Parenting a child with autism has prompted Mr Raj to re-evaluate the meaning of time. As he journeys with his son Kirisnah, who is a trainee at SPD’s Sheltered Workshop, he shares with us some of his personal takeaways as we celebrate Autism Awareness Day on 2 April.
Time is an abstract concept to some children with autism. Other than telling time, some of them may struggle to relate to time at a more abstract level. For instance, they may have difficulty imagining and planning for future events. Hence, it is imperative for parents to explore meaningful alternatives to help them to appreciate time.
As a parent, the meaning of time changes for me as I go through different phases of life. Besides caring for my children and fulfilling work commitments, I also have to moderate my expectations of life against the demand of time. Looking back, time has influenced me emotionally and psychologically.
I recall an incident that happened many years ago when I decided to take Kirisnah on a fishing trip. Much time was spent on the preparation as I researched on the fishing grounds, taught Kirisnah the fishing techniques and what was to be expected. In addition, Kirisnah was shown videos of what fishing entails. Familiarisation is an essential aspect to creating a successful outcome. Finally, we choose a fishing spot nearest to my home.
On the day of the trip, I walked through the steps with Kirisnah again. This involved preparing the fishing items, rigging the rod and baiting the hook. Once ready, I casted the bait into the water. I still remember vividly the excitement in Kirisnah’s eyes.
We began to wait.
Initially, luck was not on our side. The fish had taken the bait without getting hooked.
“What happened!” he laughed. “How come no fish?”
“The fish was smart. Let’s try again,” I replied.
This time, with some help, Kirisnah managed to cast the bait by himself. With some luck, a fish was hooked within minutes. That moment motivated Kirisnah greatly. We continued to fish for another three hours, catching five fish in total. Time came to a standstill as both of us were immersed in the fishing experience.
From then on, we continued to organise a few more fishing excursions. Though not all our trips ended up with successful catches, these trips formed some of my fondest memories with Kirisnah.
As I look back, the numerous encounters that I had relating to autism have greatly humbled me and altered my perspective of time.
Through my interactions with Kirisnah over the years, I learned that our perspectives of time were different. In the past, I would expect tasks to be completed at a certain desired time. But Kirisnah thinks otherwise. To him, time represents the present. Future planning does not matter to him. Thus, to exert pressure or nag at him for his unhurried attitude merely reflects my lack of understanding to his needs.
Societal expectations have fuelled the ‘kiasu-ism’ (afraid to lose) in us. Parents are caught in the rat race of having their children achieve academic success. Yet, assuming such an attitude can be unhelpful. Our insistence in getting our children to conform to societal norms may be detrimental to their growth and development. It promotes conflictual parent-child relationships and potential behavioural issues in the child.
Instead, it is important to moderate our parenting approach. Parenting not only necessitates parents to communicate their expectations, it also requires them to understand their children’s needs too. Besides that, I have learnt to appreciate how autism influences my son’s worldviews. These factors interact and form my intervention approach with my son.
Parenting is a lifelong journey. Every day presents an opportunity to view our children in a new light. By pacing with our children’s development, we learn to provide a holistic parenting experience for our children. Hence, we need to continue reviewing our parenting strategies according to our children’s progress.
Like yours, my journey continues. Let’s continue to maintain our faith and go with the flow.