When you have a child with autism, you enter a world of bizarre parenthood. Bizarre because your kid does not behave like other kids. Bizarre also because of the high expenses involved in education. My son's school fee is $350 each month compared to my daughter's $13. And his school bus costs $250 compared to his sister's $140. Yes, my son Calder is the one who has autism.
The early years following diagnosis will see many parents plunging into the sea of therapies to save their kids from their alarming deficits. Speech therapy, for instance, is the must-have for such kids since they cannot talk. Then there is occupational therapy to help improve their poor motor skills. And Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) to train them to focus on tasks. Or Floortime to help them relate to other people. Craniotherapy? Music therapy? Hippotherapy? A shadow teacher? GFCF diet? Vitamin supplements? And the list goes on.
An hour of therapy easily costs $100. Imagine the expense of various treatments put together. ABA therapy, for one, recommends 40 hours of training per week. Once I found myself talking to a mother who has placed her autistic girl in a privately run ABA school:
"How much is the monthly school fee?" I asked her, "$2k?"
"No, $5k, " she replied and I nearly keeled over.
"How do you afford that?!" I exclaimed. And she told me they sold their house.
Indeed parents have to earn much more to afford special education. Ironically, with a special-needs child, usually one parent would have to quit his or her job to take care of the kid.
In my family, after a few years of splurging, it became clear to my husband and I that it's not realistic to carry on that level of expenditure, so Calder's therapies tapered off one by one.
Hence when I shared my parenting experience at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, and was asked how tertiary students can help the autism community, immediately I answered: "Come teach our children".
And so the One Child One Skill project was conceived. In this volunteer scheme, pairs of tertiary students visit the home of an autistic child to teach the child a skill over 8 sessions. The skill was decided by the parent, depending on that child's learning needs.
Calder learned how to play Snake & Ladder this way. He looked forward to the volunteers' visit every week. And during the one-and-half hours of teaching, I could sit down for a leisurely breakfast or efficiently complete some household chore. In this way, One Child One Skill fulfills its goals of teaching the autistic child a skill and supporting the caregiver via respite. The 3rd goal of One Child One Skill is to enable volunteers to understand autism better. What better way than to go right to the home to interact with the autistic child?
One Child One Skill is now in its 6th run. The number of families who sign up for this scheme always outnumbers the number of pairs of volunteers available . It is my wish (and the wish of many fellow parents) that more volunteers step in to fill the gap.
If you teach at a tertiary institution and could mobilise your students for this scheme, please contact Brenda Tan at email@example.com. More information on One Child One Skill can be obtained at http://www.come-into-my-world.com/one-child-one-skill .
Brenda Tan is the writer of Come into My World : 31 Stories of Autism in Singapore (www.come-into-my-world.com ).