieve what they are being asked to do.

There is for sure a lesson in resilience to be learned as well. As a parent to a kiddo, you will achieve things in a way you never knew you could, you find out that you are more creative than you thought – sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but that’s ok, you just have to keep trying. At times it’s tough, but when we see Issac completing a task or command, it’s all worth it!!

The biggest lesson is showing myself that we can handle Isaac’s autism as a family – it’s not the end of the world, we’re just now part of a different world – one that can still offer special moments and fulfilment.

  1. What is your Father’s Day message for all the dads out there? Can you offer some encouraging words to the other fathers who are also raising a child with autism?

Keep up the good work – you are doing a great job (the Mom’s are too!!) – you are not alone. Happy Father’s Day!!

To all the incredible fathers out there, you are the best! Here are a few appreciation letters and drawing from some of our kiddos to their dads, which will hopefully warm your heart too!

Happy Father’s Day from all of us at EAP!

The post Happy Father’s Day: Fatherhood & Autism first appeared on Early Autism Project Malaysia.

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USEFUL LINKS & ONLINE LEARNING RESOURCES FOR THE KIDS https://autismmalaysia.com/2021/06/useful-links-online-learning-resources-for-the-kids/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=useful-links-online-learning-resources-for-the-kids Tue, 08 Jun 2021 11:31:59 +0000 https://autismmalaysia.com/?p=25682 The idea of occupying your kids at home has not been such an important concern until recently. Perhaps two years ago, we would be quicker...

The post USEFUL LINKS & ONLINE LEARNING RESOURCES FOR THE KIDS first appeared on Early Autism Project Malaysia.

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The idea of occupying your kids at home has not been such an important concern until recently. Perhaps two years ago, we would be quicker to think of ideas to ensure our kids benefited with any values, skill or knowledge when they are spending some time at home. The predisposition that led to us staying indoors was also much different, it was usually the weather, or change of plans, and were often temporary in nature. Now that we return to the circle of being home with most of the outdoor activities forbidden, it does not help that parents are also occupied with other responsibilities as working individuals or just attending to other businesses.

Main concern that resonates in the parenthood community is the struggles to find activities that are interesting enough to occupy their kids while they are busy with other responsibilities. We are here to help! To make things easier at home, this article aims to help you out with ideas and resources that you can use to help manage your kids. 

Mostly, kids have their own interest and will, as they pick and choose how to spend their time. Using this as a measure, we can shape their interest so they can enjoy their time at home. In this modern age where electronic gadgets and the internet have fully merged into our daily lives, it seems so that under the present circumstances, the internet is a handy tool to keep kids occupied. Needless to say, the way time was spent using electronic gadgets and the internet should be under close scrutiny to ensure productivity and safety. Hence, using this opportunity, we present to you multiple ways on how to make screen time constructive.

Kids are missing out on travelling and experiencing the outside world as we experienced yet another lockdown. In conjunction to this, multiple organisations come up with virtual opportunities to explore the world.

Travelling might be a foreign concept now but that should not be the limit for the kids to experience and see the world with their own eyes. Sight and hearing might be the only two senses we are able to stimulate as for now, as we wish one day, they too will breathe in the fresh air of the outside world.  

First up, there’s the NASA live stream that should interest kids with fascination with outer space. This live stream is not solely for watching the people at the space station but also offering documentaries on different topics. They listed the schedule of the livestream on what would be broadcasted so you can plan on which slot would interest your kids.

As for the animal lovers, there are multiple zoos and aquariums that offer livestream to the animals’ day to day routine. Greatly enough that we can sit and watch in fascination because mainly these are from zoos of foreign countries. Also due to that very fact, it is good to be mindful of the timing as we do not share the time zone and it might not always be convenient to livestream animals’ activity when it is too dark. Plus, kids might not be too interested to watch the animals at that time.

For families that enjoy spending time at a museum,Google Arts and Culture offers multiple options where kids can spend hours exploring every museum while they learn and admire all the things being presented at the museum.

Moving on from travelling and exploring the world, kids can also do a lot more learning and exploring as they grow their knowledge in different fields. In addition, these online resources also provide the opportunity for kids to explore and find their hobbies and interests!

First in line, there is Freerice, an educational trivia game that enhances one’s general knowledge while making a difference for people around the world. For every correct answer, grains of rice are donated via the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) to support its work in saving and changing lives around the world. The app has different categories like English, Geography, Humanities, Language Learning, Math, Science, astronomy, pop music and many more! If you sign up for an account, you can enjoy participating in a quiz with your friends too! 

Taking you to a different kind of option for kids that are into drawing. If your kid likes to draw or if you want to interest your kid into drawing, this option might be the one for you – Rob Biddulph #DrawWithRob. Rob Biddulph is a famous author and illustrator. When the pandemic hit, he came up with the idea to spend some time making videos that would guide kids on how to draw characters from his books. Kids can join Rob in the drawing day to day with the freedom to choose characters that attract them the most. This fun activity can help in advancing concentration and imitation skills.

This next app is perfect for the inquisitive and curious minds, or simply to keep the kids up to date about the world around them. Squiz Kids  is a podcast that features fun and interesting news for your kids. It is updated daily, almost like a child’s own personal newspaper. The podcast would usually end with some questions to check in on the kids’ comprehension of the information. This app is available in multiple platforms like Spotify, Google broadcast, RSS feed and Apple Podcast. If you wish to use the browser, it is also an open option.

Going over to a more active option for parents that wish for their kids to stay active, GONoodle might be a good start. GoNoodle incorporates having fun moving around and getting active. This app offers multiple games and features other options that are useful for families as a whole. 

Admittedly all the above are more helpful for older kids and might not interest younger kids with different skill sets. It is harder to keep younger kids occupied for a longer time when all that we have listed are more complex and compact items. So here is a list of apps that might be more well-suited for younger kids:

  1.       Khan Academy Kids

Khan Academy Kids is a free platform that is suitable for children ages 2 to 8. It is packed with educational programs that would contribute to fun learning. This free app offers multiple aspects of learning such as reading, writing and math.

  1.       Hungry Caterpillar Play School 

This app provides a suitable curriculum for kids from 2 years to 6 years old. It provides you with multiple resources to learn in a fun way. If you are familiar with the story “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” the themes in this app shall bring up some memories. The interface and design of the app is cheerful and ought to keep your child engaged. 

  1. Number Run  

We may be familiar with games with the goal to help characters run and overcome challenges, like Temple Run or Minion Rush. Number Run uses the same gameplay but math and calculation are the only way to survive the game. It is a sure fun way to learn math as each correct response lets them keep playing and progress on to the next level.

  1.       Toca Boca 

Toca Boca is a company that comes up with multiple apps that will help your kids stay occupied. It varies from cooking, styling hair to planting trees. It has a very unbounded concept with no set rules so your child will have the opportunity to explore and develop creativity.

The article aims to assist parents in any way possible and may this be beneficial to families out there. Perhaps one of the many options listed might be your child’s new found interest?

The phrase “new normal” seems to be taking a different turn as we adapt to constant changes. Most of all, the education for the kids seems to be affected a lot too as they are still in and out of schools every now and then. As parents’ soldiers through this, we would like to express our admiration to all of you that always gives the best for all your children. With all that is going on, please remember to take some time and have a break with your family. There is nothing as precious as family love and quality time. May we continue to grow a happy family despite the situation we are facing.

We truly hope things get better soon as we soldier on this season together. Let us all stay safe and healthy while fighting the pandemic!

Reference: 

  1. NASA Live : https://www.nasa.gov/nasalive
  2. KLOOK These 10 Zoos and Aquariums Are Live-Streaming Their Adorable Animals To Get You Through Quarantine : https://www.klook.com/en-PH/blog/wildlife-webcams/ 
  3. Google Arts and Culture : https://artsandculture.google.com/partner
  4. UN WFP Freerice : https://freerice.com/about
  5. United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) : https://www.wfp.org/ 
  6. #DrawWithRob – Rob Biddulph: http://www.robbiddulph.com/draw-with-rob
  7. The Squiz Kids : https://www.squizkids.com.au/
  8. GoNoodle  : https://www.gonoodle.com/ 
  9. Khan Academic Kids: https://learn.khanacademy.org/khan-academy-kids/
  10. Hungry Caterpillar PlaySchool : https://www.caterpillarplay.com/ 
  11. Number Run : https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.saguara.numberrun&hl=en&gl=US
  12. Toca Boca :https://tocaboca.com/ 

 

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June Theme Activities – Travel: Malaysia https://autismmalaysia.com/2021/06/june-theme-activities-travel-malaysia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=june-theme-activities-travel-malaysia Thu, 03 Jun 2021 13:37:34 +0000 https://autismmalaysia.com/?p=25452 Our series of thematic activities are back! As full lockdown is imposed again this year, we have compiled a week of activities to support families...

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Our series of thematic activities are back! As full lockdown is imposed again this year, we have compiled a week of activities to support families with children that are now stuck at home. With the pandemic going on for more than a year now, what is the one common thing that we all miss? Travelling! This time, we are bringing travel to our kids at home, where they can learn all about a country through these activities! The first stop is none other than our beloved country, Malaysia! Below, we have compiled a series of movement activity, craft, water play, snack activity and games with the theme of traveling to Malaysia. The activities are adapted to different skill levels, and you can carry it out for both younger and older children. 

Jom, Cuti-Cuti Malaysia! Let’s get started!

Music & Movement Monday

Vital to the development of motor skills as well as maintaining health and wellbeing, movement activities help to build attention and imitation skills. It is also a great opportunity for you to engage and have fun with your child!

Musical Chair with a Malaysian Song

Materials:

Introduce Malaysian songs to your child through the classic game of Musical Chairs! Encourage them to sing or dance to the songs as they walk around the chairs. To spice up the game, you can prepare some colour paper (following the colours of the Malaysia flag) and attach a colour to each of the chairs. Shout out a random colour when the song is paused, and players would need to sit on the chair attached with the right colour!

Crafty Tuesday

Arts and Crafts activities help to nurture your child’s creativity and fine motor skills! With these activities, your child could occupy their time meaningfully, and also feel successful and accomplished with a self-made craft piece!

For younger children: Pasta Hibiscus

Materials:

  • Paint
  • Paintbrush
  • Glue
  • Bowtie pasta
  • Penne/Spiral pasta
  • Paper

Steps:

  1. Break the bowtie pasta in half. Only 5 halves are needed.
  2. Paint the bowtie pasta red.
  3. Glue the bowtie pasta halves to the paper, making a circle of petals.
  4. Glue a penne or a spiral pasta in the middle of the circle. This is the filament of the hibiscus flower.
  5. Paint the stem and leaves of the flower with green paint.

For older children: Rice Flag

Materials:

Steps:

  1. Pour some rice into a ziplock bag or a food container.
  2. Add a few drops of red food colouring into the rice then add half teaspoon of water.
  3. Zip the bag or close the lid of the container and shake until the rice is completely red.
  4. Pour the rice onto a tray to dry.
  5. Repeat step (1) to (4) with blue food colouring and yellow food colouring.
  6. Print out the Malaysian flag template.
  7. Apply glue to the flag template and add the coloured rice accordingly.

Wild Wednesday

Water and sensory play has always been one of the favourite play activities for most of our kids here in EAP. Other than building and strengthening motor skills, water and sensory play also provides an opportunity for sensory exploration for your child.

For younger children: Rescue the Flag!

Materials:

  • Malaysia flag (print it from here)
  • Ziplock bag
  • Tray/container
  • Tools to knock and dig/melt the ice (ladle, water spray, water dropper, toy hammer etc.)

Steps:

  1. Place the flag in a ziplock bag and place the bag in a tray filled with water.
  2. Place the container into the freezer for 1-2 hours (until the water is frozen).
  3. Using the tools, get your child to knock and dig on the ice to rescue the flag!

For older children: Throw and Burst

Materials:

  • White cloth/mahjong paper 
  • Water balloons
  • Paint 
  • Pencil
  • Pins

Steps:

  1. Draw hibiscus flower on a big white cloth or mahjong paper (or print it from here!), then pin it on the wall/floor. It is recommended to carry out this activity outdoors.
  2. Fill water balloons with paint of your desired colours. You can also use the colours of the Malaysia flag–blue, yellow, white and red!
  3. Get your child to throw the paint-filled balloons to the hibiscus template and create a unique hibiscus! 

Tasty Thursdays

Other than sharpening attention and motor skills, preparing snacks can also empower your child with independent living skills. Participating in the making of meals may pique your child’s interest and develop a new hobby. For children with autism that have food tolerance issues, this is also a fun way to engage and encourage them to try new foods!

Fried Banana Balls

Ingredients:

  • 300g banana
  • 50g flour 
  • ¼  teaspoon of salt
  • ¼  teaspoon of baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon sugar 
  • 350 ml oil 

Steps:

  1. Mash bananas until smooth. Mix in all the other ingredients, except sugar.
  2. Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium to high heat.
  3. Add sugar to batter and stir.
  4. Sink a spoonful of batter into the hot oil.
  5. Then, use another spoon to loosen the batter from the spoon. It will float.
  6. Shape the batter into balls quickly using the spoons.
  7. Fry until golden brown.

For older children, get them to try carrying out all the steps under adult supervision. With younger children, they can help with mashing the bananas, stirring the batter and eventually enjoying the delicious fried banana balls!

Funtastic Fridays

Coming to the end of the week, why not take up a notch and go on for some adventures with your child? Here are some activities to make your Fridays extra “Fun”tastic, where you can go on virtual tours, treasure hunts or do fun and interesting science experiments with your child!

For younger children: Scavenger Hunt-Malaysia Flag Colours!

Materials:

  • Crayon/Colour pencils (blue, yellow, white and red)
  • Malaysian flag colouring template (print from here)

Steps:

  1. Hide the crayon/colour pencils.
  2. Get your child to find the crayon/colour pencils. You can provide clues on the location of the materials to ease the finding process.
  3. After collecting the colouring materials, colour the Malaysia flag together with your child!

For older children: Guess the Fruit!

Materials:

  • Local Malaysian fruits (rambutan, mangosteen, langsat, durian etc.)
  • Blindfold

Introduce your child to the Malaysian fruits! Then, do a guessing game where your blindfolded child has to guess the fruit after tasting it. Encourage them to use all their other senses (touch, smell, taste) to explore, describe and guess the fruit!

Through these activities, we hope to support you in occupying your child meaningfully at home. With all the abrupt changes and stuck-at-home situation, it can be overwhelming for both adults and children. We hope these activities could take your mind off for a moment, while spending quality time with your child. If you would like more information on how to help your child with autism at home, please check out Autism At Home, our very own online platform that provides resources as well as simplified tips and strategies to help families of children with autism in teaching and supporting them. For more strategies in coping with the lockdown, feel free to refer to our blog article here!

References

  1. Musical Chair picture: https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/musical-chairs
  2. Rasa Sayang (Malaysian Song):  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pzAJ10aRuBM
  3. Pasta Hibiscus: https://www.123homeschool4me.com/pasta-flower-crafts-for-kids/
  4. Rice Flag:  https://www.forkandbeans.com/2019/02/19/rainbow-rice/
  5. Rice Flag Picture: https://www.powerfulmothering.com/4-july-kids-craft-ideas-color-rice-american-flag-exploring/ 
  6. Printable Malaysia Flag: http://printerprojects.com/flag/malaysia.html  
  7. Water Balloon Painting: https://messyhandslessonplans.com/water-balloon-painting/
  8. Hibiscus Flower Template: https://www.activityshelter.com/flower-template-for-childrens-activities/
  9. Fried banana balls: https://www.nyonyacooking.com/recipes/fried-banana-balls~HyMxuwsDG5-7
  10. Malaysia Flag Template (blank):http://www.supercoloring.com/coloring-pages/flag-of-malaysia 
  11. Scavenger Hunt Picture: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scavenger_hunt 
  12. Guess the Fruit Picture: https://www.teachworkoutlove.com/easy-picnic-food-ideas-for-kid/ 
  13. Autism At Home: https://www.autismmalaysia.com/autismathome/
  14. Coping with MCO 2.0 blog article: https://autismmalaysia.com/2021/01/coping-with-mco-2-0/

 

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The Battles and Triumphs of Autism: Through A Mother’s Lens https://autismmalaysia.com/2021/05/the-battles-and-triumphs-of-autism-through-a-mothers-lens/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-battles-and-triumphs-of-autism-through-a-mothers-lens Tue, 18 May 2021 13:01:55 +0000 https://autismmalaysia.com/?p=24830 Every year, Muslims across the globe observe Ramadan, a month of fasting, spiritual reflection and battle on self discipline as they resist worldly needs. The...

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Every year, Muslims across the globe observe Ramadan, a month of fasting, spiritual reflection and battle on self discipline as they resist worldly needs. The month ends in triumph with a celebration in one of the most anticipated occasions of the year — Hari Raya Aidilfitri! 

This year, with Hari Raya following hard on the heels of Mother’s Day, we have interviewed two incredible mothers of children with autism on their take on the battles and triumphs in autism, as well as the importance of celebrating each and every milestone. We hope this could provide more insight into the journey of life of a family with autism through a mother’s lens.

Akmal

Akmal is the mother of Khaleef, an 11 year-old boy with autism.

 

  1. What are the challenges/ battles that your child is in?

My son has gone through many battles in his life, the most challenging was food tolerance. His staple food for about 4 years was just lactose-free milk formula, plain water and cheese crackers which he crushed into powder-like form and licked from his fingers. From there, he gradually transitioned from smaller pieces into larger pieces of cheese crackers. Due to his food tolerance issue and the impact on his diet and health, the EAP team suggested enrolling him into a food clinic for autism children which wasn’t available in Malaysia at the time. The most well-known clinic then was in the United States but the closest was in Singapore and it will require a stay of at least a month in the clinic. Not only the treatment was rigorous but the cost was high and both my husband and I would have to take leave of absence from the office, which means we wouldn’t be paid, further straining our financial burden. Hence, we engaged our speech therapist who was working in a similar food clinic in a public hospital in KL which caters to recovering trauma/coma/stroke patients who lost their ability to chew and swallow food . He together with the EAP team developed a food tolerance programme which took a year to complete.

 

  1. What are your proudest achievements of your child?

Although it was hard work for the team, it was even harder for Khaleef to go through the year-long food tolerance programme. He was scared of a certain colour or taste of new food, he gagged a lot during this process and he cried a lot too. Many parents of autism would understand this as most of them can be very rigid and scared of changes. Khaleef finally took his first full bite of fried mee hoon at the age of 7. Our family, therapist, supervisor and speech therapist was more than overjoyed seeing him eat fried mee hoon, it was an extraordinary achievement. Since then, we have never stopped introducing him to new food within his tolerance. Now he eats a variety of food but we still have to slowly introduce him to vegetables and fruits. Only this month he started eating vegetables which were introduced in the form of spring rolls made by my mother, who was dedicated to supporting the programme with all sorts of menu.

 

  1. What does celebrating each success mean to you/to your child?

Khaleef is very receptive to positive reinforcement. Even hugs and kisses would be super rewarding to him. So celebrating success means a lot of positive verbal recognition coupled with hugs and kisses for Khaleef. We can see him smiling and feeling proud when we praise him. For us, even a small achievement of being able to sit at the dining table and have a meal with us was worthy of an Instagram post to tell the whole world. Of course, we would also share via all relevant whatsapp groups in case anybody missed the post.

 

  1. What are the strategies or recommendations that have been effective for your child’s progress?

Consistency is key to all the achievements in his life so far. We always discussed with our team on the current challenges that he is facing and worked together to develop a strategy. We will try it out for a good period depending on the severity of the challenge and if it doesn’t work then we revisit the strategy together and even seek support from the OT or ST.

 

  1. Can you share some words of encouragement for the families with autism out there?

Although the struggle is real and constant, take it one step at a time. Don’t look too far into the future. Focus on battles that we need to win rather than engaging in all the battles. Example, food tolerance is a battle we need to win but learning to tie his shoelaces is not. Follow the strategies constantly, and you shall achieve the results. Keep a positive attitude especially in the presence of your child because it does influence your child.

 

*Nora

*Nora is a mother to a 6 year-old boy with autism. 

  1. What are the challenges/ battles that your child is in?

*Kasim is in mainstream school in Year 1 – main challenge is for him to access the curriculum which is mainly catered for typical children.  It is very difficult to find a school that provides a school learning environment for kids on the spectrum.  Although there are a lot of inclusive schools now, there are hardly any which provide a school environment – mostly are centre based.  It is important for kids on the spectrum to feel and be surrounded in a school environment for their development.  

Though we have planned his school since he was 3, as kids grow there are always changes along the way .  We have to adapt and that’s the most difficult part to get your kid placed in a school.  Even for *Kasim, whom the specialists said is on the milder side of the spectrum, is still a big challenge for us.  

 

  1. What are your proudest achievements of your child?

Proudest achievement is when he could hold his pencil and draw independently!  Now he is just drawing all the time!

The other achievement is when he called me “mummy” independently when he first started joining EAP.

 

  1. What does celebrating each success mean to you/to your child?

Each success is important as it is a big achievement for *Kasim – to celebrate is important as it promotes some kind of excitement (even if he doesn’t show it sometimes but it promotes him to remember that it is positive).

Celebrating small successes are is more important than having to force a child to do anything.

 

  1. What are the strategies or recommendations that have been effective for your child’s progress?

Providing choices whilst controlling the choices given to him so that he knows that not everything is about work. He needs to know that there’s always playtime for him to relax. 

 

  1. Can you share some words of encouragement for the families with autism out there?

Parents should accept that the child is on the spectrum first – acceptance is key and parents shouldn’t worry too much about society’s or even family members’ perception towards our kids. We raise our kids in the best environment we can which is just love for the child. Having a happy child is key – happy child, happy parents.  

Most important is that we accept our child and try to improve from there. He/ she may not be at par with other kids of the same age but that’s the challenge we have to face in life and I believe God will reward us abundantly for all the hard work.

*Names of individuals have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals.

 

We hope this article sheds some light into the battles one with autism is facing as they too go through life. It is important to celebrate each and every step that they take, no matter big or small, as it honours the effort and fuels the next steps. Let this serve as a reminder that we are all trying our best to fight our own unique battles and not to take all the little successes achieved for granted!

Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri from all of us in EAP! 

For tips and strategies on how to prepare your child with autism for Hari Raya, check out  our previous blog article here

Click here if you’re looking for Raya kids activities to spend some quality time with your children and keep them occupied during this season of lockdown!

 

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[FEATURE ARTICLE} New Straits Time: Finding hope – A mother’s touching tale about her two autistic children https://autismmalaysia.com/2021/04/finding-hope-a-mothers-touching-tale-about-her-two-autistic-children/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=finding-hope-a-mothers-touching-tale-about-her-two-autistic-children Fri, 23 Apr 2021 07:41:12 +0000 https://autismmalaysia.com/?p=23763 WHEN Teoanna James brought her children to greet me one fine day at my office two years ago, I was touched deeply. “My children and...

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WHEN Teoanna James brought her children to greet me one fine day at my office two years ago, I was touched deeply. “My children and I just wanted to drop by and give you a hug!” she’d said over the phone. The smiling lanky woman with four children in tow greeted me at the lobby and gave me a tight hug.

“Abrianna wants to give you something,” she told me, nodding at her eldest daughter who was clutching at her ears and looking at me with a slight frown. “Go ahead,” she urged her daughter gently. Gingerly removing her hands off her ears, the then-13-year-old snatched the rose off her mother’s pre-offered hand and gave it to me. “We love you, Aunty Elena,” chimed her second daughter Alyssa, smiling broadly. Her two sons said nothing, but giggled in delight as I reached and gave them all a hug.

My friend knew I was having a bad day and she came with children in tow, to cheer me up.

I’ve known Teoanna through a local gym that we’d both attended three years ago. I admired the sporty woman for her ability to fly through the workouts barely breaking a sweat while I huffed my way through the 45-minute sessions. Teoanna also worked part-time at the gym and I slowly grew accustomed to seeing her smiling face whenever I went for my classes.

Over time, I got to know that she was a mother of four, and as we got closer through the years, she let slip that two of her children were on the autistic spectrum. Eventually, I became aware that there were challenges when she finally had to give up her part-time job.

“I need to be at home with the kids,” Teoanna explained, eyes lined with worry. Her daughter, she told me, had been regressing and her son hadn’t been showing any improvements either. “It’s tough,” she confessed.

I never realised the challenges she must’ve been going through. I felt guilty because I’d never asked much about her family. I learnt that day that her eldest daughter was on the spectrum, high functioning but battling a severe anxiety disorder while her second son Aaryn was also diagnosed with autism but on the severe end of the spectrum where a high level of support was needed for him.

The word autism means different things to different people. To some, it conjures an image of the socially awkward eccentric who, besotted by a narrow set of interests, eschews small-talk and large gatherings in favour of solitude.

To others, it’s a profoundly life-limiting disorder that consumes every waking hour of a family’s life; a medical disability that entails unpredictable bouts of aggression resulting in torn upholstery, cracked skulls and savage bites.

Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterised by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviours, speech and nonverbal communication. According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, autism affects an estimated 1one in 54 children in the United States today.

There isn’t any official registry for the number of individuals diagnosed with autism in Malaysia. However, the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that 1one in 160 children has ASD and its prevalence appears to be increasing globally. It’s estimated that around 1 one per cent of the world’s population is impacted by autism.

While the subject of autism is better known today than maybe years ago, it still remains a subject that poses more questions than answers. No two children with autism are alike. The term Autism Spectrum Disorder reflects that fact.

Even though each individual with autism has difficulties in the areas of communication, socialisation, and flexibility of thought, each has a unique combination of characteristics and so may seem quite different.

The ways in which people with autism learn, think and problem-solve can range from highly skilled to severely challenged. Some people with ASD may require significant support in their daily lives, while others may need less support and, in some cases, live entirely independently.

When I finally met her children that day in my office, it really hit me that Teoanna had her challenges cut out for her. Abrianna constantly clutched at her ears, her face drawn in discomfort while her 12-year-old brother could only articulate in sounds. Teoanna wasn’t fazed by the stares her family was eliciting. “I’m used to it now,” she confided with a shrug of her shoulders and a smile.

Over the next two years, we hardly met up. But I followed Teoanna avidly on social media where she documented her journey living with her family of five. “Abrianna was obviously cranky today”, she wrote one time. “Hitting/whacking me and continuously rubbing her eyes. She was under some form of stress. It wasn’t until I got home that I figured out the reason why. A quick Panadol and Abrianna was much better, dancing and singing again. I write this with much pain in my heart that I was SLOW to bring relief to my child. I hate autism. Wish everyday it could be me with autism and not my children. Everyday.”

The pain is real for parents with children on the Autism spectrum. Parents with autistic children go through insurmountable challenges daily. This host of challenges includes the inability of the children to fend for themselves, the child’s educational challenges and the stigma and stereotypes that come with having a child with ASD.

Stigma and stereotyping are very common issues for parents with children with autism.

The mere fact that parents have a child with that condition is a very hard thing to accept and the situation is made worse when society, instead of giving a helping hand, stigmatises you. The rate of autism in all regions of the world is high and the lack of understanding has a tremendous impact on the individuals, their families and communities.

Teoanna had another story to relate. One night, she and her children went on an unplanned trip to the local store. “Abrianna sometimes closes her eyes to regulate lights and sounds, which led her to accidentally knock down a child-sized mannequin,” she wrote. The mannequin fell on an adult man who managed to protect himself at the nick of time and save the mannequin from hitting the floor.

Outraged at Abrianna’s clumsiness, the man’s wife scolded her daughter severely.

“I turned in time to see the mannequin fall, the awesome catch by the man, his angry wife and my dancing autistic daughter,” she wrote, continuing: “I then looked at the wife and said ‘special child’. Her face showed no reaction and she walked away with her husband and toddler in hand.”

April 2 is World Autism Awareness Day, so designated by the United Nations, and started in 2008 to highlight the need to help improve the quality of life of children, adults and their families affected by autism.

For every parent like Teoanna and her husband Samuel, who have children on the spectrum, the journey is often fraught with challenges, endless research, trials and errors as they constantly seek out ways to reach out to their child.

For a child with autism, the feeling of isolation can be overwhelming when one cannot communicate or understand one’s surroundings. It’s a journey that both parent and child take together to get past the murky isolated world that autism imposes.

 

DIFFICULT BEGINNINGS

“It’s been tough,” Teoanna admits over a recent Zoom call. With the pandemic hanging in the air, we’d agreed that it would be safer (for the sake of her children) to conduct our interview online. It’s around 9nine at night, and she looks tired. “The kids have gone to bed,” she says with a relieved sigh, before admitting that they could be quite a handful.

She gets straight to the subject. “I’m ready to talk,” she says vehemently. “I’m so grateful that you’re willing to write about this. If my journey could help someone else who’s facing the same challenges, I’d be very happy.”

Abrianna was born in 2006 and for the longest time, her symptoms went largely undetected. “I was a working parent back then,” she explains. She was a full-time graphic designer at a private hospital. “I really loved my job and was drawing a good salary at that time,” she recalls wistfully.

Both husband and wife worked, and Abrianna was sent to her in-laws’ place during the day. “My husband and I were typical young working parents at that time and we didn’t care to think or look out for her growth milestones,” she admits candidly. “You know how they say milestones are important? These days, parents are more cognisant of that and they keep track of their child’s milestones.”

They only picked up their daughter in the evening and had time for a quick cuddle before going to bed. “We only saw her at night, and the next day it was back to the routine of sending her to my in-laws again.” There were behavioural issues that showed up when she was still an infant. “She never cried at all,” recalls Teoanna.

 

As she grew older, she was still unable to verbalise her requests, could only focus on one thing at the time and wouldn’t respond when her name was called. But she was high-functioning, points out Teoanna, because she had mastered the basic concepts of cooperation and imitation. Abrianna had basic early learner skills where she could get by under the pretext of “oh my child is just shy!” or “my child is a slow learner.”

“We had plenty of excuses for her but it came to head when she was enrolled in kindergarten,” says Teoanna, adding simply with glistening eyes: “Our journey began then.” It finally hit the young mother when she arrived at the kindergarten to find her 4-year-old daughter clutching and bouncing off her teacher’s leg with grunting sounds amidst the stares of other parents and children milling around. “Look, your child has autism,” the teacher finally told Teoanna.

She didn’t know what “autism” was. “I refused to be educated,” she admits, adding: “Instead, I wanted to roll under a stone and just die. I couldn’t deal with it.”

A visit to the paediatrician confirmed the diagnosis. What’s worse, the doctor also diagnosed her son, born two years after Abrianna, to be on the autistic spectrum as well.

Just like Abrianna, Aaryn was a baby who never cried. “We didn’t know that Aaryn was autistic either. We just thought he was such a good baby who just drank his milk and slept at nights.”

The second blow was hard. “That’s when the depression sunk in,” she reveals softly. “For a while, my marriage was strained. Samuel (her husband) threw himself into his work while I went deeper into depression. I had three toddlers by then. Two were diagnosed with autism and my third child, Alyssa was also showing the same symptoms despite being normal. Because my older two were so quiet, she went quiet too.”

Things didn’t get any better. Abrianna was high-functioning but suffered anxiety attacks that led her to becoming violent. When you have children on the spectrum, says Teoanna, you’d have to explain to them exactly what their day was going to be like. “I didn’t know that then.”

She went to her local store to buy just one thing, and that trip became traumatic for both her son and her entire family. Aaryn couldn’t get a shopping trolley and he had a meltdown in public.

“He was on the floor, kicking me and screaming in full view of other shoppers. People were wondering why I didn’t correct my 6-year-old son. The security guards came running and wondering why I wasn’t doing anything to control Aaryn. Then just as suddenly, he caught sight of an empty trolley in the corner and the meltdown ended just like that. I realised that all he really wanted was a trolley and after that, he was fine.”

On another occasion, Teoanna was driving past the playground and Abrianna started pulling her hair and grabbing her by the neck. “I didn’t know that she wanted to go to the playground. She couldn’t vocalise it and started showing her frustration by grabbing me while I was driving!”

The daunting, never-enough demands of autism have remained inelastic, bottomless to both Teoanna and her husband. Not knowing what really works or helps make identifying the inessentials all but impossible. “You try everything and nothing seems to help,” she says softly, wiping a tear.

HEAVEN-SENT HELP

“I felt like I failed as a mother,” confesses Teoanna, her voice shaky. “I didn’t know how to communicate with them and I didn’t understand them.” What’s worse, she had another child who needed her love and care, but Teoanna was so focussed on caring for the older two who demanded her attention and time. “… and the older two were driving me nuts!” she exclaims.

She’d reached the end of her tether. No kindergarten would accept Aaryn because he couldn’t sit still long enough in class. “We kept trying to push Abrianna into the normal school system. That was a huge mistake.”

To compound it further, she’d already stopped working and finances were tight. “Living on a single income with children who need constant supervision and help can be draining,” she admits, adding: “They needed help and I desperately needed to find the help.”

And help came, she says firmly — from God. “I broke down in church one day and the first person to pray for me happened to be Jochebed Isaacs, the director of Early Autism Project (EAP), a pioneer of the provision of Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) treatment in Malaysia.”

Applied behavioural analysis (ABA) is a type of therapy that can improve social, communication, and learning skills through positive reinforcement. Many experts consider ABA to be the gold-standard treatment for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or other developmental conditions. The therapy broke down every quotidian action into tiny, learnable steps, acquired through memorisation and endless repetition.

“Children with autism resort to bad behaviour in order to communicate. What you need to do is to direct their energy to positive behaviour, using language. They have the capacity to use language but they need guidance,” explains Teoanna.

EAP offered scholarships for both her children, and in the months that followed, Teoanna and her family spent hours with therapists sharing their fears and frustrations, and swapping treatment ideas, comforted to be going through each step with someone experienced. Her children, especially Abrianna, progressed. By then, Teoanna had her youngest son, Aephraim.

“When my older two were younger,” Teoanna recalls, “I remember only darkness, only fear. I was like a zombie doing everything I could to help them except to love them. EAP helped shine a light into that dark abyss.”

 

Without question, parents play an essential role in the ABA process. While a therapist is responsible for teaching new skills, a child with autism only visits with their therapist for a small portion of their daily lives. Alternatively, these children spend many hours with their parents, when their new behaviours and skills need to be reinforced and supported.

“As a mum, you learn the ABA techniques and become the ‘therapist’ at home. This is the best part of the EAP programme. The mum steps in as a therapist and you learn to do this with your child. That way, the quality of life at home increases,” she shares. “I’m living proof that a mum can take on the role as a therapist and run it at her home.”

Thanks to the techniques, the family celebrates every small milestone achieved by the children. “It’s a basically a reward system that encourages the child to behave and respond in the right way. And giving them that sense of accomplishment and empowering them to determine their own schedules,” she explains.

It was a huge relief. Soon Abrianna began to use language to communicate, albeit inventively at first. But there were hiccups. One time when Abrianna had a meltdown when her youngest son didn’t go to school, Teoanna was baffled. What had she misunderstood? Why were her tantrums so frustratingly arbitrary?

Suddenly, Abrianna exclaimed: “Amma, Ephraim go to school! Ephraim go to school!” It hit her: Abrianna watches everyone else’s schedules too. So if anyone in the family had a change in their routine, it has to be noted in her eldest daughter’s schedule or it would set her off too.

Adds Teoanna adds: “It was like, ‘Oh, my god, how many times have I thought her tantrums were random when they weren’t random at all?’ I felt so bad for her. What other things had she wanted to tell me but couldn’t?”

The journey is still fraught with obstacles, but Teoanna has found a way to reach out to both Abrianna and Aaryn, as well as her younger two children who aren’t on the spectrum. “I’m a better mum now,” she confesses, wistfully. “In fact, my younger daughter recently told me that I’m a much better mother these days because I have time for her.”

Adds Teoanna adds: “I learnt that I need to love all my children in the present. Not just pray for their future. Be present right here and now and love them unconditionally.”

She’s clearly unafraid to be candid. “I want parents with autistic children to know they’re not alone. I know the drill and understand the pain. We have to work even harder to ensure that our children learn all they can to reach their potential,” says Teoanna, smiling gently.

Adding, she concludes: “Families like ours need to open up about the reality of our lives if we’re ever going to get the sort of support we need and if the world is ever going to make a place for our children — while they’re still children and when they become adults.”

elena@nst.com.my

To learn about Early Autism Project Malaysia, go to www.autismmalaysia.com.

The post [FEATURE ARTICLE} New Straits Time: Finding hope – A mother’s touching tale about her two autistic children first appeared on Early Autism Project Malaysia.

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