My 10-year-old nephew, Thaddeus, is a boy with high-functioning autism.

He is comfortable with his regular public transport routes, and has confidently requested to travel alone. Even so, he may not always know how to deal with hiccups during his journey.

That’s why our family is so appreciative of the kindness of one Mr Azman, who kept a lookout for Thaddeus and reached out to him on this particular incident.

Last Thursday (Jul 25), Thaddeus was taking a bus from Punggol to Our Tampines Hub for a make-up tuition class in the afternoon. He does not have a mobile phone, and was instructed to call home after reaching the tuition centre. But that day, I didn’t receive a call from him.

Instead, at around 3pm, I received a call from a member of the public, Mr Azman, who was heading to work at Changi Airport’s Terminal 2 when he found Thaddeus sleeping on the bus.

Thaddeus didn’t know this yet, but he had missed his bus stop opposite Our Tampines Hub and was inadvertently heading all the way towards Changi Airport.

Mr Azman informed me that he had woken Thaddeus up and told him not to get off the bus, but to take it back to Our Tampines Hub for his tuition class. He then passed the phone over to Thaddeus to speak to me. But as his tuition class ends at 4.30pm, I told Thaddeus to simply take the bus back home to Punggol instead.

To my surprise, Thaddeus didn’t have any meltdowns; he even asked me to call up his tuition centre to inform them that he would not be attending class.

Afterwhich, he hung up the phone before I could tell him to pass it back to Mr Azman. I called Mr Azman back to let him know that Thaddeus would be taking the bus back home, and not to Our Tampines Hub.

With the help of Mr Azman, Thaddeus was able to call me and inform me of what had happened. And throughout the whole episode, he managed to remain calm, probably because of Mr Azman’s concern and kind assistance.

It would be heartening if members of the public are all as ready to help keep a lookout, and as willing to reach out to our children in need. By doing so, more parents might be encouraged to allow their special needs children to try travelling independently.

This isn’t Thaddeus’ first time travelling alone. He started travelling independently to school this year to attend his school’s June holiday programmes, and during the later trips, he even brought his younger brother, Jovan (they are both autistic and studying together in Pathlight School), along to school for the holiday programmes.

It takes arduous efforts to train a child with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) to travel independently, and there are a lot of hurdles to overcome in doing so. Thus, it is indeed a huge achievement unlocked for special needs children to travel independently.

Special needs children may also have difficulty asking for help in comparison with their neurotypical peers, due to their issue with social interaction and communication.

So, my family and I would like to say a big ‘Thank you’ again to Mr Azman for being willing to reach out and help Thaddeus when he was in need. We are truly grateful for kind souls like you!

Annette Chua

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