Hope, worry & sacrifice: S’porean parents share what it’s like to bring up a child with autism

Trips to the shopping malls used to be a chore for 7-year-old Nabil Rifqi’s family.

Whenever they went to one, Nabil would break away from his family and begin to either run around aimlessly, wail, roll around the floor, or a combination of all three.

To defuse the situation as quickly as possible, his parents would coax him so he wouldn’t cause a bigger scene.

However, passers-by would still stare disdainfully, probably thinking he was just another naughty child.

But Nabil wasn’t acting out for attention or being mischievous.

What his parents didn’t know was that Nabil was experiencing an autism meltdown, as he had yet to be diagnosed then.

What is autism?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a lifelong developmental disability that affects a person’s ability to “make sense of the world and relate with others”.

Symptoms vary from person to person, but people on the spectrum can face social communication difficulties and/or restricted and repetitive behaviours such as:

  • Making/maintaining eye contact
  • Expressing emotions
  • Expressing themselves non-verbally
  • Fear of crowds
  • Gauging personal space
  • Ritualistic behaviours
  • Extreme interests in specific topics
  • Need for unvarying daily routine
  • Resistance to change

Nabil’s parents, 37-year-old Nadzifah Zainal and 39-year-old Muhammad Hilmee, first noticed signs of ASD in Nabil when he was four years old.

He had delayed speech and displayed behaviours like avoiding eye contact.

His mother shared:

“We received some feedback from his preschool teachers and noticed that he gets very fidgety and does irregular things like knocking his head against the wall.”

“Why me?”

As a pair of concerned parents, both of them brought Nabil to see a child psychologist and after describing his behaviour, he was diagnosed with ASD.

Upon hearing his diagnosis, Nadzifah had a cocktail of negative emotions.

“I was very sad and disappointed, I asked myself: Why me? Why our family?”

At that time, she was also reminded of a particular visit with her gynaecologist.

When Nadzifah was five months pregnant with Nabil, the water level in his head was higher than the normal range.

This also meant that the chances of Nabil being born with Down syndrome were higher.

“They asked us if we wanted to check if he had Down syndrome, and if he did, we had the choice to abort him.”

A month later, the water level in his head went back to normal, much to the family’s relief.

But this memory keeps popping up in her head.

“At the back of my mind, I keep wondering if this particular event could be the cause of him having autism.”

She is aware, however, that the cause of most autism cases cannot be identified.

Early intervention

The “shopping mall problem” was also solved when the psychologist recommended the family to bring him to spacious places like parks and playgrounds.

“We tried that and he just ran freely and happily and we had no worries because he wasn’t disturbing anyone. He just needed space, not crowds.”



For full article, please visit: https://mothership.sg/2019/04/special-needs-autism-singapore/

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