Simple things delight her. Like a small tiny doll, or a bird perched on our verandah or even a cat peering out from under a parked car. Every week, it will be the family routine to go for breakfast in Tanjung Aru and later after dropping my elder daughter at the church, we will be off to the beach where she will play in the park either at the swings or slides. My husband will be off feeding the fishes at the nearby pond. I will be accompanying Seanna and keeping an eye on her whenever she makes a move from one place to another. Whenever she ventures too far I will call her. She will just turn to me and smile. That’s the sign that she is up to something! The next thing I know she was making a dash for the water!
My heart was racing, my head was throbbing, my leg muscles which haven’t been put on such an arduous task were screaming for relief! I couldn’t catch up as she had a really good head start. Like a sprinter Seanna hurdled driftwood and pebbles along the way stripping herself off her jeans, shirt and jumping into the water just before I was able to grab her!
Stopping by the edge of the water puffing and trying to get more oxygen into my already dizzy brain, I watched her splashing happily in the sea without a care in the world. She looked back at me and smiled her sweetest smile and I felt my anger melting away. I would give anything to always see that smile.
Seanna is 8 years old and doesn’t speak unless prompted. She has autism. Whenever she wants something to eat she will pull my hand and lead me to the fridge. If we are in a supermarket she will pull my hand to point to a toy that she would like me to buy.
Like thousands of children who have autism Seanna is struggling every day to communicate to people around her. At age 3 we tried putting her in a normal kindergarten. When we picked her up in the afternoon the teacher spoke to me that she is keeping to herself and kept on running off in opposite direction of the other children. She doesn’t want to ‘handle’ a child like that. She has never seen a child being so naughty, not answering when she is called to and cannot sit still.
Angry and puzzled, we went back to another play school where we had previously enrolled our elder daughter. The principal of that school has kindly agreed to enroll Seanna as her classes were small – only 15 children per class. After a week in school, the principal called us to her office and told us what we as parents were denying ourselves all this time that Seanna needs help in a special school. It turned out that she is a trained therapist specialising in children with autism. She referred us to a Special Learning Centre that provides programs for children with autism.
After going through the test to determine if she has autism we went to Queen Elizabeth Hospital for ear, nose and throat examinations. Her ENT results were normal. In fact her hearing was far more sensitive than ours. She could hear noises that we will not hear in except after a few seconds later after her. Seanna started her education and therapy at the Special Learning Centre. It’s been 4 years now and Seanna is 8. I’m so happy to see her more independent, speaking more words without being prompted, draw, write and sing and so much more. She is also trying to read simple books and my husband will coach her from time to time. Our household schedules revolve around her as she is very accurate in her timing. She is not able to tell time but she knows exactly when her favourite program is about to start and she also knows exactly when Saturday and Sunday is even though she never looks at the calendar, and that, amazes me. She wakes up at the exact time every morning and proceeds to brush her teeth, change and have breakfast. My maid will prepare breakfast every morning and I thank God I have an understanding maid.
Everyday is a routine and not only a learning process for Seanna but also for us. Seanna will get upset if we differ from the set routine. So we try our best not to have too many changes and to introduce change gradually. As we see her grow we know that one day we must learn to let go. It is our hope that she can be independent and able to fend for herself, to earn a living and have an almost normal life. As for now we just take it one day at a time. Ah……….take it easy.