064 What If Children Suddenly Dislike Reading?

Know Why Children Suddenly Dislike Reading

Parents are blamed for the things that their children do, and not do. When children do not read books, parents are told to read more books to them. And parents are questioned if they are setting a good example of reading books themselves.  But, has anyone observed children who enjoy reading up to a certain stage, but lose interest in reading all of the sudden? Surely, that cannot be the fault of parents.

Some parents are quick to point the fingers elsewhere. Electronic devices are pulling children away from books. School work is too much. Children have too many other things on their plates. For one reason or another, there is simply not enough time for book reading.  

Photo: WordPress Photo Library

Few parents, however, take a closer look at their children’s reading situation. Too often, the reason for children to develop distaste for reading is simple — the text has surpassed children’s reading ability without anyone noticing.

That causes children to feel the burden of reading, hence they grow to dislike reading.  

The Joy of Reading One Book after Another

I have a soft spot for children who are labelled as poor readers. Several years ago, I volunteered to read to such children in my children’s primary school before going to work in the morning. I was told that these children did not like reading, had problems coping with school studies and their parents couldn’t help them.

I would always read a book to them animatedly, and chose books for each of them to read on their own. Without exception, these children smiled and read with joy when given books that matched their reading ability and interest.

Photo: WordPress Photo Library

I knew how they felt. Like them, I picked up book reading late too. I had hardly read any books outside school before the age of nine. In those days, parents worked hard to eke out a living, and public libraries were few and in-between. Raised in an environment where Mandarin and Chinese dialects were spoken, my reading was limited to English textbooks. And I lacked even a single English storybook at home.

The turning point came at Primary Three, when my mom allowed me to return home from school by public bus on my own. I started dipping into a bookstore near the bus stop. Inside the bookstore, I became mesmerised by the collection of beautifully-illustrated books (the Ladybird series) of classic stories and nursery rhymes— The Gingerbread Man, Jack and the Beanstalk, The Three Little Pigs etc. Each day, I picked up a book, stood there and finished the whole book.

Photo: The Gingerbread Man. Source: ladybird books list

Then, I went there again the next day to read another book. Day after day, I would go to that bookstore, until I finished the last book. And after I ran out of books I could read, I searched for more books in the school library during recess. My journey as a young book reader finally took off.

From my personal reading experience, I know first-hand how children feel about reading.  Whenever I meet adults who deride older kids for reading books that they deem as too easy, I would speak in the latter’s defence,

“Parents today are reading nursery rhymes to their children before the age of three. But I only started reading them when I was nine. And you know what, however easy that might seem to others, the joy I derived from reading one book after another on my own was so empowering. I felt that I could read any book of my choice! Do not take that joy of reading away from children.”

Always have children read at a level that matches their ability and interest. Not the other way round.

Two Golden Rules to Nurturing Readers

Still, many parents worry if their children cannot read books expected of their school grade.  Here are two rules that have worked very well on my children.

The first rule is not to be overly-worried with catching up with school grade.

I understand parent’s anxiety completely. I had placed my elder son, Kyan in a mainstream school for four and a half years before transferring him to a school for special needs students. During those years, however hard-working Kyan was, and no matter much progress he made, the gap between the school demands and his reading ability was a rift that could never be narrowed.

Look beyond the hurdles placed by schools, and focus on the well-being of your child. For a boy who used to be restless and clueless in the library for many years, Kyan now enjoys browsing his favourite books quietly in the library.  And the most dramatic progress he made is that he reads aloud with beaming confidence when given the right books.

Photo: Kyan reading in the library

Do not let others impose their views on your children. Just continue in encouraging your children to read.

The second rule is to make a deliberate effort in strengthening your child’s reading ability.

Like many parents who read to their children when they were young, I read the same books my children were reading, while searching for more interesting books ahead. One difference, perhaps, is I set exciting goals for book reading. I was driven by ideas like “It will be great to see my kid reading that classic someday!”

Conan enjoyed reading the illustrated versions of “Peter Pan” from a very young age. I intentionally bought several abridged versions of the same title, to the bewilderment of my wife who thought that I had mistakenly purchased the same books. We started with various abridged illustrated versions of Peter Pan by Disney and other publishers. From read-along story book with CD, to stickers, flap-ups and other interactive books of Peter Pan, Conan was enthralled by the world of Neverland, where he joined Wendy, John, and Michael on an adventure with Peter and Tinker Bell to battle the evil but hilarious Captain Hook.

Photo: An abridged version of Peter Pan I read to Conan. Source: Amazon

I also remembered reading to Conan retold versions like the Classics Starts, which were written like a griping adventure that made fantastic reading-aloud for the boy, who laughed and giggled at every turn and twist of the story. Step-by-step, Conan successfully advanced into reading editions that were wordy and complex.  He was one step short of reading the original unabridged version, which I felt heartrending to put him through, considering his tender age. That experience of reading books of the same title with incremental difficulty paved the way for him to make a quick and complete departure from illustrated books at around six years old.

Conan recounted the day that I brought him to the Young Adult (YA) Books section, “I remembered that you grabbed a few books from the shelves at the YA section and showed me. I loved those books and kept going back for more from that day onwards.”

He was barely nine years old when he “graduated” from the children section of the library that catered to children up to the age of twelve.

Photo: WordPress Photo Library

Be a lighthouse to let your children show you how far they can go.

William W K Tan

10 May 2019, Friday

062 What you can do when vulnerable children go missing?

An Insensitive Remark

Two days ago, I received an alert to look out for an autistic child X who had gone missing. What would you have done?

Photo: Facebook “Reunite Missing Children”

Some people might have carried on with their own business without batting an eyelid. Some people might have taken a closer look to check if they had seen the missing child somewhere. Some people might have spread the word to others. And there might also be people who offered their help to assist the family.

I was not surprised that people thought and acted differently. But I was aghast at someone’s comment on the Facebook page that went,

“Looks like this is not the first time this boy has gone missing. Shouldn’t the parents just get the child a GPS tracker?”

“What an insensitive remark!”I thought. In veiled anger, I wrote on the Facebook,

 “Please feel like you’ve lost your own child. Do what you can. If you cannot, keep quiet. Don’t make the parents feel worse.”

Almost immediately, the man deleted his comment without a word.

Parents Fear The Worst

As a parent who had been through similar ordeal, I know that when a vulnerable child goes missing, it is a time that the affected family needs support most.

Photo: Facebook “Reunite Missing Children”

My thoughts went back to several years ago, to that day my elder son Kyan, who has moderate ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) disappeared into the lift in the blink of an eye while I was locking the door. Immediately, I dashed down ten storeys of staircase in the hope of catching him in time. But I was too late. The lift was empty by the time I reached ground floor.

He was nowhere to be found. Not anywhere within the parameters of the condominium. Could he have sneaked out of the side gate with the other residents? Could he have walked out of the main gate under the watchful eyes of security guards? In my frantic search, I asked every passerby. No one saw him.

My wife and I split ways to search in the neighbourhood. I feared the worst as I watched on the fast-moving vehicles on the roads. What if he ignored traffic rules and got hit by a car? Immediately, I alerted the police for assistance who quickly dispatched their patrol cars.

Our ordeal came to an end after two hours when our boy was brought home by some policemen in their patrol car. I thanked the policemen profusely. A policeman said,

“We found him near the highway with heavy traffic. A member of the public was petrified to see him crossing the road dangerously. Because he couldn’t get any contact details from your boy, he called the police.”

Blood drained off my face. And my wife broke down in tears as she held our boy tightly in her arms.

Photo: WordPress Photo Library

What You Can Do

The problem with ASD children is they look normal, and do not attract any attention until they display odd behaviour. They are likely to keep walking quietly without anyone noticing them. And if they are limited in communication, they will not be able to tell anyone their contact particulars. Unlike a lost child, autistic children often do not know how to seek help and attention. In such situations, having community awareness and support are crucial.

Photo: WordPress Photo Library

Here are three things you can do when an autistic child goes missing:

(1) Spread the news

The more people know the news the better. When the daughter of local blogger Lee Kin Mun, better known as mrbrown, went missing seven years ago, social media played a pivotal role in helping to find her. The girl was found 1.5 hour later by a train station staff member and then Mr Lee’s friend.

(2) Offer your help

After I offered to be part of the search party for the missing child X two days ago, the boy’s father told me,

“Thank you! Police are on the lookout now and the public has been helpful to spread the news. Another helpful dad like you digitally modified my boy’s attire to his school uniform, as he went missing in his uniform that day.”

These are the little things we can all do for the affected family. Do what you can.

(3) Keep a lookout

Safety is the key consideration in such situations. And time is crucial. Most children can be found within hours if the public keeps a watchful eye. The search becomes complicated if it is extended to days.

Your alertness in keeping a watchful lookout has the power to lessen the agony of families and can possibly save lives. We have heard of reports of autistic children overseas who met mishaps like car accidents, drowning or even falling prey to predatory characters. Let’s help to prevent tragedies from happening around us.

Photo: WordPress Photo Library

It Takes A Village To Raise A Child

On hindsight, that man who made that insensitive remark probably meant well to offer a solution. But a GPS tracker is not a panacea to all runaway problems. It is not uncommon to hear of ASD children removing, discarding and damaging such costly devices. Other well-meaning parents also shared their ideas to tackle the problem.  Unfortunately, what works for one child may not work for another. In the case of X, it is already the fifth time the boy had wandered off this year despite the parents’ best efforts.  

I could only imagine that the parents had exhausted all solutions they know, and are truly at their wits’ end. Rather than jumping to the quick conclusion that X’s parents are probably not doing enough, shouldn’t we give them all the help they can get? I am indignant that X’s parents become an object of speculation that they were not vigilant enough.

Photo: WordPress Photo Library

Many parents I know keep a watchful eye on their ASD children, holding their hands whenever they are out, and training them to know how to find their way home independently to the best of their efforts. The truth is many parents, especially those with ASD children whose conditions are more severe, are perpetually living on a high alert mode. They do not have a life of their own. Their lives revolve around their care-needy children, as they juggle with work and family obligations.  But no vigilance by the parents alone is water-tight enough; this is where support from the community is crucial.

It takes a village to raise a child. If neighbours make the efforts to know and interact with one another, everyone will be watching out for one another. In an event of vulnerable children like X wandering off from home repeatedly, there will be more understanding and less criticism. In this way, we can move a step closer to becoming a more inclusive society where people exercise grace towards one another.

William W K Tan

26 April 2019

Friday

060 Have these kinds of friends!

Have friends who feel for you

Last week, I wrote about the biggest worry of caregivers – what happens to a child who needs special care after the caregiver passes on? I wrote to encourage others. Instead, I received encouraging messages from others.

Picture from WordPress Photo Library

A friend HP felt the enormity of my worry. He revealed that his tears rolled involuntarily as he was telling his mom about my story. Another friend YS told me that he believed my elder son chose me as his parent for good reasons. And he could tell that I have found more purpose in life because of my son. My friend and mentor AD wrote to me, “Parents always worry about their children. Your advice is good: Take care of self. As for the rest, God will take care.”

It’s heart-warming to have friends who feel for you.

Have friends whom you can trust and talk to

Everyone needs a listening ear in times of need. A study conducted by researchers on 662 caregivers in Singapore found that having someone whom the caregiver trusts to talk to, whether to share sentiments, seek understanding or vent frustration, reduces the degree of depressive symptoms he or she faces. Having friends whom you can trust and talk to is a blessing.

Picture from WordPress Photo Library

But I have heard of contrary viewpoints. I have met people who said dismissively, “Friends? Who needs them!”

It is not uncommon to hear of lifelong friends who fail to step up when needed, while mere acquaintances give more than expected. Disappointment from close friends hurts. That’s why sometimes people choose to distance themselves to avoid getting hurt. However, if you cherish that friendship, surely it deserves a second chance of repairing.

Picture from WordPress Photo Library

For people who have our lives wrapped up around caregiving, I think we should understand more than anyone that there are inconvenient times in everyone’s life. Perhaps, your friends were too caught up with their own problems. And perhaps they did not know how much you needed their help.  Anyway, no one should not be faulted for not living up to other’s expectations.

Maybe friends who fail you do not know that a listening ear from a trusted friend is all that you ask for.

Have friends who are willing to go an extra mile

Friends can make real lasting difference.

Several weeks ago, I heard a sad story from a TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) physician who was giving me acupuncture treatment. She said,

“I know it’s not easy raising an autistic child. My close friend’s son is about the age of yours. She confided in me that she might chose to jump to death with her son one day, rather than to leave the child behind. I reprimanded her for harbouring such dark thoughts.”

I was stumped for words before asking her, “How’s your friend doing now?”

“My friend had passed on some years back. She was in her forties, so it was most unexpected. She died of complications from a supposedly minor surgery. That’s life,” the physician sighed.

Picture from WordPress Photo Library

My heart sank. “How about the boy’s father?”

“The father didn’t care much about the son,” the physician continued, shaking her head sadly. “The boy has a younger sister. And the little girl told me that her brother had never been out of the house since their mother passed away. Hence, I take the siblings along on outings with my children from time to time.”

I was moved and looked up approvingly at the physician,

“Your act means a lot to the children. And it means a lot to your friend.”

“I should do that for her.” She said.

It’s blessing to have friends who are willing to go an extra mile.

The physician, the close friend she spoke of and two other girls have been the best of buddies since their pre-University days. (Picture from WordPress Photo Library)

Perhaps you would never know who these wonderful friends are. If you already do, cherish your friendship with them even more.

William W K Tan

12 April 2019

059 The Biggest Worry of Caregivers

What’ll happen to my child after I pass on?

The worry of leaving behind a child who may not survive alone in the outside world weighs heavily on the minds of parents with special needs children. I have the same worry. My elder son Kyan, aged fifteen, is diagnosed with ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder) and dyspraxia.

Last Sunday, I read in the papers about a seventy-two-year-old father Clement, who is the sole caregiver of his forty-three-year-old son Conrad, making preparation for his son’s life in the event that he passes on.

Source: The Straits Times on 31st March 2019.

Clement has arranged for his son to live away from home twice a week in a facility to prepare him for a future without his father. And he has prepared the legal papers to have someone appointed as Conrad’s caregiver after he passes on. But even after these measures have been put in place, the father’s lingering wish is, “Whoever we take care of should go before us.”

Clement’s words speak volumes of parents’ anxiety. We fear that our child cannot fend for himself or herself. We fear that no one else knows or cares for our child as much as we do. And we fear that even the best-laid plan is not foolproof to keep our child safe. Despite our best efforts to prepare our child for tomorrow, how the child will survive without us remains our biggest worry.

Do not lose sight of yourself

For a long time, I put that biggest worry on the back burner. Over the years, there was just too much on the plate already:

When will my child talk? Will he ever make eye-contact? How to toilet train him? Does he know what to do in class and during recess? Will he wander out of the school when nobody is watching? Can he cope with his school work? How much does he understand what is going on? Why is he getting sick so often? Why is he sleeping so little? How to deal with his meltdowns when he grows older? Will he be employable after he completes schooling at 18?

Picture from WordPress Photo Library

This list of worries goes on and on. Caregiving can be both physically and emotionally exhausting. The years went past so fast in the blink of an eye. In the rush to do everything we could for our children, parents easily lose sight of themselves.

Many caregivers live in constant stress and fatigue, thus aging very quickly. Sometimes when I meet parents who look tired, I would think of myself in the past. I am tempted to say, “Do not be a burning candle to light up your child’s life. Be the sun in their life.”

Picture from WordPress Photo Library

Try to outlive your child

Sun emits energy. And energy comes from inner strength. In retrospect, the single most important lesson I wish to tell everyone is to live a life filled with energy. Aim to live happier, better and longer!

My friends know that I became totally withdrawn from social life for thirteen years. It was only two years ago that it dawned onto me that I must learn to take care of myself first. Since then, I have made the switch to place priority on taking care of myself better. I changed my dietary habits and physical exercise routine, sought balance in work and family, and made efforts to enjoy what I do to the fullest.

Picture from WordPress Photo Library

These changes have given me the composure to do more for my parents, spouse and children. And friends fit in well in this new-found formula where I draw strength, inspiration and support.

Rather than worrying about that fateful day when I can no longer be there for our children, I made an audacious goal to outlive my children. Try to live till 💯! Just this belief alone gives me strength to do things that I used to think not possible.

You should give it a try too!

William W K Tan

5 April 2019

To read more about Clement and his son, click the link below:

Inclusive society makes caregivers’ task easier

https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/inclusive-society-makes-caregivers-task-easier?xtor=CS3-18&utm_source=STiPhone&utm_medium=share&utm_term=2019-04-01%208%3A04%3A41

056 Movie Review: Guang (光)A Moving Tale About Acceptance

Picture: Facebook/Guang The Movie

“Guang” (光), a movie inspired by the real-life experiences of director Quek Shio Chuan (郭修篆) was emotive and thought-provoking.  Tears welled up in me naturally and my thoughts raced fiercely. I stole glances at my wife and two children. Emotions were erupting in us as we saw glimpses of our family in the movie.

Picture: Facebook/ 光 Guang The Movie

Poster caption:

“My brother is autistic, not a moron.”

A powerful movie

When the movie ended, my 13-year-old son Conan told me discreetly, “Mom was tearing the whole time.” I felt a need to have a family conversation, but I knew it was not the right time. Turning to a chat-group of families with special needs children on my phone, it was obvious that every parent who had watched the movie shared similar sentiments. That was how impactful the movie “Guang” was!

Picture: Facebook/ 光 Guang The Movie

Accolades

The movie “Guang” was premiered in November 2018 in Malaysia, and is released from 14 March onwards in Singapore. This beautifully-crafted feature film has received four nominations at the prestigious “The 21st Shanghai International Film Festival” slated for June 2019, and it has also been chosen to compete at the Fukuoka Film Festival in Japan later this year.   It is a matter of time that the movie will win more accolades.

Picture: Facebook/ 光 Guang The Movie

Poster caption:

“Hi, my name is Wen Guang. I am 27 years old this year. I am friendly, approachable and helpful. Sometimes I may look strange to you, but I hope you understand. I have ASD (autistic spectrum disorder).”

Synopsis:

An autistic young man is filled with a single-minded zeal to search for glasses and bowls that produce a repertoire of music notes. His brother, however, is desperate to find him a job to fend for himself. Just when it seems that the irreconcilable differences between the two siblings can never be fixed, they found an answer to their problems.

Captivating Story-telling

Quek tells a story of how a desperate brother, Di-Di’s (Ernest Chong,张顺源) attempts to secure a job for his autistic elder brother, Guang (Kyo Chen,庄仲维) were thwarted by the latter’s obsession to collect glasses and bowls. Using intersecting plotlines driven by the two characters, Quek skilfully pulls on the heartstrings of his audience as the siblings’ interests collided and their conflicts heightened to a climax, yet he succeeded to bring the story to a thoughtful ending.

Picture: Facebook/ 光 Guang The Movie

Excellent Cast

Ernest and Kyo delivered a splendid performance of siblings’ affection and conflict. I was warmed by the chemistry between the brothers. And my heart pained when Di-Di scorned and beat his autistic elder brother in exasperation.  Another memorable character is Su-en (Emily Chan, 陈子颖) who brought light moments as the kind-hearted girl next door who befriended Guang and lent him a listening ear. Even the supporting actors like the ones who played the roles of Di-Di’s supportive friend, Tony and the prospective employer of a café who rejected Guang’s job application were convincing in their portrayal.

Picture: MM2 Entertainment

Brilliant Cinematography

I was almost in disbelief to find out later that this is Quek’s debut movie, given his masterful use of cinematography. Faint flashbacks of the protagonist’s childhood memories; a microscopic shot of gushing water in the inner tube of an ordinary water pump and the sound and light on glasses and bowls. All these imagery lend credence to explaining how the protagonist Guang developed an obsession to embark on his secret odyssey.

On top of these, scenes are laden with familiar symbols such as old streets, spinning bicycle wheels and shattered glass. Colours, lights and sounds also work harmoniously as the plot thickens.  To the satisfaction of audience, Quek delivered a breath-taking scene that demonstrated Guang’s brilliance beyond expectations.

Picture: Facebook/ 光 Guang The Movie

Walk Your Own Path

Just when I thought that all surprises were over, the movie ended with the soulful voice of a singer, SHIO (郭修彧) who also composed a melancholic melody and penned a heart-rending lyric with a chorus verse that kept ringing in my ears,

“You are not a freak.

Don’t be afraid that anyone may bully you.

Don’t let anyone tell you how to live your happiness.

You have your own path. 

And you walk with no regrets.”  

你不是怪物 别害怕 谁来欺负
不必为别人 丢了幸福
你走你的路 走一个 没有遗憾的路

Picture: Malaysia Newspapers Sin Chew Plus

Be Confident

The next day, I told Conan,

“I was taken aback by how burdensome Di-Di felt about taking care of his brother Guang. Do you feel the same?”

Conan replied, “No, I am confident.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Don’t ask me why. I am always confident.” Conan said with a smile.

I feel compelled to recommend “Guang” to as many people as possible. And tell them, “Be Confident!”

Guang is not just a movie about autism, it is a movie about acceptance. It’s definitely the best family movie I have watched in years!

Picture: Facebook/ Guang The Movie

Rating: 5/5 (💯 )

Duration: 1 hr 30 mins

Language: Chinese

Subtitles: English, Chinese, Malay

Remark:

My Indonesian helper said,

” The movie is really good, Sir. Although it’s a Chinese movie but there are English and Malay subtitles. I am sure your friends will enjoy it.”

For more information, click below:

https://m.facebook.com/GuangTheMovie/

William W K Tan

14 March 2019, Thursday