Saturday, December 23, 2017

Saturday, December 2, 2017


One of Calder's favourite things to do is look out of the window at the traffic below.

Thursday, November 30, 2017


Brought the kids for a swim yesterday. Calder was hopping around in excitement as he adjusted himself to the cold water of the pool. Barely 7 minutes into play, however, it started raining and I had to call the kids out of the pool. I registered first Calder's confusion at having to leave the pool so soon. I registered next that he was the first to obey. He came out dripping wet, watched quietly as his sister and cousin played a bit more and eventually came out. The moment is treasured in my heart as I thank God for what a good boy he is.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017


A friend recounted to me a heartfelt conversation she had with her teenage son...

The son: Mommy, why is God so unfair to Calder and me? Did we do anything wrong? Why did he make us like that - Calder with his autism and me with my dyslexia and ADHD?

My friend: The world thinks you and Calder are hopeless, but to God,  you are hope. Because you will make it and glorify God in your improvements.

John 9:1‭-‬3 NLT -

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. “Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?” “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered.

“This happened so the power of God could be seen in him."

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Lotus Pao

Calder has been buying food from his school canteen.

Me: What did you eat in school today?
Calder: Lotus pao.

But when I was packing his bag for the next day, I found the lotus pao uneaten in his snack bag.

No wonder he ate his lunch so fast after school - he was hungry for not having eaten his snack.

Why was the lotus pao bought but uneaten?

I figured he had entered the state of paralysis again, not able to do what he wants until prompted. And nobody noticed him not eating the food he bought.

No wonder he had that something-is-not-right look on his face. Something had been left undone.

When Calder is in this strange state of discontent, he would avoid eye contact, to the extent of turning whole body away from people.

What do we do?

We enter twilight zone and wait for him to return.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Piano Therapy

Strangely, Calder began to look morose towards the end of lunch today.

Me: How are you feeling, Calder?
Calder: Sad.
Me: Why are you sad?
Calder: (no answer)
Me: Because?
Calder: Because.

Then he started crying! And continued crying when showering.

Is it because someone gave him rice cake with chilli this morning, not knowing he does not eat spicy food, and he ate it up before I could help him change the food?

Is it because I took too long queuing to buy chicken rice for lunch?

Is it because the wall fan is missing from the bedroom?

Discomfort from some adolescent hormonal surge?

Or he's falling ill?

Because Calder cannot express himself, looks like it's going to be another mystery never to be solved.

Since showering didn't help, I decided to let Calder play the piano.

So he played one song after another until he stopped crying and looked calm again.

And smiled.

- 35 mins of "piano therapy".

Thursday, October 5, 2017


After fetching Ethel from piano class at Level 3, we proceeded to the lift. I noticed that Ethel's skirt bow had come undone so stopped to help her tie it. Meanwhile, Calder walked so fast he was soon out of sight. When Ethel and I reached the lift, I was astounded to find a whole lift of people waiting for us because Calder was inside with his finger on the "open" button. !! What must they be thinking of this tall boy stoically holding the lift for his family? It never occurred to him that he was inconveniencing other people.
Flustered, I apologised and reminded Calder he must wait for us outside the lift next time, not inside.

Symptom of autism - buay paiseh (no sense of embarrassment).

Monday, October 2, 2017

Good books

When choosing books for Calder, I look out for:

A. Familiar topics
He's happy to read about transport and parts of the body and ... food!

B. Nice photographs
Calder likes things real because they are more familiar compared to cartoons.

C. Simple layout
I steer away from those with text tilted in all directions scattered all over - they are confusing to look at.

D. Brevity
Calder likes to read aloud, so the book cannot be too long, otherwise he would feel too tired reading.

E. Rhyming
A bonus. Rhyming adds pleasant predictability.

Following some of these criteria, good books we have found include:

1. Step-By-Step Transformations series by Cavendish Square Publishing.

2. Healthy Plates series by Valerie Bodden.

3. Discover and Share series by Hachette Children's Group.

4. Step into Reading series by Random House Books for Young Readers.
- Heavy-Duty Trucks
- Wild Kratts

5. Cat in the Hat's Learning Library by Random House Books for Young Readers.

Feel free to share about the books that your autistic child likes.


From Calder's 10-year-old sister, Ethel:

It's not good to always be so busy doing things. Sometimes we should sit quietly beside Calder and be like him and enter his world. Then we can hear him say some things softly.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Best

Ethel: Mommy, my friend told me her autistic sister pulls her hair. I also heard of another autistic brother who fights.

Mom: Then Calder must seem like an angel. He doesn't even make noise. And he doesn't say "I want I want". He just waits quietly for us to give him things.

Ethel: Yah, I think we got the best autistic child.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Where is Calder?

Hubby and I found we could track Calder easily using an old handphone. Here's how:

1. Get a 3G/4G android handphone.
2. Get a prepaid/postpaid data card.
3. Set up a Gmail account. Register this account to your kid's handphone.
4. Turn GPS on for your kid's handphone.
5. Download the app "Find my device" on your own handphone.
6. Sign in as guest and key in the Gmail address and password.

>>The map will zoom to where the handphone is.
>> The app also indicates the battery power left in the handphone, so you know when to charge it again.

*You can tap "PLAY SOUND" to get your kid's handphone to ring even it is in silent mode.

*Do not tap "ERASE" unless you want to clean up all the data in that phone.

For more information, click "Help & Feedback" on the 3-dot menu of the app.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017


I've never seen anyone eat pizza the way Calder does - the fillings first, then the crust. He probably doesn't understand what it means to save the best for last.

Monday, July 31, 2017


The weirdest thing happened last night. It was bedtime for Calder and I asked him, "Calder, is Daddy awake or asleep?" (The Dad is usually the one to put him to sleep.) Perhaps I had expected him to peep into the bedroom and report to me the answer. But he walked right into the room and uttered, "Is Daddy awake or asleep?" (Maybe I shouldn't put a question mark here because Calder's questions always sound like a statement.) When I caught up with him, I saw that he had been talking to a sleeping Dad!

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Tic Tac Toe

Was at NUS today to brief a group of students who had volunteered for the One Child One Skill project ( Brought Calder along so the volunteers could try interacting with an autistic child. In groups, they had to teach Calder Tic Tac Toe:

Volunteer: Write one 'O' here.
(Calder wrote "10".)
Volunteer: Write another one here.
(Calder wrote "1".)
Volunteer: If you put one more here, you will have three!
(Calder wrote "3".)

The art of communicating with an autistic child.

Friday, June 23, 2017


Calder has learned to use the self-service check-out counters at supermarkets so I am expanding his shopping skills by  teaching him to use a shopping checklist. First type in the items Mommy needs, then find these food at the supermarket and check them off.

Monday, June 5, 2017


Today, Ethel had a school dental appointment. I brought along Calder's piano file so he could play piano at one of the pianos sitting around the school's common areas, while waiting for his sister.

Then it occurred to me - maybe I could ask the dentist to do a dental check on Calder as well. Because Calder cannot express himself well, we are always guessing the causes for his occasional bouts of moodiness. Would be good to rule out the possibility of toothache.

Thankfully, this dentist was flexible. Since the slots were empty after a girl after Ethel, she agreed to attend  to Calder without prior appointment. When I explained to Calder that he would be sitting on the dentist chair next, he looked - excited! He actually walked over to gaze at how the dentist worked on his sister's teeth. Grinning!

What a long way he has come. He was the boy who wouldn't sit on the dentist's chair. After years, when he finally did, he wouldn't open his mouth. When he finally allowed the dentist to peep into his mouth, he wouldn't keep it open. And when the dentist tried to use the electric tools on him, he wanted to jump out of the chair... Eventually we had to pay 2K to put him to sleep (anaesthesia) to fix all his cavities.

Last year, the dentist (a kind aunty) saw how jittery he was and just managed to smear some paste on his cavity before his mouth clamped shut.

Today, the dentist was a young lady who spoke gently and who patiently explained what she was doing to his teeth. To my delight, Calder sat calmly and kept his mouth open for the treatment. So the dental treatment this time round was a complete cleaning, not a hurried short-cut one. I noticed also, that Calder was finally able to gargle without wetting his shirt.

At 12, Calder has finally graduated from the school of dental treatment! God is so good! Mommy is proud of you, Calder!

Thursday, June 1, 2017


Day 1 of school holidays, I brought Ethel out for a long overdue haircut and lunch (Mommy's time). Granny came to babysit Calder. Thought Calder would be sad that he couldn't go out with us. Surely it would make him miss school to be cooped up at home. So I was expecting to come home to a sad boy. But I was wrong. When we returned home, he sprung up from the sofa and started bouncing around in excitement. He wasn't moody for not being included in our outing. He was happy we have returned home.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Twilight Zone

Calder has entered Twilight Zone again. I call it Twilight Zone because of the uncanny change. He became a different boy three days ago.

On Tuesday, he was still my jolly elf, delighted to accompany me to Hougang Green to buy dinner. Such a bubble of joy skipping and grinning. While at the queue, I actually asked him to help me get a packet of winged beans. After some search, he returned with them. Then I asked if he needed to go to the toilet. He merrily made his way there then returned to me.

On Wednesday, he became a stooped old man, slow to move, repeating motions but never finishing the task. He stood under the shower in a daze and when brushing teeth, left the tap running while water overflowed from his gargling cup. We had to make some noise to wake him from the stupor. Sadly I no longer wait for him to do the laundry together, because I tire of having to remind him repeatedly to get back on task. And the way he now looks at us -from the corner of his eyes - almost with suspicion it chills my heart.

When he didn't emerged from the public toilet, I was most dismayed. I could not imagine doing it all over again - yelling him out of the gents. But I had to because we were already late for his bowling training.

"Calder, what are you doing inside? You have to come out already! " I shouted into the gents. And he quickly came out in alarm. Was that what I intended - to frighten him into action? If yes, I don't know if the fright would stop him from getting stuck again, or would make such a deep impression the scenario is bound to repeat itself.

Even as I am writing this, Calder is stuck in the kitchen toilet. Do I beckon him out or let him be? If I beckon him out, it may become a fixture - he may never again come out on his own. If I let him be, well, I may go crazy waiting.

I decided that if there's no hurry, I will quietly wait for him, and give him a thumbs-up when he finally emerges. Which was what I did when we went to St Andrew's Cathedral for Shalomkids. After some 10 min wait,  Calder came out of the toilet not with his usual gallop but actually inching slowly out with his head hanging low. Then he started crying.

"Why are you crying, Calder?"
"Because cannot come out."

So, he doesn't like the new state of things either.

"It's ok. Mommy love you."

I miss my happy Calder. What I see now is a boy who turns his body away from us, who constantly looks worried, stricken even. I hope it's a phase that will soon pass.

Oh the fatigue of parenting a child so vulnerable to deterioration. Two steps forward and three steps back. What is going on in his brain? Is this transformation a result of adolescence?

But I want to trust God and believe that something good will come out of this.

Pray for us, my friends. Calder needs awakening and joy and I need wisdom as his Mom, and patient endurance.

Monday, April 24, 2017


A year ago, in honour of World Autism Awareness, I went up the stage of Yio Chu Kang Chapel to share my experience as Calder's Mom. Then I started bringing Calder to this English service with me (his sister attends Chinese Sunday School which runs concurrently).

To my delight, Calder would bounce and move to the music and raise his hand in tandem with the worship leader's. Worship is obviously his most favourite part of the service. And to my consolation, he was able to stay seated on the pew for slightly more than an hour, although he might slide left and right, front and back, and turn around to gaze at other people.

Around this time, a retiree from this English congregation started looking for Calder to give him a box of Ricola candy every Sunday, right before the service. Then it became a pack of Ferrero Rocher chocolate that Calder could share with his sister and her good friend. This uncle heard that Calder is learning bowling, so he downloaded a bowling game and would let Calder play bowling on his hand phone at the breakfast table. Recently this uncle started inviting us to join his wife and him for lunch, on the Sundays he couldn't book a court for his weekly badminton games.

So yesterday, Calder and Ethel and I joined the couple for lunch at a Thai eatery opposite our church. Calder got to eat his favourite food (fried rice and chicken wings) and drink his favourite beverage (avocado milkshake). Ethel enjoyed her favourite vegetable (non-spicy Kang Kong) and mango sticky rice and brought home a pack of her favourite fruit (jackfruit) for which the uncle hunted around after lunch.

As for me, the deepest gratification was hearing...

Uncle: Calder, are you happy?
Calder: Yes!
Uncle: When Calder is happy, Uncle Leong is also happy.

God is so good.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Brown Bear

Calder was almost independent in the toilet except that he didn't know when to start wiping his backside. The solution: $2 timer from Daiso. (I have been using this timer to limit his sister's daydreaming and playacting in the bathroom. When the timer rings in 15 min, her water heater would be turned off.)

Tuesday, April 18, 2017


Sordid business but I'm going to list here the steps to cleaning up after a poop. I have been the one cleaning Calder's bottom and thought it's a role I'm stuck in for the rest of my life. I even thought I'd have to train Ethel so she could take over when I'm too old for the job or when I'm gone. 

We've been trying to teach Calder to clean up himself for years. I followed an online advice and got him to practise wiping peanut butter smeared onto a plate. But just as he  had to be reminded to erase thoroughly for a correction, he didn't seem to see the need to thoroughly clean his backside. And so he would perfunctorily wipe when instructed but never aiming to clean off all the dirt. And if I do not want to wash and scrub at underwear, I would sigh and take over the wiping. 

When I first decided to chart the steps for Calder to follow, I spent some time finding out the best way for him to do it. In my book "Come into My World: 31 Stories of Autism in Singapore", a mom shared that she used the cue: "1 ,2, 3 wipe. Check. Dirty? Take more toilet paper." But when I followed this, Calder wound up with a toilet bowl clogged with toilet paper. How many squares should he tear out? How many times should he fold them? I tried to find specific instructions on the web but in vain. And there are so many ways to tackle the same goal. Some advocate washing instead of wiping. Some suggest wet wipes. Some say crush the toilet paper. Some assume folding.

One very good thing about Calder is he  functions well on clockwork. Even his body obeys the clock - so we could get him to poop at regular timing. At first, it's right after breakfast. Then it became first thing in the morning after a cup of water (this is more convenient if the family goes out in the early morning). So I could train Calder regularly. 

But it was not easy because he lacked the motivation. Someone had to prompt and check. Even when supervised, he could never get clean enough. It was perfunctory dabbing rather than wiping. Could it be that his hand just couldn't reach far enough? After much trial-and-error, we solved the problem by getting him to prop one foot up on the toilet bowl as he wipes (note that he empties his bowels at fixed timing at home, so there's little danger of him dirtying public toilet this way). I used to wash him with soap after wiping but figured it's easier for him to use wet wipes on himself, so I taught him the difference in disposal - wet wipes must never be thrown into the toilet bowl. 

Much human efforts were invested in this self-care that comes naturally to many of us. But the turning point is God- inspired. Recently, at 12, the cloud lifted and Calder stopped waiting for instructions for every move. He became more aware of what's expected of him and began to want to do things by himself. That's when the training finally clicked. Now Calder is able to take care of  himself after a poop. Hip hip hooray! For caregivers who are still cleaning up bottoms, here are steps which may be helpful for training in self-care.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Simple Solution

A Mom shared this with me: Her autistic son liked to throw things out of the window. Instead of expending all her energy training and disciplining and reminding him, she blocked up that window. I learned from this Mom that there are ingenious and sometimes actually very simple ways to solve a problem. So I was training Calder to be independent in showering after swimming and noticed that when he tried to find his shampoo in the black swim bag, he pulled out everything else and dropped them onto the wet floor. Solution: Transparent swim bag.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

The Pen

No more hassle of lead breaking (Calder tends to press hard when he writes). No more problem with sharpener shedding dirt. No need to pack pencil plus eraser plus sharpener. And the writing is brighter. Thank God for erasable pen.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Watch it

Once, we let Calder wear a digital watch to school. He started fiddling with the buttons which changed the settings and soon the watch was not accurate anymore. Then he fiddled with the buckle and ended up with a bleeding finger where the sharp buckle tongue had stabbed him under his nail. When he came home, he was without his watch. He couldn't tell us where it was or what had happened to it. That was three years ago. Today, Calder wore a watch to school again. At 12, he has learned to tell time to five minutes, so his Dad bought him an analogue watch with clasp (instead of buckle) and big numbers. I hope to see the watch again when he gets home this afternoon.

Pool Shower Steps

A few weeks ago, Calder was sent to Bedok Swimming Complex for training. Alas! That pool does not have handicap toilet and both teacher-in-charge and I are female. In the end, I brought him into the female bathroom to the chagrin of a teacher guarding her Primary school girls (I assured her Calder would stay behind the door). That made me think - by hook or by crook, I must teach Calder to shower by himself in public bathroom. So I found  hotel shampoo in a click container (instead of screw bottle which is a real challenge to close without spilling shampoo already poured onto palm) and trained Calder to use that at home. After a week, he is finally able to bathe without supervision! Hallelujah! Today, I printed simple steps and laminated the small A6 card to help him remember how to shower in a pool bathroom.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

It's about Love

By Brenda Tan

Recently I was asked the pertinent question: “How do you reconcile the idea of a good God with the immense challenges parenting a child with autism?” The first thing that came to my mind: It is precisely because of the many challenges I face that I’m so thankful God is good.

What challenges do I face? Let me first explain what autism is. The autistic brain functions in such a way as to result in poor communication and social skills, and a tendency to engage in repetitive behavior. These traits are evident by the time the child turns three.

My son, Calder, was diagnosed with moderate autism when he was three. He couldn’t communicate in words. He couldn’t even understand our words. Even at six, he couldn’t tell what was socially appropriate. He took French Fries from another table and reached for drinks not belonging to him. He insistently jabbed at lift buttons and bounced in excitement when he entered a lift. He couldn’t stand still in a queue and would step on feet in front and behind him. He turned faces with his humming and hand flapping. The hand dryer frightened him, noisy environment overwhelmed him, warm weather irritated him. He became anxious when there were changes to routines. In fact, he was so easily agitated that I used to wonder in the mornings: what time of the day he would have his meltdown.

Parenting such a child was not easy. How do you explain changes to a child who does not understand your language? What do you do when your child cries in a heartrending manner yet cannot tell you what is bothering him? How do you calm a child who behaves like he cannot stand his own skin? How do you keep calm when he’s tearing down the house? How do you carry on when you lose your calm and feel like you’re the worst Mom in the whole world?

That is why I’m so thankful that God is good. When I’m helpless, I call out to him for rescue. When I’m lost, I ask him to show me what to do. When I fail, I lay my errors before him and seek the strength to carry on.

It occurred to me, one day, that the fruit of the Spirit does not include intelligence, or even wisdom. I saw then, that God has given me Calder not to test how capable I am in fixing him. The test, instead, is: Can you remain loving even when he does not improve? For all the commandments hinge on the word “Love” (Galatians 5:17).

But God is good. While I persist in loving Calder, he also effects improvements. At seven, Calder called me Mommy for the first time. He learned to brush his teeth. He began to read and write. His meltdowns ceased. Now he basks in simple delights like taking transport or watching videos of himself.  At 12 this year, he has finally learnt to bathe himself. Calder is no longer the tornado or the landmine in our house.  He is our treasure, a most precious gift from God.

2 April is World Autism Awareness Day. I’m writing to help you understand what autism is, and what it means to parent a child with autism. Not all autistic children present the same challenges, but the journey is difficult for all parents. You can help by praying for us. Find out more about the condition so you can offer assistance when the situation calls for it. Smilingly welcome our child in your midst. Let your child befriend our child and our child’s sibling. Speak to us words of encouragement and not criticism.

May the Lord make your love grow and overflow to become a rich blessing to families in need, for his good purposes and to his glory.

Brenda Tan is the writer of “Come into My World: 31 Stories of Autism in Singapore” ( She has two children: 12-year-old Calder and 9-year-old Ethel. Brenda worships in Yio Chu Kang Gospel Hall.







有一天我发现,圣灵所结的果子,不包括聪明甚至是智慧。在那个时刻,我醒悟到,上帝所要求我的不是懂得如何“修理”儿子的智慧,而是一颗爱孩子的心 - 就算儿子没进展,我是否能够爱到底?因为全律法都包在“爱”这个字之内了。(加拉太书5:14)。




本文作者是杨厝港福音堂的会友:Brenda Tan 心微。她有两个孩子:12岁的自闭症儿子甘泉和9岁的女儿甘恬,曾出版《进入我的世界:31个新加坡的自闭症故事》一书(。

(This article was published in a few churches' bulletins. Feel free to share it.)

Saturday, March 11, 2017


Last night, I asked Calder to help me keep the laundry and then got busy selecting clothes for ironing. I was surprised that he not only kept his own briefs (the first step whenever I set him this task), he went on to keep Daddy's clothes, socks etc. Previously he would wait for instructions for every set of clothes, sometimes even for every individual article. This time round, he not only kept the clothes, he folded them on his own (previously I fold and he keeps). And when the clock struck 9 and I asked him to tell Daddy "It's time to go to sleep" (so Daddy can start the bedtime procedure), he went straight into the toilet and began brushing his teeth. Hallelujah! Is my Pinocchio turning into a real boy?

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Let there be Light

Had to prepare dinner so I asked Calder to go practise his piano. And so we were serenaded by Calder's music, piece after piece for 45 minutes, until Ethel decided to use the toilet in the piano room. She came running back. "Mommy, Calder has been playing in the dark! He was squinting at his score!" Oh, no wonder he played so softly. It is not the first time Calder plays piano in the dark. All because no one instructed him to turn on the light.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Word Search

Saw a pair of autistic twins completing word searches and thought that's a hobby I can introduce Calder. Good for vocabulary and focus. So I downloaded a free app and tried it out with Calder while waiting for his school bus. Had thought he would have difficulty spotting words spelled backwards but I was so wrong. Maybe they don't read left to right.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Manual for Missing Child

What you can do when your child is lost:

A. Report police by going to a police post or calling 1800-2550000. Police will ask for your child's height and weight so have these info updated and on hand. The police will also ask if you'd like to publicise the search on their social media platforms so decide this between spouse and you ahead of time.

B. Find a clear picture of your child (on handphone?) and use it to ask people in the vicinity of they have seen your child.

C. Disseminate the picture to family members, friends or neighbours who can help search, indicating clearly: 

1. What your child is wearing.
2. Where your child was last seen.
3. Your child's favourite places.
4. Your contact number.

C. Use social media to expand the search party. You may use this template to post on Facebook, together with a clear picture of your child:

My (age)-year-old (son/daughter) is lost. (Special condition, e.g. He has autism and cannot speak well.) Last seen at (venue) around (time). Wearing (description of clothes and bag if any). (He/she) likes (favourite places). If you see (him/her), please stay with (him/her) and contact me at (phone number). Please do not call me otherwise.

D. If you suspect your child of having taken public transport, report missing child with SBS Transit by going to the control room of either MRT station or bus interchange.

E. Have someone at home with door open in case your child makes his or her way home.

Some ways to make it easier for your child to be found:

A. Take a clear picture of your child before bringing him or her out, especially to crowded locations. That way, you have ready picture with child in current clothes should your child be lost.

B. Attach your contact particulars to your child. This can be in the form of information tag hung over the neck or placed in his or her bag. For durability, you can consider a dog tag with telephone number engraved, worn as necklace or tied by shoelaces to shoes.

C. Have your child memorise your contact number.

D. Have your child carry a tracking device so you can use GPS to locate him or her.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Unpredictables

There is a strange man in my neighbourhood. He looks normal, cheerful even. But he does not behave normally. I usually see him at the bus-stop with his loud radio. He is strange because the radio plays only rhythm, not tune. So you keep hearing drumbeats and maybe the cymbal in a repetitive rhythm. He would put the radio right beside his ear and jiggle his big plastic bag of batteries.

Another day, I saw him with not his radio, but a big bag of whistles. He was blowing one of them repeatedly. He saw my boy, smiled at him and generously offered him one whistle. I stopped my boy from taking the whistle and gestured “no” with a smile and a polite little shake of the head; I did not want to antagonize this strange man. Then I gently turned my son away from him.

I did what most parents would do to protect their children. Although the man was not aggressive, he acted strangely and so fell into the category called “Unpredictable”. When people do not follow social norms, you feel insecure because you do not know what harm they can do. It is therefore natural that you try to keep a distance.

Some weeks ago, I got the chills when I caught a glimpse of this category from a different angle. This time, my six-year-old son was in the box.

My son Calder loves trains. He gets really excited when a train moves. One day, we were in the MRT station waiting for our train. The train from the opposite direction arrived first. When he saw it coming, he leapt from his seat and started jumping up and down in delight. He flapped his hands too. I registered the reaction of a mother sitting beside us. When Calder leapt from his seat, it gave her daughter a fright. (She was probably one or two years older than Calder.) Instinctively, the mother shielded her from Calder, who had become “Unpredictable” and therefore dangerous in her eyes.

How did I feel? I was dismayed but not alarmed. Calder was diagnosed with autism three years ago. In three years, I have learned to accept that my son is different from other children, and because he behaves differently, people are going to look at me differently too. Fortunately I love him so much that I’m happy to bring him out despite his odd behaviour. And sometimes, the best way to cope is to pretend we exist in a bubble apart from the rest.

He is the good-looking boy on the bus who makes sounds like long yawns. He makes such sounds because he enjoys rides. Since it is a display of bliss, I see no need to curtail it. He pushes his way into the lift because that’s his favourite thing and then he jabs at the buttons repeatedly. The other day, he made a bee-line for a toilet cubicle, oblivious to the queue outside the door. As usual, I had to apologise on his behalf. My apologies did not work, though, when he tried washing his hands at all the sinks in another toilet. I was in a cubicle when he did that and emerged quickly when I heard an auntie scolding him in Mandarin. That auntie turned out to be the toilet cleaner. “Naughty! I told you not to waste water!” I explained to her that Calder is autistic; he did not understand what she’s talking about. But she carried on ranting. Like many members of the public, she probably did not understand what autism is.

You know what is the difficult thing about having an autistic child? It is that the child looks like other children but cannot be expected to act like them. One of the symptoms of autism is problem in communication. Calder does not understand much language. His speech is limited to the things (usually food) he wants. If you are to ask him what he did in school, he would probably just smile at you. It depends on the tone you use. If you use a commanding tone for the same words, he would cry. Just yesterday, my three-year-old daughter burst into tears in a frustrated attempt to converse with her brother. “Calder, did you cry cry in school today or are you happy?” she had asked. When he didn’t respond, she repeated her question more loudly. The result? He started crying and chanted, “It’s ok, it’s ok...” as he is apt to do when he’s upset.

Another symptom of autism is lack of social skills. Unlike his sister, Calder does not seek friends. He is happy on his own. However, he watches people and can sense mood. Put him in a room of happy people (not too noisy or cramped) and he would be happy. When he is happy, he smiles like the world is a really beautiful place, and he flaps his hands. When there’s tension in the air, like when my husband and I are about to start an argument, Calder would pick up the negative vibes and be agitated to tears.

The third main symptom of autism is an obsession for repetition. Calder loves to watch the lift open and close. At home, given a choice, he would spend all his time flipping switches and flushing toilets. He wants to watch the same show (Baby Gournet) every day. He asks for the same fruits in the same order. His greatest fear, it seems, is that family members would not cooperate to ensure the completion of the many routines in his daily life. Not giving him jam bread after kaya bread, for example, is enough to send him into panic mode.

Yes, having an autistic child is like entering a different league of parenthood. We have to consider carefully what we allow him because it can easily turn into another tiresome routine. Because Calder’s understanding of language is limited, I cannot say “no” to him then pacify him with a valid explanation. What I do instead is to anticipate his wants and offer him what I have before he requests for what I don’t have or am not prepared to give. For example, I put his breakfast on the table before he comes into the kitchen so he would not get upset if he asks for, say, cake and I have to tell him we don’t have any cake at home at that time. Because he hears the tone more than the words, I am careful how I inflect my voice when I speak to him.

Surprises and changes unsettle him, so I make a point to tell him what to expect next. He hates to be interrupted, especially when he is engrossed in his version of play, which is to do something repeatedly like spinning an office chair. Glee easily turns into a frown and quick tears because by calling out to him, we have interrupted his thoughts or reverie. Hence I speak to him gently whenever necessary. And I never pat him from behind.

We still bring him out to visit friends although he may become quite a nuisance by turning on and off the fan or insisting that all doors be closed. Fortunately, he enjoys food and a bouncy sofa and can sit in one place watching faces amidst the soothing drone of adult conversation. As he grows older, he understands explanations better so it is easier to draw his attention away from unacceptable preferences.

Above all, I am thankful that he is not averse to affectionate gestures like hugs and lingering eye contact. It is through these means that I express my love for him. I have come to see that as long as I do not compare him with neurotypical children, I am able to appreciate him for his simplicity and his very beautiful smiles. Certainly I do not hope for him to grow up to become another strange man at the bus-stop whom people shun. However, even if he remains an oddity all his life, I want to be around to assure him of my continued love and acceptance.

The writer Brenda Tan has published a compilation of autism experiences entitled “Come into my world: 31 stories of Autism in Singapore”. This book is sold in autism schools, a few cafes, and online. For more information, visit

(This article was first published in April 2011 issue of Young Parents.)

Friday, February 3, 2017

Treasure Hunt

You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. John 14:14

This was my devotion verse for today. I was ready to start listing my needs but then got busy preparing the kids for school. Ethel went off on the school bus first. Then I woke Calder. When he had taken his breakfast etc. we prepared to go downstairs to wait for his school bus. 7.30am.

The door was opened and Calder stepped out. Wait. Let me grab a book for him to read in case the bus comes late. But when I emerged from the flat, Calder was nowhere in sight. Perhaps the lift door opened and he went in and because there were other people in there, he couldn't wait for me. So I went down in another lift. But he was not downstairs. And not waiting at the void deck table for his school bus. Could he have gotten out of the lift at another floor? So I took the lift to Level 18 (highest floor) and went down level by level to look for him. No sign of Calder. Maybe he walked along the corridor to another part of the flat. So I took another look from Level 18. And another. Or maybe the school bus came and he went up the bus? I messaged the bus aunty. Nope, they are still on the way. The school bus arrived. No Calder. So I asked them to leave.

By now my speculations had become morbid. Was he abducted? When I finally find him, would he be without a limb? Has someone hidden him in their flat?

This morning, Calder finally came out of the toilet on his own. For many months, he needed people to call him out. Otherwise he would be stuck in the toilet. It was as if there was an invisible fence at the doorway. Over the past few days, I tried a game of patience with him. I quietly waited for him to come out while he quietly waited in the toilet for me to call him out. In the end, my patience won. And this morning, he emerged from the toilet by himself. Now he is perfect. But my perfect boy has disappeared.

I went back home and asked a family of neighbours if they'd seen him (perhaps he came back home while I was searching for him). No. Their domestic helper would look out for his return while the family helped me search. This family consists of a young couple and two preschoolers and a toddler.

Searched the vicinity, calling out his name intermittently. At one point, I even shouted, "Calder! Come back to Mommy!" When Calder was small and very difficult with his frequent meltdowns, I ever thought how pleasant life would be without such a character in the family. But Calder mellowed and became such a sweet boy, and as I searched for him today, I felt like I'd lost my treasure. I'd never want him out of my life if I can help it.

Left my number with the fruit vendor, with the porridge seller. Wrote it on the palm of a neighbour walking her dog etc. Messaged hubby for a picture of Calder in his school uniform and started him worrying. I finally found the picture on my handphone and posted it on Facebook so that friends in the area can help me look out for him. The post was reposted 1K times (wow) until friends not linked to me by Facebook also knew of Calder missing. And so Calder's ex-swimming coach messaged me.  And his new bowling coach called.  I received more messages of consolation telling me not to give up, that people are praying, and some have driven out to patrol...

From a distance, I saw someone dressed in Calder's colours walking towards Punggol Park. So I crossed the road and walked that way too. Received a call from an unknown number. Hello, this is Shin Min Daily. We read on Facebook that your son is missing. Can you give us some details. Thinking maybe the media can help, I complied while trying to keep my voice calm. Then the reporter asked, "Can we have Calder's Chinese name?" No, Calder does not recognise his Chinese name. "Can we have your Chinese name?" Calder definitely does not recognise me by my Chinese name. "Because we are a Chinese press." Oh. I realised it's for publicity. By now, my voice was breaking. If you cannot help in a concrete way, never mind. And I ended the call. Incoming call from sister-in-law. No, I cannot take any more calls. I don't want to do any more explaining. So I let it vibrate (my phone is forever in silent mode).

I searched all the nearby places Calder could have gone. Hubby had taken urgent leave and had made a police report. If Calder had boarded a bus from our nearby bus stop, he would be heading for Changi Airport so I asked hubby to contact Transitlink. Nobody picked up the call. So I walked over to Hougang mrt station, flashed Calder's picture and asked them to contact the other stations. Hubby asked, what else can we do now? It's been three hours. Ask MP for help? So I emailed MP with picture of Calder.

10.30am! Calder drank a lot of water this morning. He needs to use the toilet, but he doesn't know to ask. Would he have wet his pants? I wanted to cry.

I remembered the devotion verse of the day:

You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. John 14:14

Having exhausted the places I could search, I went home, knelt down and prayed: Lord, I can ask for anything right? Please help me find Calder. Amen. As fears arose, I found myself asking: God, surely you are not just a good feeling people get when they believe. You are alive and able to help me. So help me please. And then: I don't want to be afraid. Help me trust you. Help me trust you. As I walked out again, I prayed (more like a chant since I prayed this over and over again): Please keep him safe. Please give him your peace. Please lead him home.

Then the call came. 11.06am. Are you Brenda? Calder's Mom? This is Changi Airport. Yes, Calder is with us. He tried to cross the arrival gate. I found your name card in his bag.

The first thing I asked the airport police: Can you help me bring him to the toilet?

Hubby and I took a cab to Changi Airport. Calder was at the information counter. If he was sitting like a stone, the stone became flesh when he saw us. The airport police who found him was on the phone with the police inspector who had taken up our case. I quickly updated friends before my handphone battery died. Calder got up and went to enjoy the nearby lift (this means pressing the button and flapping in delight as the lift comes up).

Calder! What are you doing in Changi Airport? You should be in school right? He grinned. Later, when we had to go down to Ang Mo Kio police station to close the case, he couldn't answer the inspector's questions. That's not surprising. He is autistic. Our guess is that he'd followed commuters down the lift and up Bus 27. By this time, Calder was no longer smiling. In fact he looked like he wanted to cry. Maybe because he could not answer the many questions we asked him. Or maybe it's delayed reaction to the fright of being lost. Or some other awful reason. Who knows, since he cannot talk? But he's not injured so we thank God for that. One of his shoes had fallen apart though. He must have been walking or skipping a lot while in Changi Airport.

When we reached home, it was 3.30pm. I didn't feel like cooking dinner anymore. My legs had turned jelly whether from dread or fatigue. In fact I felt like I'd taken 100,000 steps. So I went to sleep. When I awoke, Ethel was back from CCA. First thing she said: What happened to Calder? (She must have heard from the friend of a friend of a friend.)

From this saga, I learned:

1. The name card saves the day. Worn out though it looks, good thing it is still in Calder's bag. I had  scribbled on the reverse side: This belongs to my son Calder who has autism.

2. Always have a clear pix of Calder around, best in the clothes he often wears e.g. school uniform.

3. Get a handphone with longer battery life.

Monday, January 30, 2017


Calder used to be our most reliable janitor. He would turn off lights and fans when not in use. He would pick up used clothes to put in the laundry basket. I could also entrust him to hang the laundry on the clothes rack. He was so thorough he would check the washing machine to see if there were remaining damp clothes for hanging. So thorough he wanted to use every clip on the round clip hangers (I had to assure him it's ok to leave some clips empty; socks and undies are ok but the shirt is too big to be clipped up). Then adolescence set in (some time in second half of 2016) and he lost his initiative. He would not do anything unless instructed and repeatedly instructed too. If I pass him a pile of damp laundry, he would hold on to an item and linger at the clothes rack, waiting for reminders to get the task done. He allowed himself to be distracted by windows and mirrors. And if unsupervised, there would just be one item on the clothes rack when I come to check later. In the mornings, he could leave his fan spinning while he stepped out of his bedroom. Previously he had to wait until the fan stopped spinning. And he no longer picked up the clothes that his sister left on the floor. It was so tiresome to get him to complete tasks that I stopped asking him to help. But oh, how I mourn the loss of our janitor!  Three days ago, I flippantly asked him to hang the clothes. To my surprise, he did not disappear after hanging one item. He stayed at the clothes rack and actually completed the task very deftly. Yesterday I tried again and once again he got the task done. Today is the third try, and now I can confirm that our janitor has returned. Praise the Lord!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Calder Calm

This morning, Calder and I waited for his school bus for some 20 minutes before I messaged the bus aunty to ask if they're arriving. They had come and gone! So I told Calder: Never mind, Mommy will bring you to school by cab. So we went home for Mommy to change. Calder waited while Mommy fumbled with the Uber app, trying to use it for the first time but in vain (it says 8x the usual fare!). Then we walked out to the main road to hail a cab. Calder stood quietly in the sun while Mommy tried to spot an empty cab. Two other aunties waiting for cab. So Mommy decided: instead of going to St Andrew's Autism School, we shall meet Calder's teachers and classmates at Changi Airport (they have class outing there today). So we went home again for Mommy to pick up a book before heading to the bus stop. One hour of bus ride later, we reached Terminal 3. Calder's class arrived just a few minutes later! So Mommy handed Calder over to his teachers before rushing off for dental appointment. In all this time, Calder did not get upset or fret over the multiple  changes in plan. You have improved so much, my darling! Mommy is very proud of you!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Yes or No

Calder answers "yes" by default to any question. Actually he answers "yeah" very softly. So I decided to improve his "yes" confidence and also teach him to say "no" appropriately. Found a free app that may do just the trick.