089: How I Handled A Devastating Piece of News?

A Terrible News

If you receive a devastating piece of news from the school, what would you have done?

Several weeks ago, on the day that my sixteen-year-old son, Cairn, was supposed to attend his school graduation ceremony, he was abruptly removed from the list of graduates! Instead of receiving his certificate in robes like the other graduating students on the stage, Cairn was told to sit among the audience to applaud the achievement of others.

Out of concern for Cairn’s feelings, his class teacher kept a close watch on him and assured me that he was unaffected. I was told Cairn cheered enthusiastically for his friends who went up the stage.

“Class of 2020” (William WK Tan’s Photography)

When Cairn arrived home from school, all I got from him was a sealed envelope containing a letter that said his application for admission to a senior high school for students with special needs was unsuccessful.

The rejection letter carried big implications. Cairn would remain in his current high school, and make another attempt for admission to the senior high school the next year. But if he were to be rejected again, his special school education would end the next year in the current school as eighteen is the cut-off age. That is tantamount to an off-the-cliff ending to his adult education.

“Off the Cliff” (WordPress Photography)

The biggest headache at hand was we were clueless about the reasons for rejection. By all measures, Cairn had always been held as an exemplary student in his junior high school. We were under the impression from both schools that Cairn would certainly be accepted because he had met all the stipulated requirements. Without knowing the reason, we would not know what could be done to improve his chances in the next shot.

I felt indignant for my son as unpleasant memories surfaced. All the these years, Cairn had put in so much effort in everything he did. But not all his efforts paid off. For instance, last year, Cairn won his first swimming competition, but was bizarrely disqualified. The ridiculous reason was he swam a lot faster than the timing submitted before the race. In the spirit of participation, we cast aside our disappointment and did not pursue the matter further. But this time, the issue is more than dealing with disappointment, Cairn couldn’t graduate despite his good performance at school!

“Touching The Wall First!” (William WK Tan’s Photography)

I lamented to my wife, “Just when we thought that everything is moving smoothly for him at last, this has to happen!”

My wife was visibly upset as she spoke, “They gave us hope, then took it away! ”

I told her with resolve, “I’ll settle this.”

“An angry fist” (William WK Tan’s Photography)

Take Thoughtful Actions

I thought hard about the content of my appeal letter to the school principal of the new school. After I drafted the letter, I showed to my wife and fourteen-year-old son, Conan.

My wife seemed pleased that I had backed up my appeal with strong arguments and proof. Conan, however, remarked, “Dad, shouldn’t you preface with some niceties? After all, you want to work with the new principal.”

I took his advice and edited the letter accordingly.

Dear Principal,

Sorry to take up your precious time. I need to consult you regarding school admission criteria. I am also writing to appeal for my son, Cairn Tan on the following grounds:

Cairn has met the two key criteria for school admission: the WPLN ( Work Place Literacy and Numeracy) Assessment and the independent traveling requirement.

Moreover, Cairn was graded “excellent” in Housekeeping. In addition, Cairn has actual retail work experience. On a daily basis, he has been operating his snack vending machine for nearly a year since December 2019. The operation includes the checking and replenishment of stock; and changing the prices and items. Cairn can do all that independently.

“Tending To A Vending Machine” (William WK Tan’s Photography)

Cairn also knows how to key in data of inventories and keep account of daily sales in excel spreadsheets. In addition, he is also responsible for proper packing of goods ordered from our e-commerce website, for delivery to respective customers.

“Packaging his merchandise” (William WK Tan’s Photography)

Recently, we even discovered that Cairn can memorize the value of pi up to 20 places, and do square roots and indices of two and three-digit numbers mentally! That shows the boy has much more potential than we imagined!

“Solve square roots of 4 digit-figures mentally” (William WK Tan’s Photography)

To prepare Cairn for the transition, we have also trained Cairn to travel independently to and from your school. See attached pictures.

“Taking a bus ride myself” (William WK Tan’s Photography)

During the admission interview, we were told for certain that Cairn will be offered a place in your school because he meets the admission requirements. The only purpose of the interview was to find out which vocation is most suited for him.

Even his current school was under the impression that Cairn will be moving on. That was why they had him participate in the graduation ceremony rehearsal. But only today, we were told that he had been taken off the list of graduates and denied his spot at the graduation ceremony. Despite working hard to qualify for your vocational programme, Cairn will be retained for another year!

As a parent yourself, can you imagine the big disappointment to our family to receive the rejection letter? As the reason for rejection is not stated, I have no choice but to seek help directly from you.

“Help me!” (WordPress Photography)

I believe that as a respected school leader, you will help us in this matter. We have been looking forward to Cairn starting a new chapter at your school. And we are very supportive of school efforts and are most willing to work with you. Please call me to arrange a meeting ASAP.

William WK Tan

Shortly after, the principal replied with warm and encouraging words, expressing delight to receive updated information about Cairn’s ability to travel independently. A week later, the good news came. Cairn’s appeal was successful!

Immediately, I wrote another heartfelt letter to Cairn’s current school’s principal. A few days later, Cairn’s class teacher called me up cheerily to inform me of the school principal’s decision to arrange a make-up graduation ceremony for Cairn! I felt so thankful to the school leaders and teachers in both schools.

All things ended well at last.

“I have graduated!” (William WK Tan’s Photography)

Parents, what’s your takeaway from this story? If anything, I hope you pick up the following steps about how to be an effective advocate for your child:

Be An Effective Advocate For Your Child

Step 1: Do not get emotional. Think about the real issue you want to solve.

Step 2: Know your child’s rights and strengths.

Step 3: Organise your thoughts with supporting evidence.

Step 4: Seek support from stakeholders.

Step 5: Show appreciation and a strong intention to work together.

Children with special needs are often incapable of speaking up for themselves. They need their parents to be their voice. Therefore, we need to learn how to speak up on their behalf, rationally and passionately. Don’t you agree?

“Be An Effective Voice!” (WordPress Photography)

William WK Tan

28 December 2020

087: How You Can Unleash Your Child’s Potential?

It’s hard to identify our preconceptions, let alone breaking them because most parents believe that they are always acting in the best interest of their children. On hindsight, however, we would probably admit that there were occasions when we could have made better decisions.

Using a personal story, here are four steps to breaking preconceptions that could unleash the potential of your children:

(1) Uncover your preconceptions

(2) Re-discover what your child can do

(3) Start a new learning journey

(4) Walk the journey together

Uncover Your Preconceptions

“Could I have held back my son’s development?” This startling realisation dawned on me after my sixteen-year-old autistic son, Cairn, demonstrated his Maths prowess at school recently by doing square roots of 3-4-digit figures mentally two weeks ago (See 85: “How Far Can This Child Go”). In retrospect, I had stopped teaching Cairn Maths in the last three years.

“Cairn tries to solve square root mentally” (Photography by Ms. Lim WT)

The realisation made me uncover two preconceptions— beliefs that had hindered me from pursuing my son’s abilities in certain areas further.

Preconception One:

Cairn should focus on developing independent-living skills and enhance his employability, even if it means disregarding his strengths and interest.

“Cairn packs the inventory for his e-store.” (Photography by William WK Tan)

Preconception Two:

Cairn should learn only English since he is already facing daunting obstacles in language acquisition due to his poor receptive and expressive communication ability.

“Cairn’s recent English homework.” (Photography by William WK Tan)

Do not get me wrong. Of course it is good to develop independent-living and enhance employability. And it is also prudent not to impose the burden of learning an additional language on the child when he is already struggling with learning one. The bigger question is, even as we work on these priorities, are we compromising on their strengths and interests?

Re-Discover What Your Child Can Do

I deliberated on the things Cairn can learn by utilising his strength in Maths—coding, computer literacy skills, memory and thinking techniques, and high school Maths topics such as algebraic equations and calculus. The more I thought about it, the more possibilities I could see. I felt a renewed sense of excitement, a feeling that’s often lost in parents when their children get older.

Out of curiosity, I tested Cairn’s memory using the value of PI. Cairn memorised up to 10 decimal places (3. 1415926535 ) effortlessly and could recall every digit correctly even after 2 weeks. His memory astounded me!

“Cairn writes the value of Pi” (Photography by William WK Tan)

Then I thought to myself, “Does Cairn know how to read and write any Chinese word?”

I turned to Cairn and asked, “Do you know the numbers from one to ten in Chinese?”

Without hesitation, Cairn recited and wrote the Chinese character of each numeral. Those were the characters I taught him more than ten years ago!

Start A New Learning Journey

“Would you be willing to do something for your brother for just fifteen minutes every day?”

That’s the question I asked Conan, Cairn’s fourteen-year-old younger brother, after I showed him the Chinese words that Cairn could remember. Conan started giving Cairn 15 minute-lesson from the next day.

“Conan guided Cairn to write Chinese Characters.”(Photography by William WK Tan)

“Now you copy the word, “thousand” which is “qiān” (千) in Chinese three more times,” Conan was telling Cairn to learn from copying the words that he didn’t know.

“Next, do you know the Chinese word for ten thousand?” Conan asked.

Cairn replied, “wàn“(万)!”

He had actually stolen a quick glance at the book and copied the character.

“You ah!”, Conan laughed and moved on to teaching Cairn more words. Towards the end of the session, Conan was praising and hugging his brother, who was also beaming a wide smile.

Conan told me his observations, “Cairn can read and write many words like “dà” (大-big) xiǎo” (小-small), shàng (上-up), xià (下-down) even before I taught him.”

“Words that Cairn recently learnt.” (Photography by William WK Tan)

Walk The Journey Together

“I really appreciate that you are spending time with your brother like this. It takes commitment to do it daily. Thank you!” I told him.

I also told Conan my observations of his lesson, “I like how you motivate your brother with praises and encouragement. You didn’t reprimand him when he copied the word. You just moved on. That kept his motivation going!”

Conan looked pleased.

“There is, however, no need to keep testing him with questions. It can become stressful. Read to him more. You can tailor the lesson in any way to match his liking.”

Conan remarked with a chuckle, “He obviously likes to copy.”

“Cairn enjoys writing Chinese Characters” (Photography by William WK Tan)

Two weeks had lapsed since we embarked on this new endeavour. It has become a routine for Cairn to take the Chinese textbook and his Writing practise book to the sofa after dinner, where Conan would start working with him.

I have no idea how long Conan can sustain his efforts. One month; three months or a year? But I hope it would be long enough for Conan to realise that he benefits as much, if not, more than Cairn from walking this journey together with his brother.

“Rainbow” (WordPress Free Picture)

I hope our endeavour offers you some useful insights to how you can unleash the potential of your children.

William W K Tan

085 How Far Can This Child Go?

Everyone is good at something!

This is a real story about how a teacher uncovers the extent of a child’s potential out of a genuine curiosity to find out “how far can this child go?”.

Two days ago, Ms. Lim, a special needs school teacher, decided to tell her class an important message, “Remember this—everyone has something that he or she is good at.”

Knowing that Cairn, a 16 year-old student, who has moderate autism and speech difficulties, is good at simple Maths calculations, she asked the boy to perform an addition of two six-digit figures in front of the class.

Ms Lim was astounded to hear the boy saying out the correct answer before her fingers even finished keying in the numbers on the calculator!

Testing the child’s limits!

Encouraged by Cairn’s mental calculation prowess, Ms Lim asked Cairn to solve subtraction, multiplication and even division of six-digit figures. The boy answered every question correctly without pen and paper!

Testing the child’s limit, Ms. Lim wrote 2 to the power of 3.

The whole class watched the question in bewilderment, “What’s that? Miss Lim, what’s that? How come we had never see this kind of question before?”

Before she could explain, Cairn answered, “Eight!”

Surprised, Ms Lim thought to herself quietly, “Wow! Cairn knows how to do indices! Let’s test him a little more!”

Randomly, she wrote 16 to the power of 3 on the whiteboard, half thinking that he is unlikely to solve it mentally, even if he knows indices.

To solve this question mentally, one has to perform a series of calculations on the head:

(Step 1) 16 x 6= 96;

(Step 2) 16 x10 = 160;

(Step 3) then add 96 and 160 = 256;

(Step 4) 256 x 6 = 1536 which involves several carry-overs;

(Step 5) 256 x 10 = 2560;

(Final Step 6) 1536 + 2560 = 4096.

Cairn took a while to think as the class waited in silence. The moment he said the correct answer, the whole class erupted in applause. Classmates went up and gave Cairn a huge pat on his shoulder and congratulated him after he could answer all of the questions! The students were saying to him like they were talking to their younger brother, “Ah boy!!!! Good ah!” Their euphoria also attracted teachers from other classes to see what Cairn was doing!

Keep Searching What Your Strength Is

Cairn’s spectacular performance had many students started thinking, “How come he is so good at math? What am I good at then?”

This was a great teaching moment. Ms Lim took the opportunity to encourage the class, “Like I said, everyone is good at something. All you have to do is to keep searching what your strength is!”

The next day, Ms Lim took a video of how Cairn learns and performs square root for the first time.

Looking at the examples she created for Cairn on the whiteboard, I could tell how much she believed in my boy’s ability to figure the logic on his own. All this while, I am fully aware of Cairn’s strength in Maths, but unlike Ms Lim, I had stopped asking, “how much more can his strength be expanded?”, after I had switched my focus to work on enhancing his employability.

Do not underestimate the intrinsic value of learning

That’s the problem with most typical Singaporean parents. In the face of practical concerns, we would encourage children to learn only what is of use, instead of what is in their interest and strength.

I do not think that I am wrong to focus on my son’s employability, but I had unwittingly neglected on expanding his strengths further. Yet, I have kept on polishing my writing and photography skills as a hobby in recent years. And I know how much personal satisfaction I had gained from doing such endeavours.

Although I do not know how Cairn’s strength in mental calculation can be translated to employable skills, I now know the intrinsic value in encouraging Cairn to pursue a subject or area where his interest lies. Can you feel the enthusiasm that overflows from his back when he is trying to learn a Maths concept on his own?

William

p.s: Special thanks to Ms Lim Wan Ting for your passion and commitment in discovering children’s potential! And for being such a wonderful teacher!

Ms Lim is not the only wonderful teacher I know. Over these years at Grace Orchard School (GOS), Cairn had encountered many excellent Teachers and therapists who had gone the extra mile to help him. Thank you, GOS principal, Mrs Goh and your team!

#specialneeds#autism#strengths#sgenable#discoverstrengthe#teachers#greatteacher#

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084 Getting Started With An Online Store

“Do You Expect Apples To Fall From The Sky?”

After weeks of preparation, the newly set-up online store was at last ready for business. I didn’t tell anyone except a friend, ET who has been helping her family business go online in the midst of COVID-19. I sought ET’s advice,

“Should I promote to my friends about my newly set-up online store? I am hesitant.”

ET replied in humour, “Do you expect apples to fall from the sky? Don’t be shy! Send to all your friends! You need to build a customer base!”

Her advice prompted me to send to you a promotion message out to all my contacts

Is Your Business Sustainable?

Fifteen minutes later, a friend EL texted me, “Bought! 😊”. That’s all she said.

Two hours later, my cousin ST made a purchase. ST told me, “I hope your online business can be sustainable. I paid less than $9 after discounts. I am concerned over how little Cairn can earn after all the discounts and other costs.”

I felt warmed by his concern. ST knew that the online store is an endeavour to help my sixteen-year-old son, Cairn, who is moderately autistic. In two years’ time, Cairn will complete his special-school education and has to look for work, that is, if he can find employment. I am not leaving that to chance. Certainly I do not want him to just stay home in his adult life. I am determined that my son gets ample opportunities to lead a productive life.

Over the next three days, I received four more orders— two orders came from friends whom I had not met for years, and one was from my younger brother. Surprisingly, one order came from an acquaintance who bought without saying a word. I felt thankful! All in all, we received six orders and sold 30 packets of potato chips!

The Work Behind The Scene

In excitement, I retrieved the orders as soon as I received them. But I waited patiently for Cairn to return home from school to do the job together.

We had to package everything within certain size requirements to avoid hefty shipping cost. It was more difficult than I had imagined. Luckily, our domestic helper was dexterous enough to pack the potato chips nicely.  Then she taught Cairn to complete the packaging using bubble wraps. As always, Cairn did his work meticulously.

There was one thing that Cairn could do entirely on his own. He cut the mailing labels to appropriate size before pasting them on each parcel.

The next thing was to wait for the delivery company, Ninjavan to pick up the parcels from our home and deliver to the respective customers. But the Ninjavan delivery man didn’t turn up as scheduled. I was told that it’s probably due to the sharp increase in delivery requests during the nationwide partial lockdown, euphemistically known as the Circuit Breaker in Singapore.

I couldn’t wait. The next day, Cairn and I took a bus to the nearest shopping mall, and deposited the parcels in a collection machine stationed there. Cairn learnt to operate the touchscreen quickly and was able to deposit the parcels independently.  Cairn is a half a head taller than me, which proves to be very useful in certain situations.

The Rewarding Moments

The most rewarding moment was to know that our work brought joy to others.  Cairn’s 12 year-old cousin texted us excitedly when she received the parcel. She behaved as if she had  received a gift.

I didn’t quite understand her euphoric reaction until my friend SK told me, “It’s so beautifully wrapped like a present!”. Another friend, PY also wrote in her review, “Very well-packaged! No damage at all. Immediately, I opened a pack and enjoyed it! Yummy!”  I read all these reviews to Cairn, which made him beam confidently in broad smiles.

Now that we are left with only 2 orders, I wonder when they will be sold out. When the next two orders arrive, I will let Cairn do everything as much as possible. That’ll be another great milestone!

I wonder who our final two customers will be. Will it be you?

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William Tan

3 July 2020

Afterword

By the time you read this article, the truffle potato chips may be sold out. No worries. Here is one other thing you can do to encourage us.

Click “like” on the heart button, and enter “View Shop” to follow us for future product updates.

I am now sourcing for quality products at better prices. And I am eager to find good “lobang”, a Singlish word that means “good bargains”. Let me know if you know of any good products or you have interesting ideas. I’ve got to make this business work!

Updates as at 04/07/2020 11:00.

At the requests of some very warm-hearted friends who are eager to give their support, I have just uploaded another product, “Best-Selling Mogu Mogu Grape Juice Drink With Nata de Coco”. Check out the link below if you are interested:

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081 How To Discover Joy From Tending To A Vending Machine?

How does an autistic child discover joy from work?

About two weeks ago, I received a picture sent from an unknown phone number. The picture depicted a hand holding two packets of snacks high up, next to a note I wrote and pasted on the vending machine — “Party Snacks at $2 only. We just wanted to bring you more smiles!” These party snacks were specially packed by Cairn to sell snacks in bundle at a discounted price to the residents.

Beneath that picture, the sender wrote me an encouraging message, “Keep up the good work!! The packs really brought more smiles to my family.”

Screenshot with consent from customer.

I was moved. A customer reciprocated the efforts that we have put in and wrote us a feedback.

Excitedly, I shared the customer’s feedback with my family – “People appreciate what we are doing.”

I praised my sixteen-year old son, Cairn, who has been running the snacks machine since three months ago, “You are doing a great job! Your work brings smiles to others.”

Cairn grinned at my compliments, but it was unclear to me how much an autistic boy can comprehend the significance. Cairn understands well that his job is to refill snacks and collect money. But does he know the higher purpose, that is, to bring convenience and joy to others?

I hope my son discovers the joy of working. But it seemed like a tall order to explain that to an autistic person with limited verbal ability.

An Opportunity To See A Happy Customer 

Shortly, another learning opportunity arose when Cairn and I chanced upon a little boy in orange pyjamas one evening. Pointing at a snicker bar in the vending machine, the boy pleaded repeatedly to his care-giver and domestic helper, “Aunty, I want that chocolate!”

Picture taken of the boy and his domestic helper.

I pulled Cairn aside and said, “Don’t go too near. Let your customer buy first.”

Cairn watched on quietly as the domestic helper pocketed out some coins and inserted into the machine. The boy picked up a bar of chocolate in jubilation. I asked Cairn, “What did the boy buy?”

“Snicker!” A quick and confident reply ensued.

“And how does the boy feel?” I asked.

Cairn smiled and replied, “The boy feels happy!”

“Why?” I probed further.

“The boy feels happy because he eats chocolate!” Cairn explained. The boy had un-wrapped his snicker and was munching away happily!

I nodded approvingly, “Yes, you are right.” I continued, “You see? You make people happy by refilling the snacks for them. Good job!”

Cairn’s grin grew wider.

A Close Encounter With A Customer

Two days ago, a man in his thirties approached us most unexpectedly as when we were about to refill the machine. He said, “I wanted to tell you…”

I was half-expecting him to say something like “the snacks did not drop the previous time I bought”. I hear that kind of complaint occasionally.

That kind of problems were largely solved after I provided my mobile number as the customer service hotline on the machine. I remembered how pleasantly surprised a sweet-looking lady was to find her problem solved shortly after she texted me at night.

Screenshot with consent from customer.

Instead, the man said,“… You are doing a great job!”

Surprised, I could only reply with a “Thank you” and became tongue-tied. Receiving compliments from customers in text messages is nothing new, but it felt different hearing such encouraging words in person.

The man said with a chuckle, “You kept improving the selection of snacks. I really liked that Hainanese Chicken Rice Mamee Noodle you recommended in the machine! The taste is so authentic that I took a picture and shared with my friends.”

Source: https://mothership.sg/2019/08/hainanese-chicken-rice-mamee-where-to-buy/

I said “Thank you” profusely. The man probably thought that I was not good with words, as he had no idea the emotion stirring in me. Cairn probably felt it. He was standing next to me, grinning even wider than ever. He couldn’t say in words but he understood.

Gradually, Cairn is getting the idea that he is doing a happy business. It brings great joy to my family to see the excitement on his face as Carin collects and count his daily earnings, though meagre at this stage. Cairn would meticulously stacks the coins and adds up the sum.

Cairn counts his daily earnings.

Thoughts on moving forward

I have received several queries about setting up the vending business.

Let me be upfront, it costs me only SGD$5000 to get started, that’s all. You may spend more, up to SGD$10K if you chose newer and more sophisticated models of vending machine. The real challenge is not the money involved, but the real work behind — the business set-up, the types of machine, the sourcing of merchandise, the placement of machine, and the methods to improve sales and so forth. All that takes a lot of time and energy, and I can imagine people giving up easily. But looking at how Cairn has flourished, it is worth all the effort I have put in.

What I need to do next is to improve the earning yield of the vending machine and increase the number of machines for my son. One day, I hope Cairn can operate multiple machines in the neighbourhood and earn his own keep. It is important that my son, like any other person in the society, leads a productive and fulfilling life.

https://www.timeout.com/tokyo/news/

I hope to help others too. That’s why I had shared the five principles of job-creation in the previous post. Helping more families will spur me to look out for more locations, more machines and create more job opportunities for the disadvantaged ones in the society is a meaningful thing to do. And I envision that it would be beneficial for Cairn and other children in disadvantaged situations to form a closely-knitted network where families help each other to improve their children’s livelihood. And this is where I can truly apply my coaching skills and know-how as an education consultant.

So, if you are asking me questions on behalf of a friend with a child with disabilities, get your friend to contact me directly. But if you are asking just out of personal interest, please be patient to read and learn more from my blogs.

WordPress Free Photo Library

With the COVID-19 pandemic raging across the world now, we are grateful to all the personnel working tirelessly at the front line to keep us safe. For me, I stay focus on simple things that brings joy to me and my family. I hope you are doing the same too. Take good care, everyone! For ourselves and others!

William W K Tan

28 March 2020

080 The Untold Story: How To Help My Son Earn His Own Keep?

I did not tell the full story behind my absence from blogging in the previous few months. Something else had kept me busy. A friend HP who knew the insider story, asked, “Why didn’t you write about your vending machine endeavour for your son?”

That is indeed the biggest story I have yet to tell. Simply told, it’s a story about a father who bought a snack vending machine for his adolescent autistic son in the hope that he will be able to earn his own keep one day. 

The big question is, did things work out just like the way the father had imagined?

Bringing the family together on a mission 

Originally, I had my eyes on buying two vending machines. After some negotiations, I went ahead with only one. And my proposal for machine placement was timely approved just a few days before Christmas day last year. It became a Christmas day gift.

Source: My son’s snack machine.

In the presence of my wife and children, I pointed to the machine and said to my elder son excitedly, “Cairn, this is your machine. You are now the owner! And you have a job to do!”

We changed Kyan’s name last year to “Cairn”, pronounced as “can”– another story that I might tell on a separate occasion. 

Then, turning to my younger son, Conan, I said, “The machine is your brother’s. He will have to learn how to run the daily operation like replenishing the snacks and so on. But he cannot run the business alone. Your brother needs you. So do I.”

A baffled expression surfaced on Conan’s face as he wondered what his old man had up his sleeves this time. 

I explained,

“You learn things a lot faster than anyone in the family.”

Conan nodded as I continued, 

“I need you to learn everything about the machine and the business quickly so that we can help your brother make a living.”

“This is also a great opportunity for you to pick up some business skills,” I added with a chuckle, “Let’s see if you have the making of a good Chief Executive Officer (CEO).”

“CEO”: Picture taken from WordPress Free

“CEO?” Conan and my wife laughed at my suggestion while Cairn watched on, half-comprehending what was going on, though he was grinning as he examined the machine.

Adding to their laughter, I went on, “That’s it! Cairn is the owner of our first machine. Conan will be the CEO. Mom will be the financial controller. As for me, I’ll be the…” I stumbled for words. In a split moment, however, I found my words and cracked a joke, “I’ll be the founder! That means it’s my job to find things for everyone to do!’ 

My wife rolled her eyes in dismay.

“Hey, take it easy,” I said reassuringly, “I’ll do everything and take care of all expenses incurred. That makes me the number one worker and also the investor.”

Then I explained my idea, “However, I think my most important role is to be Cairn’s job coach. There’ll be a lot of tasks that I need your help to organise so that Cairn can work independently. And we’ll have to coach him at every step of the way. Just imagine the day Cairn can check the stock, refill the snacks and collect his earning. Wouldn’t that be great? ”

True enough, Cairn rose to the occasion on the tasks he was given.

Cairn replenishes his snack machine daily.

He enjoys his work so much that he reminds me every evening after dinner, “Papa, let’s go to the vending machine now!”

One day, I feigned ignorance and asked him, “To do what?”

Cairn replied with a big grin, “To refill snacks!” 

I told him, “Tell your mom before you go down.”

Cairn literally bellowed, “Mama, I am going to the vending machine now!”

I urged Cairn to say more, “And to?”

“Refill snacks!” He said aloud, beaming in confidence.

Mom was busy with household chores and did not seem to hear him.

I whispered into Cairn’s ear and he repeated my words aloud, “Mama, I am going to make money! See you later!’

Cairn’s words made my wife reply with laughter and enthusiasm, “You are going to make money? Okay! See you later!”

Five Principles for Job Creation

I did not plan to start a business, but had to register a business entity to get things done. On hindsight, I have started the Caresons Social Enterprise for a simple mission — to enable disadvantaged people like Cairn lead a productive life.

The employment prospect for people with special needs is bleak. The Straits Times estimated that only 5% of people with special needs are employed in Singapore, the lowest among developed countries. 

The Straits Times, 11 Feb 2019

In contrast, nearly 20% of people with disabilities in the US and Japan have employment. And the percentage goes up to 40% in Australia, Britain and Germany. It’s an irony that the people of Singapore enjoy full-employment and the economy creates more than 1 million jobs that attract foreign workers and talents to work here. Yet, her most vulnerable people like those with special needs find it so hard to get a job.

The stark difference could not be that people with special needs in Singapore are less employable than their counterparts elsewhere. The answer is probably in a lack of societal acceptance and support.

I concluded that the best way forward is neither job-hunting nor job-matching, but in creating the right jobs.

But I am just a regular salaried-person who has worked for the same company for 22 years. Creating jobs is not my forte. For many months, I spoke to many people in different trades for ideas and thought hard. In the end, I figured out five principles for job-creation where Cairn is concerned:

–       Create a job that plays on his strengths.

–       Compensate his limitations with the help of technology and knowledge.

–       Level the playing field for him with small capital investment.

–       Find something that he can do for others in his neighbourhood.

–       Keep making improvements to make the business work

These principles have worked beautifully for my son so far. I will share more about our endeavour in this blog if you are keen to know more.

For now, I am sharing with you these principles in the hope that they will also help others. Help me spread the kindness to those families you care.

William W K Tan

15 March 2020

 

 

070 Practise Even More to Love and Feel Loved

NO Hugs, NO Kisses!

Last week, I spoke about teaching autistic children to be affectionate.  Many readers were touched by our family’s efforts to train our son to be warm and spontaneous. Some parents with autistic children, however, had their misgivings.

I was told of a story about a mother X who imposed strictly a “No hugs and no kisses” rule on her autistic son Y. She was concerned that the teenage boy would get into trouble someday if he displays affection inappropriately to strangers.  One day, the mother X even punished her boy Y by making him hug a tree for several hours after he had asked his mom for a hug.  The punishment was the mother’s way of protecting her son from getting into trouble.

Picture from WordPress Photo Library.

I felt troubled and told my wife about the story. She replied thoughtfully, “We’ve been through it ourselves. Let’s not be quick to judge others. She must have her reasons. Anyway, every family needs time to work their problems out.”

My wife is right.  There may be more than meets the eye to the story. Perhaps, the boy had gotten into some serious trouble. Or perhaps, the mom had done everything she could but failed to get the child to understand. We do not know the full story enough. But one thing I know for certain is, the suppression of the emotional needs may lead to dire consequences for the family.

Source: The Straits Times, 19 March 2016.

Three years ago, Singapore was shaken by the news of a mother, a primary caregiver of her seven year old autistic child, who threw the latter over the parapet to his death. The mother was depressed over her marital woes and physical exhaustion, which she believed was caused by her autistic son. And one could only imagine the desperation and pain the mother experienced for the murder to be committed one day before her 42nd birthday.

I trembled at the thought of seeing such tragedy recurring. For days, I thought hard about my family situation.  My family was nowhere near the brink of desperation, but the fatigue and stress had been mounting to a point where smiles and laughter at home had become scarce. I instinctively knew that more had to be done to bring happiness back. But I did not know how. 

Gleaning lessons from this tragedy, I became even more convinced that a spouse must share the burden of caregiving wholeheartedly. And parents must not suffer in silence or denial, hoping that their problems would just go away. I constantly reminded myself to learn and seek help from others whenever necessary. And most importantly, to stay hopeful always. Still, raising an autistic child remained a challenge as we had to cope with one problem after another.

Stop seeing the child as the problem

Finally one day, it dawned on me that parents must stop seeing their autistic child as the problem. Autism posed problems to the child and the family, but the child did not.  No child should be blamed for his or her medical condition.

If parents see their autistic child as a “problem”, there will be a limit to how much they can shoulder the lifelong heartache and grind of unremitting caregiving.  But if they can separate the child from the troubles they create, parents will be able to handle problems in their stride.  Over time, we have become more composed and skilful in dealing with all sorts of problems, from bizarre behaviour to severe meltdown that erupted at school and home.

The biggest encouragement came from the child himself. As we continued our efforts to train our boy to be affectionate, we began to experience more moments of joy. The son who was a constant worry becomes the wellspring of our family happiness.

Cherish joyous moments in daily life

Here is an episode of joyous moments that occured last Sunday. I found bouquets of beautiful flowers on sale in the supermarket.

Turning to my fifteen year old autistic son Kyan, I asked, “Do you want to buy flowers?”  

“Yes. I want to buy flowers.” Kyan replied.

I probed, “Who do you want to buy the flowers for?”

I was half-expecting his answer to be “Papa”.

Kyan replied without hesitation, “Mama!”  

I laughed and thought to myself, “Mom still comes first to the children no matter how hard I try.”

I knew my wife was not into flowers, but this was a not-to-be-missed opportunity for my boy to practise affection. I told Kyan, “Bring the flowers to mama and tell her!”

Picture taken at Fairprice Supermarket on 20 July 2019.

Kyan quickly grabbed a bouquet of flowers and ran to his mom who was preoccupied with buying grocery. Shoving the bouquet excitedly into his mom’s hands, Kyan remarked loudly, “I want to buy flowers for Mama!”

His mom, looking pleasantly surprised, thanked him and immediately gave the jubilant boy a hug while quietly slipping the bouquet to me.

“Now that you have given flowers to mama, what do you give papa?” I teased. 

Just as I was wondering what he would say, Kyan thought for a moment and said, “Kiss!”

With that, Kyan leaned forward and planted a gentle kiss on my right cheek

I was overjoyed and felt blessed.

Make it a priority to help autistic children become affectionate

Contrary to the conventional belief that parental love is inexhaustible and unconditional, the agony of unrequited love from an autistic child does take a toll on caregivers. Make it a top priority to help your child become affectionate.

Do not let any concern that the child may display inappropriate affectionate behaviour with others get in the way between you with your child. Once your child feels loved and safe, it will be easier to teach him the boundaries.

For a start, practise often at home proper display of affection between you and your child. All it takes is just two persons to love and feel loved. It costs nothing and the reward is priceless.

William W K Tan (aka Uncle William)

26 July 2019, Friday

069: Autistic children can be warm and spontaneous!

Even if it’s just a smile, practise it!

Last Saturday, Conan remarked, “Kyan is so smiley nowadays. He always wears a smile on his face.”

His mom responded, “You used to be the more smiley one. Where has your smile gone?”

Conan shrugged his shoulder, and forced a big grin. Seeing that, Kyan responded with a warm smile. It was a beautiful smile. And it was a precious moment to me.

Picture from WordPress Photo Library.

Just a few days ago, Kyan was looking at me intently on the sofa. I was bemused when he returned every smile I made. We kept smiling at each other for umpteen times that day, until his smile turned somewhat stiff. I stopped and thought to myself, “I might have overdone it. Hopefully, it did not overkill his smile.”

At this moment, thankfully, Kyan’s smile was warm and spontaneous.

I am often driven by a simple idea. If there is a fleeting moment that the child can do it, create more opportunities for the child to become good at it. Even if it’s just a smile, practise it!

Even if it’s just a hug, practise it! 

I had nearly forgotten that Kyan used to be a boy who never smiled. Like many autistic children, Kyan avoided eye-contact with others, shunned away from physical touch and was inept in communication for many years.

For a long time, Kyan had a blank look as if he were lost in his own world. If he had a facial expression, it would be like a frightened mouse. All sorts of noises frightened him, such as the noise from a hands-dryer in a public toilet and the noise of a wailing child. Kyan never liked using hands-dryers but he eventually got used to using it. Till this day, Kyan has to cup his ears with both hands to shut out the cries of young kids.

Picture from WordPress Photo Library.

To make Kyan feel safe and loved, we hug him often. But we were initially taken aback when he would always turn his back and move away from every hug. Now, he gives me a good hug every night before bedtime. Hence, I was touched by the little hugging episode between the two brothers.

After lunch, Conan stood up and spread his outreached his arms in front of Kyan. Immediately, Kyan recognised that it was a gesture for hugs and moved forward to embrace his brother. Next, I heard Conan giving instructions to Kyan.

“You are taller than I am. You should place your arms over my shoulder,” Conan said as he moved Kyan’s arms to rest over his shoulders before continuing, “And I put my arms around your waist. Let’s do it again.”

Picture from WordPress Photo Library.

Kyan did as he was told. And the two brothers hugged for a second time before breaking into laughter.

It was a heart-warming sight to see the brothers getting along so well. Even if it’s just a hug, practise it!

Be enthusiastic in showering affection

It took me some serious reading of autism literature to appreciate that autistic children process sensory stimuli such as light, sound and touch very differently. The sensitivity towards these sensory stimuli impedes the autistic children’s ability to express affection. They need all the help they can get from others to adapt to new environment and people better.

Picture from WordPress Photo Library

But sadly, many people simply think that autistic children dislike going to new places, have a low tolerance for noise and hate to be touched. As a result, I observe that people who are unfamiliar with autistic children tend to keep a distance from them. Even caregivers become discouraged when they mistakenly believed that their years of efforts and love had gone wasted.

It would help tremendously if more people inject greater enthusiasm when they approach autistic children. Nearly all children respond positively to adult’s display of enthusiasm. Autistic children are no exception. They can feel the warmth and excitement in the person’s tone, facial expression and body language. They are very likely to respond positively too.

In case that they are unable to respond appropriately, do not judge immediately. Just accept that it’s alright for now. In time to come, you will be surprised that they can also learn to be warm and spontaneous.

Even if you are someone who claims not to be naturally enthusiastic, learn and practise it!

William W K Tan

18 July 2019, Thursday

 

066 The Boy Who Brings Sunshine

Last evening , a friend VK asked me, “How is your elder son doing?

VK is a kind man who is temporarily taking care of a child in neglect. Out of concern, he asked how I coped with the challenges of raising a child with special needs.

My elder son, Kyan, aged fifteen, is a boy inflicted with autism, a lifelong developmental disability that is characterised by difficulties with social interaction and communication, and limited by a fixation on repetitive activities.

Source: http://overthebrainbow.com/blog/

I told him, “I am thankful. He is doing great!” In fact, it gladdened me to hear others asking about him. Just last week, Kyan’s former school teacher, ST also told me, “I love to read about Kyan. It always brings sunshine to my heart just to see his name. ”

ST is so right. Kyan is a child who brings sunshine. Raising a child with special needs is challenging, but it also comes with rewarding moments.

My Reward: A Cup Of Sweet Corns

Last Saturday, I was engrossed in a novel while waiting for my children to finish their breakfasts at McDonald’s. All of a sudden, the reading spell on me was broken by the voice of my son.

“Papa, eat!” came a thunderous voice. It came from Kyan, who looked intently at me as he shoved me a half cupful of corn.

My heart was melted by his gesture to share his cup of corns with me. After all, it was uncommon for autistic children to show generosity and affection.

Excitedly, I sent a text to my wife, “Kyan just shared his cup corn with me on his own accord!”

“That’s just his habit,” came her reply.

I know my wife has always taught Kyan to split his cup of corns into two portions to share with his younger brother Conan, who gives him half a piece of hash brown in return. But that morning, Conan had bought his own cup of corns, so Kyan turned to me instead.

Even if it was just a habitual action, it made me feel good. At least he thought of me.

A Magic Moment

For a long time, I was worried that autism had incapacitated Kyan’s ability to think of others in their absence.  It seemed to me that when people are out of sight, they are out of his mind.

Over the last 15 years, four maids have come and gone. Some were close to him.  But he had never asked for anyone of them after they left. Even if he cared, he never showed. Or more rightly, he was unable to express how he felt.

Occasionally, when I was overseas, I would ask my wife, “Did Kyan ask for me?” Her answer was always a no. I stopped asking completely.

Then something happened in early March this year. I was on my way back home from airport when I received a text message from Conan. He wrote, “Dad, come back home quickly! Kyan has been asking for you.”

Accompanying the text message was a photograph that I would never forget.  My son was looking out for me behind the steel gate of the house.  It was the magic moment that I had been waiting for years.

Photo taken by Conan on 2 March 2019

Little Strokes Fell Great Oaks

Depending on the condition of the child, there is no telling how long it would take our child to give us these rewarding moments. But as the saying “little strokes fell great oaks’ goes, do not underestimate the power of persistent small efforts. Even dripping water can penetrate through rocks, it is just a matter of time that autistic children will show us that they can be as affectionate as any other children.

Perhaps, by now you can guess why I have been singing a self-composed song to Kyan all these years.  The lyrics go like this, “Papa loves you so. Papa loves you so. Papa loves you so much so.” 

I would always sing this part first, and my boy would always follow with, “Papa loves me so. Papa loves me so. Papa loves me so much so.”

One day I asked Kyan in front of his mom, “Who loves you most?”

He replied spontaneously, “Mama!”

Then on second thoughts, he quickly changed, “Papa loves me most!” to the chagrin of my wife.

My wife protested, ‘Conan, your dad has been brain-washing your brother!”

We all laughed heartily.

Raising a child is joyous as long as we never cease to look at the positives.

William W K Tan

25 May 2019, Saturday