SINGAPORE — Wushu, archery and boxing are just some of the extracurricular activities eight-year-old Eng Yong Luck and his five-year-old brother Yong Leng had been able to have a go at.
But these classes, aimed at boosting their confidence, have only gone so far. Yong Luck is autistic, and Yong Leng is suspected of having selective mutism, an anxiety disorder where one becomes unable to speak in certain social settings. This makes it difficult for them to thrive in regular group classes, as they have difficulty focusing well in such a setting.
What they really need is one-on-one coaching, which comes at easily double or triple the cost of group lessons — an expense their mother Madam Wong Seok Fun said can strain the family budget, as they depend solely on her engineer husband’s income.
Said the 43-year-old stay-at-home mum: “When there are special needs children, there are a lot of expenses like medical bills, extra school fees to pay, so for (their families) to pay for their activities, it is quite tough.”
But as Mdm Wong can attest, giving her sons personal attention can make a world of a difference.
Yong Luck, currently a Primary Two student in a mainstream school, used to fail maths. After Mdm Wong spent time going through 10 of the same maths questions 30 times with him during the school holidays, he is now able to achieve more than 70 marks.
The same one-on-one approach was also used at his special needs pre-school when Yong Luck was taught how to swim. The first lesson involved only getting him to put on a swimsuit.
When it came to teaching him to enter the pool, Yong Luck was so afraid that he vomited. Undaunted, staff from the school took six months to help him conquer his fear of water, at times sitting with him for about an hour, letting him feel the water lap around him. Today, he can happily move from the baby pool to a deeper pool on his own.
With Yong Leng also diagnosed with special needs two years ago, Mdm Wong struggles at times with having to divide her attention between the boys. A full diagnosis of Yong Leng’s condition has been pushed back as he is still developing, but his parents have secured him a place at Rainbow Centre – Yishun Park School, a special education school.
Said Mdm Wong: “(Yong Leng) is an introverted boy … He doesn’t like to play with other kids. He keeps very quiet when there is a crowd … He always freezes when there is someone new to him, in front of him.”
Fortunately, the presence of his older brother gives him confidence — he sticks to him and often emulates what he does.
As Mdm Wong looks for holiday programmes, she hopes to find activities that allow parents to be paired with their children, or for siblings to be paired together. Yong Luck, she has noticed, is keen on bowling, archery or indoor skydiving — and perhaps one day he could follow in the path of Paralympians who have excelled and “shown others they can also do it”.