Mak Kah Ho was 5 years old when he was diagnosed with autism. His father, Mr Mak, 63, a taxi driver, recalls that up till then, his son would never speak. He would grab his father’s hand and gesture earnestly whenever he wanted something. Kah Ho was also extremely preoccupied with wheels. Whenever he saw a circular object, be it the wheel of a toy vehicle or a real bicycle, he would take off to play with them.
Mr Mak and his wife, Mrs Mak, 62, a part time office cleaner, thought nothing of these incidents as people were relatively unaware of this condition at that time. It was only when his kindergarten teacher reported that Kah Ho was behaving differently in class, like lying around on the floor, that they brought their only child to the hospital for a check up. It was then that he was diagnosed with severe autism.
When Kah Ho turned 8, he learnt how to speak during one-to-one lessons provided at the Margaret Drive Special School. After that he attended the Lee Kong Chian Gardens School and then Christian Outreach to the Handicapped (COH), where he has been for the past 8 years.
Kah Ho is now 26 years old.
A Labor of Love
A typical day would see Mr Mak ferrying Kah Ho back and forth in his taxi between home and COH, in the morning and about 3pm in the afternoon. While his parents spend the day working, Kah Ho would be at the COH learning lifeskills and how to interact with others.
Outside of COH, Kah Ho’s parents patiently and persistently spend time engaging him, both in talking and teaching. Through a combination of medication and classes at COH, Kah Ho has gained much better control of his emotions, and toned down on his hyperactivity and violent outbursts. He has made significant improvements in expressing himself and can now speak and write simple sentences.
Family time is spent exclusively between Mr Mak, his wife and his son. Kah Ho’s condition does not permit them to spend much time together outdoors as he gets overly-excited whenever they do go out, shouting loudly and running around, making it difficult for his parents to keep up with him.
However, knowing how much Kah Ho enjoys going “jalan jalan”, his parents do take him out occasionally. They hold on tightly to his hand so he does not wander away though. Still, there had been a few times when Kah Ho went missing in a shopping centre, and left his parents to search for him, anxiously, for hours.
Going out also means that Mr Mak and his wife have to put up with funny looks from members of the public, especially when Kah Ho gets violent and throws a tantrum. Though Kah Ho does not understand or recognise the looks he receives, his parents understand them all too well, but have since long gotten used to them.
Facing the Future
These days, however, Mr Mak is grateful that people, are more sensitive to his family’s needs. He takes heart knowing that today, communities in Singapore are growing increasingly aware of autism. Their neighbours used to think that Kah Ho was a “too noisy” latchkey child, but they soon came to understand the difficulties Mr Mak and his wife have in caring for Kah Ho, and have come to make the effort to engage him as well. Even in public, complete strangers have come up to Mr Mak to encourage him and give him advice to hang on and be patient with Kah Ho.
Taking each day as it comes is how Mr Mak and his wife cope with Kah Ho’s condition. With the help of COH, they care for Kah Ho’s daily needs, persevering their walk with him on his path to growing independence.
Editor’s Note: Mr Mak and his wife work hard to make ends meet, in addition to caring for Kah Ho. COH’s daycare programs help them with part of that care. Kah Ho and his family are part of COH’s financial assistance scheme and receive funding from the Lee Foundation for their needs.
About the Author: The COH Resource Team comprises volunteers, content writers and experts, including psychologists, counsellors, educators and social service professionals.