Helping 5-year-old Umar Learn Adaptive Living Skills

This Autism Awareness Month, we share the story of five-year-old Umar, and how our early intervention team supports him and his family in his learning and development.

This Autism Awareness Month, we share the story of five-year-old Umar Rasyideen, and how our early intervention team supports him and his family in his learning and development.

Learning about animals often puts a smile on Umar’s face. The five-year-old enjoys drawing them and can even name the different continents and animals that live there.

When the spelling of an animal stumps him, he would not be shy to ask for help. However, this was not always the case for Umar.

Prior to enrolling into the Early Intervention Programme for Infants and Children (EIPIC) at SPD@Jurong three years ago, Umar, who was diagnosed to be on the autism spectrum, had struggled to express himself.  

Did you know? 
Autism is a developmental disability and individuals who have autism may face difficulties in areas such as social skills, repetitive behaviours, speech and non-verbal communication. It is a spectrum condition which means that autistic individuals may have different degrees of autism. 
While it is a lifelong condition, autistic individuals who receive timely and adequate intervention can develop skills that are needed to live fulfilling and independent lives.    

According to the third Enabling Masterplan, it is estimated that one in 150 children in Singapore has autism. 

“He mostly communicated using gestures and would sometimes repeat after what adults say,” said Ms Siti Aishah, Umar’s EIPIC teacher. “His caregivers found it hard to understand him at times, and this would often cause Umar to cry and get upset.”  

Such visual aids are especially helpful for children who have autism as they are generally visual learners who learn best by looking and watching. 

Umar’s speech therapist started teaching him and his parents in using the Picture Exchange System (PECS) to facilitate communication. PECS allows Umar to use picture cards to convey a request or express his thoughts.  

In the classroom, Umar gets to practise his interaction skills as he mingles with the EIPIC team and fellow classmates. The teachers also work closely with his parents to improve his adaptive living skills like feeding and toileting. 

Let your child explore new food items by getting them to look, touch and smell the food. 

“When Umar first joined, he was unable to express his toileting needs or use the toilet independently. He also found it challenging to feed himself using the spoon,” said Aishah. 

Play is a fantastic way for children to hone their functional skills. 

His occupational therapist and teachers began to teach Umar the skills to undress and dress himself during toileting. A toileting schedule was also developed for Umar to follow. Gradually, Umar learnt to inform the adults of his need to use the toilet. 

How does a visual schedule work? 

In Umar’s case, using a schedule helps to introduce him to the toileting routine as it helps him to associate the bladder sensation to the process of using the toilet. By breaking down the toileting sequence, the child could learn better and predict the steps that will come next. As the child gets used to the toileting routine, the schedule can be gradually phased out for them to initiate the need to use the toilet. 

The EIPIC professionals worked closely with Umar’s parents to ensure that Umar continued practising the skills learnt from the EIPIC centre at home. Through regular training, Umar’s parents now feel more confident in supporting his daily routines.  

With the strategies learnt from the EIPIC team, his parents decided to pay it forward by assisting in the production of video resources for SPD’s Little Seeds, a programme for caregivers and children who are on the EIPIC waitlist. They have since helped to create content on a range of topics such as mealtime and bedtime, in collaboration with the EIPIC team. 

“We are happy with the progress that Umar has made so far. He is now able to recall and share with us what he has seen and watched,” said Mdm Shakina, Umar’s mother.  

For now, Umar has his sights set on learning about prehistoric animals as he continues to hone his communication skills.