Father of an Autistic Son: Building an Inclusive Society Starts at Home

In the past, Bob would easily get frustrated when his son, Jun Le, who is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), could not grasp simple concepts and carry out basic tasks such as simple reading or tying shoelaces. However, with his own realisation and support from his wife, he gradually learned to accept his son and learned to be more patient with him, to be able to guide him along. By accepting his son for who he is, Bob has then paved the way for the society to be able to accept Jun Le too.

1. What is your daily routine like with Jun Le? In your opinion, how different/unique do you think your interactions with Jun Le are compared to other ordinary children?

During the weekends, Jun Le would usually prepare his own meals first, such as a simple one with some Milo and bread. After that, he would always go down to the coffee shop to buy us some kopi! And in the afternoon, we would go to the park to ride our bicycles together.

Though most of the time, I would try to vary our activities across different weekends to keep him more engaged, such as going to the shopping mall and other outdoor activities, though most of the time we would just go to the park to cycle.

On Sundays, we would usually engage him in the house to do some simple housework, such as cleaning the floor and cooking. Even simple tasks such as preparing the ingredients for our meals are good enough to engage his focus onto the tasks. We try our best to instill these daily habits and skills in him so that he can grow accustomed to it in future easily.

2. Growing up, what were your biggest concerns for Jun Le/what do you think parents of differently-abled children would usually be most concerned about? How do you think handling such concerns will help your child get over their problems/issues?

The main issue that we would always think about is, “what would happen to our children if we are no longer around?”. Recently, I organised a photojournalistic exhibition called “Finding What’s Next” about the lives of autistic people. I worked with the featured children who are older than Jun Le, where their parents also share the same concerns – mainly where they are worried about their children’s independence and future when they are eventually gone.

Although most of my friends would say things such as “Hey, we can start by training him to live independently, and to pick up daily living skills”, but I don’t really agree with this. I would always tell them that picking up daily living skills does not equate to being independent. Surely, they can take care of themselves, but being independent is different – in the essence that being independent is where one can make wise and informed decisions, such as knowing how to buy a house, and handle other issues.

However, I feel that for my son, he might not be able to be independent as his ASD is on the moderate scale, but he is able to take care of himself. Sometimes we would also be concerned about issues such as making arrangements for the future, for housing and education and such. 

To tackle this, we have been training Jun Le to be able to carry out basic tasks such as tying his shoelaces. Although it might seem to be an easy task for us, for ASD individuals, they may not understand the purpose behind the process or the procedure. It took Jun Le a few weeks to master the concept of tying shoelaces, which is a common issue for ASD individuals, as they learn at a really slow pace. Even when we tried to draw out a diagram for him to better understand the process, he still could not do it. We hope that by teaching him these technical skills early on in his life, he can then carry it with him to the workforce in future too.

That’s why I personally feel that early education and practice with a lot of patience will definitely be something that we as parents can work on, to help our children in their future and future jobs too.

3. As a Dad, how is your relationship with your son? Do you feel that your son interacts with you differently compared to your wife?

When Jun Le was an infant and toddler, I was not very close to him as most of the time, my relatives were the ones who took care of him on behalf of me, so I was not a very involved father in the past when taking care of Jun Le. I wouldn’t even call myself a weekend parent per se – maybe a “sometimes” parent? (laughs) Because in the past when I was working at the newspaper publisher, I was constantly working around the clock so I did not have a lot of time to spend with him.

However, as he was growing up, we made a realisation – we decided to quit our jobs in order to set aside more time to spend with Jun Le for therapy sessions and courses. 

As a parent, we also had to learn to be his pillar of support and to be able to guide him along his learning journey.

Throughout this time, we also felt that it is important to take things slowly as our previous pace was too fast and hectic. I got to appreciate the time with our family more after being more involved with him. Since my wife and I decided to leave our jobs to provide and take care of our only son, we told ourselves to not be too engrossed with our work. Even though eventually we started up with our freelance production jobs, we must still pace things out in order to make time for Jun Le and his needs.

In terms of personal relationships, both my wife and I are quite close to him as he views us as his “best friends”. For me, I’m usually more laid back and fun, so Jun Le would play with me more, whereas for my wife, she’s more serious. Usually, Jun Le would find his mommy more when he needs help with something, and me when he needs someone to play with.

4. What are some proud and memorable moments that you've had with your son?

During the circuit breaker last year, we took the time to bring him down to the exercise corner last year to do some exercise as there were not many people around, which was conducive for him. We also trained him to learn how to buy drinks from the coffeeshop. With the help of the coffeeshop vendors, he has now successfully mastered this skill of being able to make simple orders by himself.

Of course, we would celebrate every moment of Jun Le’s achievement because we want to make Jun Le know that his efforts are appreciated and meaningful.

5. What is one thing that is most important to you in your relationship with your son?

To me, I feel that our father-and-son relationship doesn’t only go towards the direction of the father teaching the son, as I have also learned a lot from Jun Le. Knowing my son’s simple behaviour, such as his drive to complete his tasks to earn a reward makes me learn that we should also relax sometimes too. Sometimes in life, we tend to overthink and over complicate issues which are stressful, unlike my cheerful son who is content with what he has. I think that sometimes, we can be like him too, by appreciating the simple things and feats that we have.

Being with Jun Le has also allowed me to slow down my pace in life, by taking things in a more relaxed approach, than to just zoom past everything in a flash and get burned out.

Initially, I would get frustrated with Jun Le easily when he could not understand simple notions and concepts, which caused me to lash out on him. But, my wife would always remind me that I should not vent my anger on him and be more patient as there is no point in getting angry with Jun Le. As a parent, my emotions will definitely affect my son’s, and it might not be desirable. Not only can I learn to apply this virtue of patience to my son, I can also apply it to other situations such as in my line of work.

6. Through your exhibition, what is a message that you'd like to emphasise on the topic of "family", along with people with ASD?

I feel that for most ASD families, patience is one of the most important values to uphold as it is what makes the foundation of the family strong and bonded. To be able to truly accept each other and be there for one another, that is what I would call love and a family that cares. 

I think that all of the families that have been featured in my exhibit are also very open to share about their children’s conditions, which is important as some others may not accept their conditions. In order for the community and the society to accept people with ASD, their own families must accept and love them too.

I also feel that family support is also very important, as they can be there to ground their child since their early days, so that they can walk through life a little better.

Do you relate to Bob’s experience on his sharing about his son and other issues surrounding ASD? Well, I believe that Bob’s sharing does shed some insight on how he feels like being a father of a son with ASD, and how he learns to approach his issues with his son together, while also growing as a parent.

Check out Bob’s little fun blog about his daily life Jun Le here for more information!

To experience the full immersive stories from Bob’s photojournalistic exhibition, you may wish to drop by the Esplanade for quick look here below.

Finding What’s Next -Esplanade Tunnel
16 Apr – 22 August 2021
More info at findingwhatsnext.sg

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