M is for Moon and Moonbeam

The moon has been long recognised for its ethereal beauty and for its associations with the Mystical Feminine.

Moon gazing is a leisurely pursuit of the ancient Chinese and Japanese since before the millennium. A full moon is especially enthralling and festivities are arranged and organised around the night when the moon is at her fullest and brightest. Living in Singapore means that I get to be part of an important festivity known as the Mooncake Festival which takes place annually around late September/early October in the Gregorian calendar. This roughly translates to the 15th day of the eighth month of the Chinese calendar which is a lunar calendar. This year, the Chinese diaspora celebrated the Mooncake Festival on the 24th of September. As this time is also the middle of Autumn, it is known as the Mid-Autumn Festival more so than the Mooncake Festival. Mooncakes are the main delicacy made and served during this time. Mooncakes are a type of Chinese pastry which is made from flour, sugar, lotus seed paste and nuts. Some are stuffed with whole egg yolks that have been preserved in salt — salted eggs — an ancient egg preservation technique. The saltiness of the yolks balances out the sugary lotus bean paste. This ying-yang of balancing tastes underpins how the Chinese have been eating for centuries. All this yummy wholesome goodness is encased in a thin skin of pastry and shaped by a wooden mould that has been inscribed with Chinese symbols and writing before being baked to a golden goodness.

The 15th day of the 8th month of the Lunar Calendar is when the moon is at her biggest, roundest and brightest. To the Chinese, this is a symbol of reunion. The full moon is also a symbol of wholeness, representing unbrokenness and togetherness. The moon waxes and wanes but always returns to its full shape which further symbolises her enigmatic potential and puissance. During the mid-Autumn festival, families and friends gather round to do some moon gazing and share mooncakes, which are sliced into equal pieces so that everyone gets a morsel, over tea. Children are especially at their most gleeful because they get to ferry lanterns around the neighbourhood, joined by their friends and neighbours. It’s a fun-filled joyous occasion.

On the 6th of October, I received an email from a man named Jim Barnes.

“Congratulations on being a Moonbeam medalist!”

I’m over the moon to be placed third in this prestigious children’s book award competition. Open: A Boy’s Wayang Adventure was awarded the bronze medal at the Moonbeam Children’s Book Award for 2018 in the pre-teen general fiction category. Of course, the only phrase I could think of when trying to share my joy was “over the moon”. And here is why this phrase got stuck to help us express joy:

Hey, diddle, diddle,
The cat and the fiddle,
The cow jumped over the moon;
The little dog laughed
To see such sport,
And the dish ran away with the spoon.

 

The Moonbeam Awards celebrate “books [that] encourage children to be generous and compassionate, to stand up to bullies, and to believe in fulfilling their dreams.”

A flurry of excited emails followed Barnes’ initial announcement. Open is invited to take part in the Traverse City Children’s Book Festival which will take place the weekend of November 10. I am gutted to say that I will not be attending the award ceremony and book festival as I will be conducting a workshop, November 11 at the Singapore Writers Festival.  But for those reading in the U.S.A. and living near Michigan, do drop by Traverse City for this book festival. Take some photos with Open and share them on social media, tagging me with #OpenEveryChildMatters. I’ll be beaming from ear to ear to see you sharing in Open’s travelogue.

I will admit that it wasn’t so much the award that made me feel over the moon. [Okay, yesss it was, but…] It was more so that Open: A Boy’s Wayang Adventure, a book set in Singapore and very locally flavoured, was selected out of “nearly 1,200 entries from all over the world, including 37 U.S. states and the District of Columbia and 10 countries overseas: Australia, Ireland, Finland, United Kingdom, Spain, Norway, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan and the Netherlands” to win a medal together with 157 other book writers and authors. This highlighted to me that writing what you know, writing local and writing from the heart conjure up much magic and direct moonbeams to generate light and energy.

You’re looking at a woodblock print of ‘Moon’ by Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797 – 1861). Kuniyoshi is considered one of the greatest Japanese print artists. His contemporaries were Katsushika Hokusai (1760 – 1849) and Utagawa Hiroshige (1796 – 1858), famous woodblock printers known for a genre of prints called ukiyo-e (art of the floating world).

Kuniyoshi is remembered more for his versatile and humorous artworks depicting scenes and natives of Edo (now Tokyo). He lampooned politicians and the rulers of ancient Japan and managed to get away with it through cleverly veiling his criticisms allegorically. He combined western methods of depicting landscapes and experimented beyond the boundaries of traditional Japanese print art. Kuniyoshi is recognised more for his prints of samurai warriors, courtesans/beautiful women and less for his landscapes. But his landscape prints are as beautiful and symbolic as his other ones.

Prints are one of my favourite forms of art. The processes of printing are complicated and intricate, much like the processes of writing. The Japanese have been making prints for centuries and I especially like Kuniyoshi’s for their artisanal workmanship and details. Like they say, “the devil’s in the details”.

Love if you’d help like and share this post. Thanks always for reading. If you’re eager to get your copy of Open: A Boy’s Wayang Adventure, please do so through this link. Read out for the details in Open and tell me what you find.

Kuniyoshi, U (1797 – 1861), ‘Moon’ (undated), WikiArt Public Domain.

E is for Echo and Echolalia

Echo is a nymph in Greek mythology who was cursed by Hera, the goddess of Marriage and Family, and the wife of Zeus, to repeat only the last words spoken to her. Hera was just mad at her husband’s shenanigans and Echo was the scapegoat of her wrath, in my view. The curse meant that Echo became unable to communicate with the man she loves—Narcissus.  In despair, Echo retreated into the mountains and pined away for her lost love, and what she left behind, was her voice reverberating against the rocks as she repeats over and over again the words she last heard. 

In this painting by John William Waterhouse, we see Echo looking over her left shoulder at Narcissus, the Greek hunter who couldn’t stop looking at his own reflection. From this, we get the word “narcissistic”. Echo looks in despair, unable to tell Narcissus how she feels, cursed only to repeat his last words. These could be “I am so beautiful”, the likely words that Narcissus would have uttered, at the core of the myth of Narcissus is his vain and solipsistic view of self and world. However, the words, according to Ovid, were “Who are you?” which Echo repeated back to Narcissus, the object of her love. Their courtship, if they had one in the first place, did not take off, as you can imagine.  But in “Who are you?” lies an important symbol related to self.  Without knowing who we are, we cannot grow and change. Self-development and growth are two very important directions for me, personally, and to do this, one must be just a little bit narcissistic, in my view. But narcissism with a pinch of salt, that is. This is a topic for another day. Today, I’d like to concentrate on Echo.

So back to Echo. In language acquisition, repeating words and phrases is often how a child learns to communicate. “Da-da”, ‘Pa-pa”, “Ma-ma”, “Ta-ta” are all familiar sounds for those of us with toddlers. Toddlers often start with the plosive sounds before they move on to other sounds in the vast database of human sounds and languages. 

The term echolalia is used to describe the behavioural feature amongst autistic children for word and phrasal repetitions. While it is common for children up to 3 years of age to be repetitive, mirroring sounds, that translate into words, at this stage of their linguistic development, it is a sign of autism, if the child continues to echo, beyond the age of three.

Researchers have found many reasons for this symptomatic feature of ASD and have agreed that echolalia is an attempt amongst children on the spectrum to maintain social interactions, and/or learn and practice new words in order to add to their existing repertoire; it could also indicate that they may find some words challenging to understand and therefore repeat these words in their attempts at comprehending them. As a neurotypical adult, I often find myself repeating instructions verbally during my pilates sessions in order to process them. For example, I am not very good at changing directions with ease. When my instructor tells me to reverse an action, I repeat the instruction: “Change directions, circle inwards” again and again to remind myself of what I’m doing while I’m in the midst of doing it. It’s my brain’s way of processing information.

There are three types of echolalia: immediate, delayed and mitigated.

  1. In immediate echolalia, the child repeats sounds/words/phrases immediately after hearing them. It is as if they are rehearsing these words. It is also used to self-regulate, for example, a child may repeat “don’t jump on the sofa” as he gradually slows down this action. Then, a child could repeat phrases in an agitated or frustrated manner with no obvious attempts at self-regulation; this could be alarming to watch, understandably. I tend to think that somewhere at the back of this child’s mind lies their efforts in understanding their world. 
  2. In delayed echolalia, sounds/words/phrases can appear in the child’s speech at a later time. This could be because the child is learning how to take turns, to agree or to protest, and can be seen as a general attempt at communication. Sometimes, delayed echolalia could be a way to communicate emotions as the child mirrors the sounds around them, sounds they have heard when watching a TV programme, for example, or after they have heard people talking and a particular word/phrase used in the conversation has made an impact on them. Then, it could also be an attempt at understanding certain words. This is a processing function and sometimes, the child may use the sounds/words/phrases in inappropriate situations, indicating that they do not really understand the meaning of these words. 
  3. In mitigated echolalia, the child changes the words in the speech they have heard, while habitually repeating phrases and sounds. This is usually an indicator that the child has a stronger grasp of language acquisition. 

It is good to note that the act of repeating is a natural phenomenon in life. We learn through repetition and we retain information through hearing the same things being repeatedly uttered. There is positivity in learning the “broken-record” way.

Readers and followers would have heard me jabbering on, echoing the same words like ~ Open goes to ~ or ~ Open travels to ~ in my excited attempts at sharing Open’s journeys. It’s been fun watching Open travel the world vicariously. Most of the time, I wish I were there too; but a girl can only be in one place at a time, physically. 

People have also been experiencing a high level of social media feeds on my various accounts sharing news about what I’ve been doing creative writing-wise. Do bear with me as I take you vicariously on the book’s journeys, as well as, my personal journeys of growth and development.

As I search for words and phrases and the language to explain what I do creatively, I am also engaging with my brain’s processing function, to better understand what I can offer as a creative and what I can do as an educator in the arts. In these repetitive meditations, I take time to reflect, to consolidate learning and to improve existing skills.

In my industry, where soft skills and intangible personal assets are difficult to quantify or describe statistically, I find that the more I engage repetitively with my processes, the easier it becomes to communicate to others what I can offer. In this way, I live with a tad of echolalia and it would seem that I’m subjecting my friends and family to the same words and phrases again and again. But repetition is not always a negative thing. So do be patient with your autistic child and adult when they echo in their attempts at processing information. With regards to individuals on the spectrum, it is good to note that echolalia is a sign that they are listening and processing.

Some friends would have heard how I am putting together a programme to teach creative writing using artworks as prompts and to offer this at a corporate leadership training level. Through a guided writing exercise, I tap into the participants’ emotional banks, helping them find their words to express themselves comprehensively, all done through engaging with visual art. The magic of the unconscious works to unlock the nuanced emotions that they are already familiar with and through working-through them in the form of creative writing, participants gain a refreshing sense of self and a renewed sense of well-being. Researchers working within corporate training have translated this quantifiably with percentages (%) indicating a decrease (-) in staff turn over and an increase (+) in staff productivity. In my experience as an educator, I’ve seen how creative writing can help with understanding the nuances of emotions as we choose some words over others to express ourselves; creative writing has also added another layer of meaning into language use. Being happy is not the same as being content, similarly, being angry is not the same as being disappointed. When we begin to understand these nuances, we also begin to realise that we are complex beings with potential for growth and change. As the world moves busily around us, it is so very important to engage fully with our nuanced emotions for a deeper sense of living, loving and working. 

As I continue my journey as an author, writer and educator and as the book gains traction in Singapore and internationally, I’m being invited by various agencies to talk, conduct workshops and speak to people about how the creative process can help foster resilience, empathy and compassion. I’ll be at the Singapore Writers Festival in November conducting a creative writing workshop for children aged 11 – 14. Read about it here. 

Also in November, I’m on a panel discussing See the True Me: The Power of Stories with Tan Guan Heng and Grace Phua. I can’t wait to meet both these inspiring individuals. For folks based in Singapore, this panel discussion will be free of charge, taking place at the National Library of Singapore, Central Library, 4 – 5:30 PM, November 3. Come and listen in. 

As I end my post, this reminds me that we are coming to the end of another calendar year. How time has flown! It will soon be my favourite time of the year–Christmas–where I recharge with family and friends. I bet you’ll be doing the same too.

Until the next post, take care and stay authentic! 

 

Image credit: Waterhouse, John William, Echo and Narcissus, 1903, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, United Kingdom.

Summer Lovin’ Had Me Some Books

It’s July and a long while since my last post; I skipped an entire month. This reminds me of how time has flown and how occupied I’ve been the whole month of June. I’m writing from Italy this time where I’m back for the summer visiting friends and family. 

This time around, I visited Umbria, the landlocked region of Italy where the Central Apennine mountains run across. Umbria was once part of the Roman Empire: the ancient architecture and the local accent reflect this historical link. It was also part of the Napoleonic Empire until it was regained by the Pope after Napoleon’s defeat. The people of Umbria saw Papal rule as oppressive and during the unification of Italy (1815 – 1871), they destroyed the Rocca Paolina, a Renaissance fortress built in 1540-43 by Pope Paul III because the fortress was seen as a symbol of papal oppression. This was in the year 1861 when Umbria, together with Marche and Emilia Romagna were annexed by King Victor Emmanuel II of Piemonte and ruled under the Kingdom of Italy. So, don’t be surprised by the many plaques dedicated to the memory of King Victor Emmanuel II. 

Umbria is also a region where visitors can find many hillside towns, usually built around an old castle (castello), a lookout tower and a church. Here, brownstone houses hug the hills, many constructed by the townsfolk who work in these small hamlets and/or villages. Artisanal crafts like metalwork and ropemaking were once staple jobs along with wine-making and olive oil pressing which are still being produced for consumption and export in these Umbrian hills today. Let’s not forget the cured meats—salamis and sausages—which are still made with the same millennia-year-old recipes that the Umbrians know well. The Umbrians or Umbri are hearty people, warm, friendly and eager to tell you about their regional cuisine and culture; they were an Italic people which were absorbed into the Roman Empire. Umbria is also home to the town of Assisi, where my favourite saint, San Francesco or St Francis of Assisi, was born, baptised and buried. San Francesco is the patron saint of the poor and of animals, his emblems are his brown sack tunic and the stigmata on his hands and bare feet. The story of San Francesco is known throughout the Christian world and his prayer: “Lord, make me the instrument of your Peace” is one that I remind myself of daily. I’m not a religious person but I am a spiritual one, always looking beyond the material world, searching for inner peace and praying for peace on earth. I’m also reminded of a prayer which I’d mistakenly attributed to St Francis: “God, give me grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, Courage to change the things which should be changed, and the Wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.” (Karl Paul Reinhold Niebuhr). Somehow, in my mind, I’d always thought that this prayer was by San Francesco as he seems to be the likely person who’d have thought of it. In fact, the Serenity Prayer by Niebuhr, an Amercian theologian is a much later prayer, written and uttered in the 1930s. 

Italy is a much-needed break. Between March, when the book was launched, and now, I’ve been busy doing book-related stuff with lots of other writing-related activities in the mix. CarpeArte Journal is keeping me busy as a managing editor. Thank you to all those who have contributed their poetic and literary nuggets to the Journal. My articles and reviews on art-related matters in Singapore have kept me clued on to the visual art scene here, giving me the privilege to meet young inspiring contemporary artists such as Priyageetha Dia, Singapore’s girl with a Midas touch, and Aiman Hakim, who is known for his work that incorporates mythical and fantastical elements. I love this artist for his big heart and his willingness to talk about his fears and his dreams. 

I’ve taken this time in Italy to reflect on the past few months. On May 19, Guillaume Levy-Lambert, art collector of the MaGMA Collection and co-founder of Art Porters Gallery, and I collaborated on a book launch party and fundraising event for adults with autism. I had the opportunity to meet so many lovely people who supported the cause. I also had the opportunity to meet families who are parenting autistic individuals and others who are concerned for their autistic relatives. This event started further conversations on what exactly is autism and how we can help those who are living with autism and their families. I’m happy to say that a cheque will be presented to Eden Centre for Adults in August. This is my contribution from book sales to the cause. On his part, Guillaume is donating the proceeds from the sale of Flametta Blue by Artheline and a portion of the sales of artworks during that night to the Autism Association of Singapore. I’m proud to say that apart from book sale proceeds, proceeds from an artwork the Italian and I had bought will also be contributing to the cause. More on that in another post. For the curious amongst us: think cats and masterpieces plus Russian artist, all rolled into one fantastic masterpiece. 

As all authors know, once the book is out, there are many book related things to do. One of the more enjoyable things to do for me is visiting schools and talking to students. Before the summer break, I travelled to international schools in Singapore to donate copies of Open to their school libraries. I was invited to talk to several grade groups about the book, autism, and cultural heritage in May. Cultural heritage gets a special mention because the book is also about an ancient dramatic and theatrical art form—the Chinese opera—that was exported from China following emigration since the 18th and 19th centuries.  The Monkey King as a theatrical character is beloved by the Chinese diaspora globally, as well as, people in Thailand, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos. The Monkey King is known also in India where Buddhism was founded, flourished and exported. There, he is known as Hanuman, with a story of his own.

In my travels in Europe, I visited an international school in Paris where I will be returning in April 2019 to do a reading and start conversations with their students about the importance of accepting difference and showing empathy for kids with special needs. Their school library now has a copy of Open for their students. In addition, The American Library in Paris also has a copy of Open for their children’s library. This library has a special place in my heart. It’s a place I visited often during my expatriation in Paris. I ruminate on the French word bibliothèque and its faux amie librarie where the latter means bookshop. When living in Paris, I often got the two confused and would often refer to the bookshop (librarie) when I mean library (bibliothèque). The duality in the meanings of names never ceases to confound me. Reading in another language other than English, I’ve discovered so many wonderful words with diverse meanings that are also found in the English language since English borrows from other languages and cultures that it mingles with. Part of my role as an author is to encourage reading; this is the best part of being a writer, in my mind.

In Singapore, a National Reading Movement is helping to spread the love of reading through events and festivals. Read! Fest is one where I’ll be reading and performing from Open, on July 14 at the Central Library. I can’t wait to meet these eager readers and to start conversations about the importance of reading and how books can transport us to many wonderful worlds. To close the festival, I will be travelling to a high school in Singapore to talk to their students about Open as a fictional character who happens to be on the spectrum and who has two names. We will be exploring the meanings of our names and how we identify with the names we are given through the process of naming.

I am privileged to be part of the Singapore Literature scene which is constantly developing and expanding and creating a new genre of literature—Sing Lit. As a Singapore based author, my calendar will be filled with more festivals and events to come. I’m looking forward to the Asian Festival of Children’s Content and the Singapore Writers’ Festival, happening in September and November respectively, which will bring me to the close of 2018. 

What are your plans for the summer? What will you be reading on vacation? I have a list and I’m done with Educated, A Memoir by Tara Westover and The Lost Vintage by Ann Mah, who kindly sent a pdf version over. They are both very different books but oh so well written, it makes me cry! Jealousy, envy and awe all bundled into one emotional roll! But high on my list of emotions is happiness. I’m so happy for diverse writers like Tara and Ann whose books are windows into another world. 

Until the next post, here’s wishing everyone a great summer ahead! Happy reading!

 

Adults on the Spectrum and Raising Funds

We’ve come to the end of a special month, April. This month is when the autism community worldwide celebrates autism awareness and acceptance. I’ve had a busy April. One of the most memorable April days was being invited to the Enabling Village in Singapore to do a storytelling session with Open: A Boy’s Wayang Adventure. I talked about the importance of understanding feelings and how challenging it is for autistics to tell others how they feel. I used the same emoti-cards that Open’s father uses to show Open different types of feelings and the nuances of emotions. I had a wonderful time and met many inspiring individuals.

As May begins, I’m preparing for two events: an art auction/book party on the 19th at Art Porters, a gallery close to my heart, and a storytelling session on the 27th at a restaurant space housed in one of my favourite museums. I’m doing this in a bid to raise awareness of adults on the spectrum and to fundraise for service providers who cater to such adults. Why adults in particular?

As is often the case, children get the most attention. Couples adopting often focus on babies and toddlers which is understandable, as babies and toddlers are cute and adorable, tugging at our maternal or paternal heartstrings to protect and love. Older orphans are often left out, as one can imagine, and many will leave the orphanage never having had the opportunity to experience family life.

The same situation occurs with people on the spectrum where authorities focus on providing services–educational and therapeutic–to children on the spectrum, often with little funding left for provisions for adults on the spectrum.

After many conversations with people parenting individuals on the spectrum and those providing services for such individuals, I’ve come to realise that many service providers for adults on the spectrum are running on empty.

In an ageing society like Singapore’s, many parents with only children on the spectrum are worried about how their children will carry on when they pass. Assisted housing for autistic adults is still not available as a state resource, although day centres where adults on the spectrum can attend are to be found. These centres provide services like personal health education, vocational training, social interaction and recreational skills training to help adults on the spectrum cope with daily life and to offer respite to their caregivers. However, these are not residential homes where such adults live. Day centres or daycare centres as they’re known in Singapore operate 5 days a week and are closed on all major public holidays and what’s more such centres are heavily underfunded by the state. Many run at a loss and are supported by income from other areas, like education and daycare centres for children on the spectrum which come under the same business umbrella.

Daycare centres are important, especially for adults who are moderate to severely autistic. Such centres provide a safe space for individuals 18 and over who are above the age to access other forms of educational services provided by the state. Many of these adults are too intellectually challenged and cannot access other forms of vocational education which will help them gain some form of gainly employment in the future because many cannot function on their own and cannot live on their own without a carer or helper. But at the daycare, they learn to be with other adults like them, are cared for by allistic adults they trust where they can learn some important life skills.

Daycare services are important too because they provide respite to parents and carers. As parents, we all know how important some me-time is. Parents with autistic children are known to suffer from depression, exhaustion and anxiety caused by caring and loving a child on the spectrum. It is all the more important that they are supported.

There are some plans to build assisted housing for adults on the spectrum. But these will not be available in the near future. Autism awareness is still in its infancy in Singapore and the region of Southeast Asia and many organisations in Singapore are still raising awareness of ASD from the bottom-up. To be fair, Singapore is doing its best as the authorities have announced that all special needs individuals will be guaranteed a place in school (mainstream) soon. Right now, children on the spectrum are placed in ‘special’ schools where staff are trained in-house at the service providers they work at and by consultants from overseas.

Even as more and more individuals have been diagnosed with ASD, there are still many who are not that may be on the spectrum. Such adults are known to social workers seeing to their welfare as many are living on or below the poverty line and have challenges integrating socially. However, autism as a concept is still not understood by many such families. Then, there is the habit and cultural thinking behind housing: in Singapore, many (allistic) adults live with their parents even when they can afford to buy homes of their own, moving out only when they are married. Additionally, as housing is very expensive here, there are many working adults priced out of the housing market and are forced to live at home with their parents. Due to many cultural habits and thinking, very little thought has gone into how adults on the spectrum will live and with whom after their parents pass on. It is assumed that a kind relative will take these adults on and many do but what happens when these adults are only children?

It is not all dire, of course. The country is young and with nation-building being its focus since 1965, energy and resources have gone into focusing on able-bodied persons. As the nation matures and the people are waking up to a sector of their society that is diverse and requires special attention, facilities and mindsets are changing to ensure inclusivity and acceptance.

I’m doing my bit to raise awareness of this situation through the book and through collaborations with other like-minded individuals. I’m hoping to raise a sustainable amount of financial assistance for two adults who need daycare services so that their ageing parents do not have to worry about fees for some time. Why two? I like things in pairs and I’m taking small steps to make a difference.

A story that ends with a sense of hope is always a story that people remember. There is hope yet for this young nation of Singapore. As the economic race, the focus on ableness and nation-building give way to financial contentment, inclusion and security in the nation, more and more acceptance of individuals with autism will follow. I live in hope.

 

~ Open Travels to …

April is Autism Awareness Month. The celebration of autism awareness in the month of April is an extension of April 2, World Autism Awareness Day, an official day set aside by the United Nations to draw attention to ASD, focusing in raising awareness of this neurological condition.

This year’s focus for World Autism Awareness Day is in raising awareness of girls and women on the spectrum. #aspiegirls #girlsandwomenonthespectrum #autisticgirlsandwomen

“The 2018 World Autism Awareness Day observance at United Nations Headquarters New York will focus on the importance of empowering women and girls with autism and involving them and their representative organizations in policy and decision making to address these challenges.

Girls with disabilities are less likely to complete primary school and more likely to be marginalized or denied access to education. Women with disabilities have a lower rate of employment than men with disabilities and women without disabilities. Globally, women are more likely to experience physical, sexual, psychological and economic violence than men, and women and girls with disabilities experience gender-based violence at disproportionately higher rates and in unique forms owing to discrimination and stigma based on both gender and disability. As a result of inaccessibility and stereotyping, women and girls with disabilities are persistently confronted with barriers to sexual and reproductive health services and to information on comprehensive sex education, particularly women and girls with intellectual disabilities including autism.” [source]

I am all for focusing attention on girls and women on the spectrum. That’s because many autistic girls have fallen through the net in terms of diagnosis which means that they will miss out on early interventions that could be of great help to them. Research has shown that boys are genetically predisposed to be autistic than girls. There are many reasons for this which my post will not go into at length; there are many articles that can be found online, for those who are interested. I’ve linked a couple for reference in this post to help those who want to find out more. Researchers have found that girls are better at hiding their autism and in finding ways to cope with their perceived disability. In fact, girls without an intellectual disability (high functioning autistics) have been shown to mask their symptoms better compared to their male counterparts and are therefore invisible as autistics in plain sight. An aspie (Asperger Syndrome) woman I spoke to told me that she forces herself to make eye contact during conversations even when it causes her discomfort because she has been told that eye contact is important during dialogues: She has learnt to cope. Her diagnosis came late in life; for her, a diagnosis has brought relief and self-acceptance; it has brought an understanding of who she is and why.

To commemorate autism and autistics, the world is lit in blue for the day. Supporters and activists for Autism Awareness wear blue to encourage conversations about autism and in this, raising more awareness. Of course, raising awareness is not the same as raising acceptance. Many will know that awareness does not necessarily lead to acceptance. But it’s a start. Hopefully, the more awareness that is raised, the more acceptance there will be.

As a book author, conversations are important to me. Conversations are important too in helping young readers find the vocabulary to talk about social issues that are challenging and difficult. I talk about my book to many who ask what I do because I believe strongly in the book’s message: to raise awareness of ASD through literature. I’m aware that my protagonist is a boy on the spectrum and that his favourite colour is blue–all very cliched, I understand. The book as many knows is an adaptation of The Wayang Kids, a film directed by Raymond Tan of Brainchild Pictures. I have taken Open out of the movie and given him a backstory and a voice in the book. Open represents that child in us who wants to be loved and accepted for who we are. The bridging of moving image and text is ever more important in this time and age because children are more likely to watch a film over reading a book. As a writer, I strongly encourage reading because books help us enter different worlds using our imaginations from words alone. Of course, movies do that too but in a different sort of way. The tagline that I use to describe what autism is is “same-same but different” which is also the tagline used by Autism Network Singapore to facilitate a meta-reading and understanding of ASD.

The photo you see was taken in Sri Lanka by a friend and reader. She has kindly given me permission to share this because books travel and I’d like to share Open’s travels with the world. I’ve created a visual travelogue for Open because it’s a fun project and one that is easy to do. So far, Open has travelled to ~Japan, ~Germany, ~United Kingdom, ~United States of America, ~France, ~Sri Lanka, ~Italy and will be travelling to ~Croatia in the summer. This is all to raise awareness of autism through storytelling.

Where will Open travel to next? Be that next traveller to bring Open to your neck of the woods. Take a selfie or reference your destination (like this photo which was taken in front of Galle Library, Sri Lanka) and then use the hashtag, #OpenEveryChildMatters.

 

 

D is for Dedication

The writing process is often a lonely journey because the activity of writing demands that the writer gets into his/her own head and the heads of his/her characters. Although the process of getting into other people’s heads is a solitary one and the only company a writer gets to keep is that of the characters’, it is a journey that must be taken toute seule. However, the process of becoming published is often one that involves various parties, unless the author is self-publishing. Having said that, the process of self-publication does also involve various parties—the printer, for example, and the public who read the books or stories you’ve self-published.

This post is all about thanks. 

Open – A Boy’s Wayang Adventure could not have happened without various parties involved. I would’ve mentioned them on the dedication page if I were a more experienced author. Other books I’ve read have entire pages, even two, where the author lists the people who have contributed to the book, pre and post-publication. Now if I were a more experienced author, I’d have done that too.

I’ve thanked the four most important people in my life who I felt made this book happen. As readers will know, they are my husband and my wonderful daughters, and a dear friend whom I’ve learned so much from in terms of autism. I did not, however, thank the book publisher—Ethos Books—and my friend, Raymond Tan, of Brainchild Pictures, who was the first person who believed in my ability to tell a story through words. It was Raymond who asked me to write a book about his movie—The Wayang Kids—that led to Open – A Boy’s Wayang Adventure. However, the book wouldn’t have been published if Ethos Books hadn’t liked the story and felt that it was worth its weight to enter the world of published books. There is also the team at Popular Bookstore who asked for exclusivity for the book until April.

So, this post goes out to the team at Ethos, Popular Bookstore, Singapore and Raymond—Thank you, all!

To the Readers

This post also goes out to the readers of Open. They are Mark Anthony Rossi and his lovely children, Hilary Ryel author of Kids Like Us, James Sinclair of Autistic and Unapologetic, Hubert Hu, Elizabeth Lim, Jessie Tan, Mozhdeh, Hwee Goh, Wayne Tan, Emily Lim and the children she gifted the book to, Lianne Chen, Andera Liu, Liz Lim, Kum Suning, Ng Kah Gay, Ric Liu, Nikki (you know who you are) Trudi Batchelder and her family, Nicola Anthony, Marie-Pierre Mol, Guillaume Levy-Lambert, Sean Soh, Scott M. Anthony, Angie Png, to the family of Mohamed Nikmikail, the readers and reviewers on Goodreads, and the future readers of the book. This list is not complete, of course, and as all lists go, I apologise if I’ve left someone out. I’m not the best at making lists, to begin with; I always leave something out inevitably as my memory is a sieve these days. To top this, I hate shopping lists, Christmas lists and wish lists; it’s just me, I know, as I feel lists are constraining, even as I understand their necessity.

To those who attended the Book Launch

The Official Book Launch has come and gone. There are people there to thank too. June, the book reviewer who came to listen to the dialogue between Raymond and me, who then asked pertinent questions that kept the conversation going. If you’re reading this, June—thank you. To the people who brought their children who stayed quiet for an hour to listen to three adults (Raymond, me and the moderator) drone on about representation, the wayang and writing—thank you for listening, you were superstars! Of course, to the organisers of the launch: The Arts House, the Singapore Book Council and National Arts Council, thank you for opening up a space for promoting SingLit. Thanks go to Axl Loon, Elizabeth Lim, Hubert Hu, Andrea Liu and Edmund Wee for attending. Mostly, thanks go to my sister, Emily Wong-Lim who came with her family and an old friend, whom I haven’t seen in more than 25 years; it was great to see you there, Yvinne. To my niece, Audrey Lim for showing me how social media can work on getting the book out there.

Authors and Bloggers

The book authors and bloggers who gave me a space to talk about Open. Don Bosco, Samara Lynch and Dorothée Oké of Groupe de Press Relations Lyon—thank you, merci!

Now, if I’ve left someone out, it is unintentional. Help me by prodding me with a message.

Last but not least, to all the mummies and daddies who encourage their children to read. You know that your children’s imaginary worlds begin with books—thank you!

The Adventure Continues

The next few months will be filled with book readings, events at schools where I’ll be doing more book readings and talking about how literature can help foster a more compassionate and inclusive world. Come and find me to say hello if I’m in your neck of the woods. Thank you!

B is for Behaviour

Bad behaviour is something I don’t abide by, especially coming from my children. What constitutes bad behaviour in my books? Well, when the children ignore me when I’m talking, tops the list. When my children walk away in the middle of me telling them what I’d like them to do, is another, albeit this doesn’t happen often.

I don’t tolerate rudeness either. I consider my children raising their voices at me as rudeness. I also feel that eye-rolling and sullenness when they’re being told off as showing rudeness. And the worst thing my kid can do is to hit me. This has happened when one of them was little.

But what if they weren’t doing all my pet behavioural peeves on purpose? What if these behaviours were a response to something else, like triggers in the environment, for example, and they were merely instinctive patterns of behaviour?

In the book, Open lashes out at a classmate. He’s had enough and there wasn’t enough time for him to register his emotions and his automatic response—the fight response—kicked in.

Children don’t come with instruction manuals, unfortunately. There is no STOP button to press when they’re pushing all your buttons. As you respond to their challenging behaviours either negatively or positively, children also respond in their individual ways when their buttons get pushed. Open’s buttons got pushed that day when he hit out.

The many parenting guidebooks out there are good for tried and tested ways of managing bad behaviour from your children. I’ve read a few and to date, I haven’t one that I could recommend any parents. Don’t get me wrong, all the books written are written with good intentions. But…

…Our children are all different. They are all individuals and one method that worked for your elder kid may not work for the second and/or subsequent children. I know this because my elder child is different from my second. Thank goodness I only have two when the second manifests one of the bad behaviour patterns that I abhor. She throws a face at me when she’s been told off. Yes… I understand: who likes to be told off, right? To date, I still find this challenging behaviour hard to ignore. I try my best but I must admit that I’m almost always close to hitting that elusive STOP switch that could possibly “beam me up” somewhere. There are times, I behave rather badly too. I throw a little fit or tantrum because I got reactive rather than proactive.

At the same time, I’m thankful that my kids are neurotypical children. They come round soon enough and will apologise for their perceived bad behaviour. Then, mummy-guilt sets in and I too come round to how I’ve perceived their behaviour as bad. I ask for clarification, I explain why I was ticked off and they tell me why they threw a face at me…. slowly but surely, we patch things up and come to a place of understanding.

But what if you’re someone parenting an individual on the autism spectrum? What do you do? My heart goes out to these brave and courageous folks who have to deal with challenging behaviours constantly.

I’ve been researching challenging behaviours lately because my second daughter has entered her tweenie years and is starting to get quite challenging.

From time to time, all children can and do behave in ways that parents and carers find challenging to deal with. But kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are more likely to manifest challenging behaviours. But it is good to know that children and teenagers on the autism spectrum do not purposely:

  • ignore or refuse to listen
  • throw tantrums
  • behave in a socially inappropriate manner
  • engage in repetitive self-stimulating behaviours or
  • hurt themselves and others for no reason.

There are reasons for the behaviours they manifest. Knowing what these reasons are will help you to manage them. Finding out strategies will help you help your child cope with his or her emotions.

If you’re parenting an autistic child, don’t despair. There are many support groups in your communities that can offer assistance and advice. Additionally, besides being a great resource, support groups are spaces where you can reach out to even if you only want to moan about a bad day. Support groups are also great for asking questions to other parents who may have had similar experiences to yours—“My child had a meltdown in the supermarket, what do I do to prevent this?”, “My child finds it hard to go to sleep at night, what can I do?” and/or “My daughter can’t stop biting her hand, help, anyone?”

Children often behave “badly” [notice I’ve placed this adverb in inverted commas] for many reasons that they cannot explain to you verbally. Understanding what triggers these behaviours is very useful in managing or even pre-empting such behaviours. They don’t mean to be bad, they are just trying to tell you something.

I know that my elder child gets very grumpy, edgy and anxious when her sugar levels are low. This is usually when she’s hungry and food is late being served. Hence, mealtimes are consistent in our home—we eat at the same time every day. If we were out and about, I made sure to carry healthy snacks with me, so that she gets replenished without spoiling her appetite for the big meal that’s coming soon.

My other kid gets anxious about social activities and when she’s around friends, and will often pull a face when I’m talking to her. I’ve come to understand why after many conversations and we have come up with a sign between us as a “warning” signal for her to stop or to tell her I’ve had enough.

One strategy I read about to help autistic children who find it difficult to communicate verbally is signs or messages written out that they can use to tell you when they’ve had enough. This is what Victoria of Starlight and Stories have to say:

“MAKE SOME TIME OUT CARDS

Often when students start to become upset they find it difficult to put their feelings into words. They can find it difficult to approach the teacher appropriately and worry that their friends will laugh at them. Their fight or flight response therefore kicks in, and you are left wondering why a child has just run out of your classroom and whether they are going to be safe.

A simple piece of paper saying ‘I need to leave the room now please’ printed or handwritten and then laminated can make all of the difference. Agree on the rules for time outs, where the student needs to go when they leave your room and how long they can be gone before needing to catch up on work (I usually say ten minutes, as I want students to have a chance to be able to calm down properly). Then when they become upset they simply need to hand over the card – no words are needed.” (source)

Since Victoria is an Autism Specialist Teacher and mother to an autistic child, this strategy pertains to classrooms. However, I find that this way of communication between parents and children could work too.

However, there will be times when it’s all too late and your child has had enough but haven’t had enough time to register what’s bothering him or her and throws a gigantic wobbly that you can’t stop. I’ve had moments like these too and my kids are not autistic.

When this happens, take a deep breath and let your child get on with it. Ignore the stares from passersby and let your child get on with it. I’ve had moments when I’ve had to hold on to my second daughter when she has had a meltdown. Hugging her tight helped her calm down. Of course, this is a strategy that worked for me. Do what works for you because you know your child best.

Here’s to every parent who is trying their very best—kudos to you.