Monday, March 19, 2018


Yesterday, I brought Calder along for vocal training in preparation for an upcoming Easter performance. Usually I would ask him to select a heavy chair among those stacked up. This is to discourage him from rocking the chair on which he sits.

The training lasts two hours. I have tried occupying him by letting him play games on my handphone (word search, bowling) but he's so reliant on prompting he lets the phone enter sleep mode most of the time.

Last week, I brought along a fidget spinner for him to fiddle with but it didn't seem to interest him for long. But he waited patiently and I conveniently assumed he's "absorbing" the music he's hearing (a safe assumption because he always looks very happy when I practise the same songs at home).

This week, the performers had to practise stage movements so we seat him where the audience should be - facing us.

After a while, I noticed that Calder's face was no longer visible. I could only see his hair. He had hung his head so low I thought he had fallen asleep. But he was awake,  obediently seated but not comfortable facing us.

I never knew my son has this level of difficulty with eye contact.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Trampoline Park

Yesterday I received a text asking if Calder would be joining the youth group for trampoline jumping today.

Trampoline? Oh, Calder loves the trampoline. We actually had trampolines at home for him to release his energy when he was small. Trampolines with an "s" because they were so well-used they had to be replaced a few times.

It was later that I found out the youths were heading for a trampoline park. Oh, not in church premise but out for a few hours with people who, though kind, may not know him enough to take adequate care of him.

They did not know, for instance, that Calder needs reminding to finish his food. They did not know that he might linger in the toilet and not come out unless prompted. They did not know that he answers "yes" to almost any question. And they did not know that they can gently distract him if he does something inappropriate, like playing with his sandals or putting a finger in his mouth.

The protective instinct told me, in this case, to keep him with me where he's safe because I understand him. But there's another voice that questions: how are people to understand him if he's "protected" from them? Especially since World Autism Awareness Day is approaching - the best way for people to understand autism, isn't it for them to interact with one such as Calder?

There's another facet of consideration: Would the youths feel burdened about Calder tagging along? Perhaps the outing is not meant for a special-needs. Perhaps I as Calder's Mom should have the sense to relieve them of the obligation.

But I do want Calder to make friends, even though he communicates minimally. Since he enjoys jumping, perhaps this is a good opportunity for bonding with people who might become his friends, his protectors, his champions even.

So I decided to put my worries aside and let him go.

I communicated to the youth-in-charge: "Appreciate patient guidance so he doesn't feel lost." And was pleasantly surprised by the reply: "We'll do our best! Thanks for having faith in us." Oh, so while this parent was wondering if Calder was welcome, the other side was wondering if the parent might be able to let go.

The youth-in-charge asked me if I had instructions for the buddy he's going to assign Calder and I found myself typing:

"Speak to Calder gently.
He may need prompting to eat his food.
Please look for him if he doesn't come out of the toilet.
Look him in the eye.
And smile."

So it was settled that Calder would be in the care of the youths who would give him his breakfast and his lunch, who would bring him to the toilet and who would jump with him in the trampoline park.

Even before the WhatsApp communication had come to an end, I had started praying for the arrangement to go well. I hope Calder wouldn't feel lost and wouldn't get lost. I made sure to charge the handphone in his haversack so his whereabouts could be tracked should he wander out of the trampoline park.

This morning, after releasing Calder to the youth group at 9am, I continued praying for the outing to go well. To my delight, the youth-in-charge texted me later that Calder seemed to have enjoyed himself. Sure enough, when I collected Calder from the youth room near 2pm, I was met with a radiant grin.

While waiting for Calder to return from the outing, I shared with Ethel my concerns and was surprised by her point of view -

Ethel: Oh, if  Calder go for the trampoline park with them...
(I thought she's going to acquiesce that he would feel lost)
... he would unleash his true self and that might frighten some of them off.
(I think she meant he might start giggling and bouncing wildly.)

Me: Wow, that's a good one - "unleash his true self".

Ethel: Why?

Me: Sounds powerful.

Ethel: Yah right?

Wednesday, March 14, 2018


At the supermarket today, Calder took a basket and as usual I reminded him to be careful with it. Oops his basket hit a lady crouching by the cold vegetable section. I didn't see it happening but caught the gist by the look on that lady's face. As usual, I apologised on Calder's behalf. The fellow was still swinging his basket like nothing had happened. The lady was not at all appeased by my apology.

"Don't know how to say sorry," she  grumbled.

Me: "Calder, say sorry."

Calder: "Sorry!"

Unfortunately he didn't look at all penitent.

Me: "Sorry. He is autistic."

On the way home, I was wondering what's the best thing to do in such situations: Calder oblivious to the offense he's caused - unfortunately not an unusual occurrence. When necessary, I've always been the one to instruct Calder to apologise. But nobody likes a scripted apology so how do I get Calder to say "sorry" spontaneously?

Then I had an idea. Whenever he hits me or steps on my foot accidentally, I'll turn my face to him and exclaim "ouch!" That is the cue that will elicit a loud "sorry" from him. He's so cheerful about it I think he sees it like a game. Sometimes I wonder if he'd fire "sorry" to an "ouch" that is not his fault. But I suppose I can use this to solve the issue at hand - to do a quiet "ouch" so that he would bellow his "sorry" to appease whoever has been upset by him.

Actually it's a consolation of sorts that people often don't see his autism and therefore assume he's being rude, until the Mommy offers an explanation.

Meanwhile, Ethel heard my idea and was very tickled by the picture of Calder's enthusiastic "sorry".

Me: "Yes, Calder is going to bellow 'sorry' so loud that everyone can hear it!"

Ethel: "I think Calder is the most amusing autistic boy around."

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Piano Fiasco

A few days ago, Calder melted down because he could not play a new piano piece.

I must confess I was largely at fault. I didn't hide my exasperation that he couldn't recognise the basic high C note. And that he couldn't see that two notes on the same line means he should play the same sound twice. I forgot often that Calder cannot sight-read.

Last Thursday, Calder's piano teacher remarked that Calder must have been working very hard to be able to grasp one song within one week. Truth is Calder doesn't have homework and tests like his sister because he studies in a special school. At home, if he doesn't play the piano, he's watching TV or listening to music. He has no initiative to practice on his own but he's always very happy when Mommy has time to guide him in his piano. And it gives him great delight to be able to play a new music piece from beginning to end. We usually tackle the piece a portion at a time so it takes him about four days to go through a longer piece.

If he's able to play the piano relatively well, it's because he likes to practise. He can sit at the piano for an hour, playing till his hands ache and he has to shake his fingers loose yet he remains cheerful. It's also because he has good memory. I'm always amazed by how his left fingers can settle so easily at the correct keys for chords. The other thing I've observed is that his brain does amazing fixing when he's asleep - the mistakes committed at one practice would have disappeared by the next day's practice.

I enjoy guiding him at his piano. Yes, I help him learn his music pieces even though I've discovered long ago that I'm no longer his match - I can tell when he plays  wrongly but cannot demonstrate the right way to go about it.

Saturday morning was our first time trying out Marriage D'amour. He couldn't place his fingers at the right places so I instructed him to play the same portion over and over again. I pointed at a note on the score and asked him what it was and was frustrated when he gave me random answers. I said, "Play double of each note, Calder" and carelessly overlooked that of course he wouldn't know what's "double".

That's when Calder started banging the piano and chanted "take escalator take escalator" (no idea why he said that) and yelled.

Oh oh. We were supposed to join his granny for lunch. Can he make it? Should I let him play familiar pieces to calm him down? Nope, not working. So I asked him to lie on his bed before I turned off the light. I vaguely remembered that he had been taught (in school) breathing techniques to calm down. So I asked him to blow 20 times. Still crying.

I took over the blowing instead. "One (gentle blow on his face), two (another gentle blow on his face), three... twenty (a kiss on his forehead)." Again, Calder? He indicated yes. So I did it another two rounds.

By this time, I was smiling as I blew. Because he had stopped crying. His breathing had calmed and he was gazing very intently into my eyes. A very special moment.

"Calder Mommy love. Sorry I was impatient."

Then I got him to blow onto my fingers 20 times. And directed him to the kitchen for apple (I've noticed that crunching has a calming effect). And in case he was hungry, I gave him a cake too.

By the time we came out of the house to take a bus, he was smiling.

Sunshine after the rain.

I must remember that Calder can play the piano without recognising notes. I must also handle his feelings with care, and not assume that because he is quiet, he is immune.