I am a mother of three kids. During the circuit breaker, when schools were closed and we were advised to stay home, it was a challenge for my 9-year-old son, who is autistic, to understand and accept why he could not eat at the hawker centre or play at the playground. He likes physical activities like scooting and kicking a ball around.
We encouraged him to do activities at home like colouring, drawing and learning the alphabet. The school gave us home-based learning activities, but he didn’t want to do it.
Because of the change in his routine, he would often scream and cry at home. The neighbours thought that something had happened to the kids and called child protection service (CPS). They came to my home while both my husband and I were at work. When I found out from my parents (who live with us), I was shocked. I contacted CPS workers and they said that they heard a lot of crying and screaming and asked if anyone had hurt the children at home. They told me that they visited my family and saw that everything was normal and there were no signs of injury. I understand they were just doing their job.
After that incident, the police also knocked on our door three times because our neighbours continued to report hearing non-stop screaming, crying and shouting coming from our flat. This happened once when I cut his hair.
However, we also received small, unexpected acts of kindness during this time. The staff at our Family Service Centre ordered chicken nuggets for him, knowing that he loves to eat them. They also surprised our family with a delivery of ice cream to our home. It even came with a note! We were so happy knowing that there were people who also care for us, instead of those who complain without taking the effort to understand what we are going through.
Another challenge we faced during the circuit breaker was mealtimes. We could no longer go to the hawker centre near our house for his favourite noodles every morning, as per his routine. On the first day of the circuit breaker, we brought the noodles home but he refused to eat it as the noodles became soggy.
So we went to the hawker centre a second time with him to try to get back to something closer to his routine, but because he was not wearing a mask (special-needs children are exempted), he was not allowed to stand in the queue.
But the stall owner was so kind. Having known my son for many years, she gave us her bowl to show him that the noodles we bought were from the same stall that he eats at. We put the noodles in the bowl and fed him in the car (he was so hungry!). When he recognised the bowl, he started to eat and was very happy. We did this every day of the circuit breaker.
Unlike physical disabilities, autism cannot be easily seen. People have asked me about my son: “How come such a normal-looking kid cannot talk or cannot understand us”?
For people to show more kindness and understanding towards children with special needs, there needs to be more awareness about them in society.
Sometimes when I take him downstairs for a walk, people ask me why he is not wearing a mask. I take it as a chance to tell them that he is a special-needs child and share with them some of the challenges that these kids (and us as their caregivers) face.
I would like to express my gratitude to the stall auntie for being so kind to lend us her bowl. It seems like a small gesture on her part, but it made such a big difference for us. Everything starts small. Small acts of kindness can truly go a long way.