By Brenda Tan
I keep a prayer journal. One day, I found myself writing: Dear Lord, thank you for giving me Calder, who is such a precious treasure. When I wrote this thanksgiving, I realised what a long way God had brought me.
Calder has autism. What this means is that he cannot communicate well, does not know what is socially acceptable, and he loves repetition. These symptoms of autism presented us with many challenges when he was small.
When he was small, he was like the hamster at home. When we called him, he didn't respond. When we talked to him, he didn't understand. And he couldn't tell us what he was thinking about. So we were forever guessing why he was upset. And because he couldn't understand our words, it was hard to calm him when he was distressed.
Socially, he stuck out like a sore thumb. He pushed his way into lifts and buses. He stepped on people's toes. He grabbed food that belonged to strangers. He knocked on cars with drivers inside. He wanted to close all open doors. He would suddenly flap his arms and gave people a fright. He laughed even though he had caused offence. As a result, we often had to apologise on his behalf.
He craved for repetition and routine. Left to his own device, he would turn the light on and off, keep flushing the toilet, open and close doors, jab at lift buttons . The way to school must follow the same route. He must have kaya bread first, then jam bread. He found all kinds of patterns in life and without telling us what they were, insisted that we kept the patterns. So he was like a landmine - we never knew we had stepped on one until it exploded in anger.
The difficulties we faced included calming him when he melt down in public, finding him when he'd run away, cleaning up when he soiled himself (he couldn't tell us he needed the toilet), staying patient when he went into states of obsession e.g. putting his shoes on and off, turning the radio on and off, making us repeat after him etc.
Life became so bizarre that I lived in constant dread and apprehension - afraid of Calder's next meltdown, afraid that I couldn't stay calm enough to be a good Mom. There were so many problems I couldn't solve I had to call out to God for help and cling to him to carry me through. During this period, God comforted me with his word. In John 16:33, he assured me that he knew of my struggles. He said, "In this world you would have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." And when Calder's meltdowns weighed heavy on my heart, God sent me his promise in Isaiah 54:13 - "... your children will be taught by the Lord, and great will be their peace. "
During this period, I was inspired to write a book collating the experiences of many families with autism. And so I published "Come into My World: 31 Stories of Autism in Singapore". This book project turned out to be the therapy I badly needed.
And God began to work wonders. Instead of staying a passive victim, I became an active advocate sharing my experience so that more people can understand what autism is. God also opened the door to ministries that enabled me to step out of the firefighting mode in which I was trapped. I became a worship leader in church and a group leader in Bible Study Fellowship, and found myself richly nourished as I served.
Calder also began to improve. At 7 years old, he called me Mommy for the first time and seemed to finally registered and appreciated our presence. He learned to read and write and began to understand explanations. He became more flexible to change and now enjoys going out to new places. He picked up skills we never dreamt him capable of, like inline skating and playing the piano. Most importantly, he mellowed down so much that he hardly throws tantrum these days. He is no longer a hamster or a landmine. He is my sunshine who delights in simple things like travelling on a bus, eating a cake, watching videos of himself.
Calder still have many weaknesses. For example, he still cannot answer questions well. He cannot sit still for long. He still wants to jab at lift buttons. But I see the miracles in his life and know that God will complete the good work he has begun in my son and I.
(The above is a testimony presented in Yio Chu Kang Chapel on 24 Apr 2016, in conjunction with World Autism Awareness month.)
Brenda Tan worships at Yio Chu Kang Gospel Hall. She published "Come into My World : 31 Stories of Autism in Singapore" (www.come-into-my-world.com) in 2010, and is now writing another book on independent adults with autism. If you know personally autistic persons who are working and who are married, please contact Brenda at email@example.com.