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My Journey

Tim Marshall

Introduction

I am Joshua, a 14 year old teenager, who has overcome and recovered from ASD by God’s grace. Ever since my recovery, I have forgotten much about what had happened in those 9 years of having autism, but I remember these things.

Symptoms

When I was in kindergarten, I hated attending events or performances because they disrupted the peaceful daily routines that I had constructed. Even now, when I try to evoke memories of those events, I get a bad taste in my mouth. In kindergarten, I didn’t care about anything except for the toys that we were allowed to play with after finishing our assignments. The simplicity of the assignments allowed me to go and play very frequently. However, I had an obsession with dinosaurs and that was the only thing I played. Others who tried to play dinosaurs too would have to deal with me. I didn’t like sharing. Only in the later parts of the year would I consent to playing with cars and letting others play with the dinosaurs

Have you watched the movie Inside Out? In the movie, memories are represented by these tiny spherical objects that store “records” of events that had happened to the being in question. The emotions being felt at the moment can affect the memory. If lets say the person feels angry that his brother broke his toy, the memory will have a red glow; a bright yellowish glow for happiness and etc. However, my memories of last time have no etc, no emotional complexity. If you ask me to colour code them, they are either white: happy; or red: angry/scared/embarrassed/frustrated/etc. 

Recovery

This is the happy part of the article; the climax; the part more worth reading. My father says that there are 4 factors that contribute to my recovery. 

When I was 5, my turbulent childhood calmed when I enrolled in Capstone Kindergarten, a Christian school. The teachers there were surprisingly patient and caring, unlike other schools I had been in. When I was in a bad mood and my rigidity and obsessions reached their peaks, they leave me be to cool down, instead of probing and yelling at me, which would have made matters worse. At the end of 2 years in kindergarten, I actually put down the dinosaurs so I could play with cars instead. This contributed 40%, a kickstart that gave me a boost.

My therapist did RDI with me when I just joined Capstone Kindergarten. I would go to a therapy centre every Wednesday, do some stuff with the therapist like playing with some spongey balls or answering questions about how I feel, the boring part, and then I will go and play with the jigsaws and read the books until my mum decides to bring me home. I remember hoping for my mum to keep talking to the therapist so I can play longer. I don’t really remember exactly what I did in therapy but the therapy and Capstone Kindergarten worked hand in hand to boost my recovery.

This contributed 30% to my recovery.

When I was 7, I was sent to mainstream school because my psychological report showed no observable sign of autism. However, mainstream was still tough and without my teachers, I probably would not make it through. Even though I could handle mild changes, I still struggled when taking part in new activities that actively engaged me. I was still not comfortable talking to strangers. Before Oral Exams, my mum had to give me a lot of prep talk so I could gain the courage to go into the examination hall. On the way to the examiner, I lost my nerve and broke down. My form teacher took me out for a half hour walk so I could regain my nerve and step inside the hall again. If not for the patience of my teachers, I would not have gotten full marks for my oral exams. From that year onwards, I changed at a miraculous rate, trying 5 types of new food for the mother tongue cultural education in Primary 2. When I was 9 years old, I made my first best friends, who have supported me all the way through my Primary school years and still keep in touch with me to this day. This contributed 30% to my recovery.

The last factor is the most sensitive but most important factor behind my recovery. I thank my God for miraculously healing me. 1 year before I enrolled in Capstone, the place had just been built and it was too dusty for me. 1 year after I graduated, all the teachers that cared for me had left the kindergarten. In that period, my therapist started doing RDI. The timing that these 2 events occurred is miraculous. In Primary school, I had great teachers that had been placed there by God. This factor contributes 100% to my recovery. Without God, the other factors would have been useless.

Contributed by Joshua

Categories: Blog

Our Three Boys

Jordan Whitt

We have three boys, Joshua (14), Joseph (10),and Jonathan (7).


Joshua was a difficult baby to look after when he was born. He didn’t sleep. Every half hour he would thrash and cry. I have never forgotten how I had to massage him every other hour at night even when he was three, while battling nausea when I was pregnant with Joseph, my second boy. We sought the opinion of countless doctors, but it all drew a blank. He also began to have tantrums whenever things didn’t go to plan, had lots of phobias and tactile challenges, and was fixated with numbers and alphabets. Josh was essentially a highly anxious child. Eventually he was diagnosed with autism at three. It took the doctor a mere twenty minutes to diagnose.

We began our journey of weekly therapies of speech and OT. We sought alternative therapies like diets, homeopathy, even cranial sacral. None left a deep impression. Just lots of energy and resources drained because we were desperate parents. When Josh was four, he was handled too roughly by disbelieving teachers who felt he was faking his rigidity. He suffered an emotional breakdown and had to leave school. That was our lowest point. We tried hard to get him into another school, but many rejected him when they heard he was autistic. That feeling of having your child rejected was quite devastating.


Eventually one school accepted him. And that school was critical in turning things around. The teachers understood what he needed: a place that doesn’t place demands on him; a place to simply heals; a place that affirms him. And that school did just that. They met him at where he was, and never threw him challenges beyond what he could bear. Essentially, it was very much like the RDI concept – the essence of building competence, child directed. Not academic system or statistics directed. As Josh began to heal emotionally in that safe haven, we also started the RDI program at that time.


RDI was quite challenging for us at first. This was one therapy whereby you cannot spend money for people to do your work. It is essentially a lifestyle therapy. We started the most challenging part of slowing ourselves down. That was very very difficult for me as I tend to try to do too many things at one time, talk too fast, rush too much. I did not realise it doesn’t encourage my son to think deeper, reflect more, or have time to consolidate or explore with his limited resources. Joshua, being a very anxious child, needed a lot of time and space to reorganise himself. To be less functional in his thoughts and interaction. The word was PAUSE. In fact, even our communication changed from imperative (E.g. Pick up your toys, go shower) to a more declarative form (Eg Oops . ,I nearly tripped over the toys, you looked sticky). Though we sounded weird at times, we see him thinking more, pausing, slowing down to process. 


Eventually as we continue to work on increasing his confidence with manageable challenges, even his phobias started to fade away. One memorable milestone was water activities. Due to his water phobia, we even weaved in water challenges in stages, while regulating him through other activities. Eg accidentally wetting his shoes, to wetting his feet , then misting around him, getting him to wet his face. So many little steps just to get him to build confidence to face water. And every milestone reached was spotlighted accordingly to seal his feelings of competence. We also had to learnt not to say ” good job”,but rather, “I really liked the effort you took to get messy and built this”. This was because Joshua, and even Joseph and Jonathan were already too hung up on failures, so we had to turn their spotlight away from the end product, but rather the process to it. Not easy, but still necessary.

As Joshua continued to improve in feeling good about himself, we began to do lots of mini chats, with RDI objectives in mind. One such objective was about perspective taking. We spend lots of time sharing our own experiences without telling him what is right or wrong. Ham also has a nightly “under the table talk”. This was because Joshua was very stressed during P1 and would often hide under the table. But he still needed to think out his stress triggers, and this became a precious time for Father and son bonding, allowing Joshua outlets to express and release his stress too. These sessions were precious channels that allowed us to understand his struggles, and are opportunities to share common experiences. We were so encouraged one day when during one car ride, while we were having a fairly heated exchange over some incident, Josh was able to tell us ” Mom, we all have different perspectives, there may be no right or wrong, I just have a different opinion from you. ” Wow. We knew all the time spent talking and sharing, inviting each other’s opinion, without dictating, helped.

Josh is now fourteen. He has been discharged from RDI. He is passionate about his brothers, Joseph who is also autistic, and Jonathan, who has language impairment and auditory processing issues. He also volunteers in the church special needs family camp. I am so thankful that even as I began to be so stretched caring for his younger brothers, Josh continues to mature with a heart of compassion, a quiet sense of self-worth, and an extraordinary measure of patience for his brothers. He has also learnt to accept himself as not perfect, but good enough. 

Joseph is also doing RDI now. It was initially challenging switching between the two brothers as their objectives were so different. Hence I was so glad when Josh ‘graduated’. Joseph too had a major emotional breakdown when the kindergarten he attended pushed him beyond what he could manage during the year end concert rehearsals. His breakdown was worse than Joshua’s. He would often scream in the middle of the night and refused to let me out of his sight for months. He often gets rooted to the spot because he could not decide which direction to go if mom was not there with him. Neither was he able to attend school for more than a year without me shadowing him. Only when he entered Pathlight 1.5 years later then he started to settle in that highly structured environment. 


While Pathlight was good in giving him a structured environment, we still need to challenge him to face the real world. As such, our RDI objectives had to be even more broken down for him, going into basics like non verbal gestures and facial expressions. These took more than a year each, which was very hard for me to bear. But we have no choice as we needed to make sure he had mastered it, and not just functionally copying. More than a year too was actually spent simply getting him to look inwards into his own body and understanding his emotions. It was nerve wrecking because Joseph hated it, yet we had to make him face it. Our speech became quite melodramatic, and would go like that ” just now I was so angry . . My heart jumped so hard and my neck is hot…or my head felt like a hammer was pounding it “. Joshua often watches me doing RDI with Joseph and would ask “Mom. Nobody talk like that in everyday life!” But the good was my younger boy also benefited. Though he wasn’t autistic, he benefited from all emotion talk, and learnt to be expressive with facial expressions too. He picked up non-verbals by age two, simply from watching me and Joseph. We were comforted when recently Joseph suddenly commented  that when he hears the ziplock bag closed, his neck felt tight. We realised all the efforts in the last one year paid off as my son is now able to look inwards at his own body without any scaffolding.


While it has been challenging over these years plus submitting weekly clips and reviews for RDI, I am much comforted to see how the basic principles of RDI continue to guide us in our parenting styles. To be open to one another, to slow down, to affirm, and to build competence. To be very real in sharing our own experiences and even acknowledging our weaknesses to one another. I realised that our children can only soar, with all our efforts in therapy, only when we provide them that home ground that is secure, a place where mistakes are to be forgiven and learnt from, and where challenges are platforms for building competence, not condemnation. 

For us as parents, we are reminded always to pause, and smell the roses.

Contributed by

Chern Chieh and Ham.

Categories: Blog

Social Group

Our Social Group, known as our work and leisure group will focus on guiding our children to develop in two areas: dynamic interaction and a work and leisure skill. The group will be led by a psychologist who will give the children the opportunity to work on developing dynamic interaction processes, such as, dynamic thinking, mindful communication and social interaction. The goal for each child will be based on their developmental level.

As our children grow, we want them to be exposed to opportunities that can enrich their lives. With some of our older kids in particular, they may have talents that are undiscovered or undeveloped. We hope to help them discover and develop their talents, which can be used for leisure and perhaps for work should they show the aptitude and interest. Areas that we will focus on will be either Art or Gardening.

Psychologist mixing paint
Sherlyn, one of our psychologists, has a hobby in the arts.
Categories: Services

Intervention

A neurodevelopmental approach to intervention

Here we take a neurodevelopmental approach in our interventions. We work towards building neural pathways that support thinking associated with the prefrontal cortex, the front part of your brain. Research has shown that people with developmental concerns struggle with thinking associated with that area of the brain. Actions that involve the prefrontal cortex include moderating one’s own social behaviour and making decisions for themselves (Raine, 2009).

We also look towards building connections in other part of the child’s brain that might be impacted in their development. For example, movement might be used to build areas in the brainstem. We also use different modalities to help the child regulate their emotions typically associated with the limbic area of the brain, its inner central part.

Categories: Services

Acacia Rise

Acacia Rise is our Education partner. The center provides education services and support with a dedicated team of guides that plan Individual Education Plans for each student under their care. For more information, please visit their website using this link.

Categories: Uncategorized

Grow with our Work and Leisure Programme

As our children grow, we want them to be exposed to opportunities that can enrich their lives. With some of our older kids in particular, they may have talents that are undiscovered or they may like talents that are undeveloped. We hope to help them discover and develop their talents, which can be used for leisure and perhaps for work should they show the aptitude and interest.

Basic DSLR Camera Photography Course

Through this photography course, your child will learn the basic skills of DSLR photography. They will learn about the camera, the different terminologies commonly used, and how to apply these so as to take the best photographs in a variety of settings. They will also be able to explore their own areas of interest. Through this course, your child will learn to see things from a different perspective, develop a sense of agency as they are in control of the shots they take, build confidence through each photograph, and as well as learn how to make decisions such as choosing what to focus on in a shot.

Sports Programmes

The sports programme caters to a range of different needs and abilities. As we know, movement is beneficial for the brain. John Ratey, author of ‘A User’s Guide to the Brain’ terms exercise as “Miracle-Gro” for the brain because of how it can stimulate nerve growth factors. Researchers have found that when children are given the chance to run 15 – 45 minutes before class, they were less distracted and more attentive. Another study showed that brisk walking 30 – 40 minutes a day, three times a week could regrow structures in the brain linked to cognitive decline. Dr Daniel Siegel has suggested that movement can be a powerful way to change emotions. Many of us regulate via movement. Sports can also be a fun way to engage socially with others.

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Off-site observation

Sometimes a child may experience difficulties in specific settings. In that case, it is often more fruitful to have our psychologists conduct an observation in those types of settings (e.g. in school, at playgroup, etc.) instead of having a 1-to-1 session with the child in a clinical setting. At the end of each off-site observation, feedback will be given, along with a report, as well as intervention plans and referrals for appropriate services if necessary.

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Consultation

The initial consultation is carried out for the purpose of looking into the needs of the child and the family.

The session will include observations of the child and interview with parents and caregivers.

At the end of the session, a management plan in consultation with the family, that works towards the long term goals for the child will be developed.


How can parents prepare for the session?

Send in information on the child’s developmental history (e.g. when communication started and what forms of communication are used), behaviour, communication and social skills in a variety of settings with a variety of people and feedback from the school (if any) prior to the session.

It is recommended that your child have a good night’s sleep the night before.

It is advisable to have breakfast before the session starts. You may want to bring some finger food and drinks, should your child get hungry during the session.

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Assessments & Diagnosis

One of our psychologists (Hong Yin) doing an assessment

In discussing your concerns, the assessment and diagnostic process will help in evaluating your child’s level of skills and ability in various areas, such as, communication, socialization, play and cognition.

The session will help us to determine the individual needs of your child. We will be able to work out a management plan in consultation with the family, towards the long term goals of your child.

The session will include a standardized cognitive assessment, observations of the child and an extensive interview with parents and caregivers.

We also carry out assessments to arrange school placements that meets the various requirements of the different schools.

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