Living with autism: How one student made it through A-Levels
SINGAPORE: This was a day that Mdm Florence Goh never thought would come. When her son Noah Si was diagnosed with autism at the age of three, never did she think that he would go on to excel in his A-Level examinations, scoring almost straight As in results that he received on Friday (March 4).
“I’m very surprised, I wouldn’t even think of such a thing when he was first diagnosed, because that time seemed very bleak for me. I was very worried and I started to frantically look for all kinds of information,” she said. “His prognosis wasn’t very positive because he had a lot of sensory issues, and the sensory issues got into the way of his learning.”
But her fears proved unfounded, as Noah excelled academically as a primary school student at Pathlight School, a special school for children with autism. In fact, when he started doing too well, Madam Goh decided to take him out.
She said while Noah thrived in his six years at Pathlight, she feared when he started to get conceited.
“He had been performing well there academically and was given many chances to shine. I think he was also starting to think that Pathlight was his whole world, and I didn’t want this to get any worse.”
So Noah then moved on to Sengkang Secondary School, before heading to Temasek Junior College, with stellar O-Level results.
But he had challenges integrating into the mainstream school system, saying that some of his classmates did not understand him at first. “Doing something weird, like flicking a ruler back and forth, can help me relax. But other people might find it odd or unusual. So when I told them I won’t harm anybody, the people just let it be,” he said.
One of them was Noah’s civics tutor at Temasek Junior College, Chan Cheow Wee.
Mr Chan said he encouraged Noah to tell his classmates about his condition – and he remembers that day well.
“Noah courageously went to the front and told the class, I want you to know that I have this condition called Autism Spectrum Disorder. The class was stunned and silent. But then they really clapped for him,” he recounted.
“After that I selected several people to buddy Noah. These people were very nice people, and they became good friends. That’s when he slowly settled into the class,” Mr Chan added.
MORE STRUCTURED SYSTEM NEEDED
Like Noah, there are others with autism who take the path to junior college. But they are in the minority.
“Many of them will have some form of challenges in terms of the language demands. It’s not that they are congnitively unable, but the language challenge is usually a barrier to them entering the junior colleges,” said the President of the Autism Resource Centre and Pathlight School supervisor, Denise Phua.
While Ms Phua says there have been improvements in the kind of support autistic students receive in institutes of higher learning, she hopes there will be a more consistent and structured system in place.
The Member of Parliament said she is partnering with Temasek Cares to develop and scale up an autism support project for such students. “This is a system where different stakeholders – students, peers, lecturers and caregivers – will go through a roadmap that includes preparation, enrolment, orientation and course support, and we’re looking to see how this project can be scaled up so more students in the ITEs, polytechnics, universities and junior colleges can benefit in a more structured, systemic way.”
It seems almost a natural progression for male students collecting their A-Level results to go on to do their National Service. And Noah’s mother, Mdm Goh, said he hoped it would be the same for him.
“In his second year, he read about NS, watched videos about being in the army, and he was very keen to serve the nation,” she said. “At first I thought he would be placed under PES E, where he would do clerical or admin work, and I actually went to the shops to buy some books on the army, and we read them together.”
However, it was not to be. As Noah collected his results, he also said goodbye to many of his male classmates, because he has been exempted from National Service.
So for now, he is putting his disappointment aside, and is looking forward to starting university this year, where he hopes to take up a course in science or engineering.