Mrs Lenny Lee’s 4 year old son is cheerful and bubbly, and can read and sing. Mrs Christina Cheng’s 6 year old boy is happy and affectionate.

That is why when the children were diagnosed with autism, both mothers were taken by surprise.

Mrs Cheng recounts, “The first time the doctor told us, we didn’t believe him, so his intervention was delayed by two years.”

Finding the right help

Early intervention refers to the use of therapy services to enhance a child’s ability to interact with others and the environment.

The Early Intervention Programme for Infants & Children or EIPIC is a centre-based programme providing therapy and educational support for special needs children aged between 2 months and 6 years. Besides maximising childrens’ developmental potential and minimising the development of secondary disabilities, such as speech issues, the programme teaches life skills, such as how to eat and visit the washroom independently.

The process of enrolling their children into EIPIC centres wasn’t smooth-sailing, however. Both mothers recall finding themselves plunged into the deep end after hearing the diagnosis from their doctors, perplexed about the next step and how to navigate the world of early intervention.

The good thing, however, was that both Mrs Lee and Mrs Cheng were highly motivated and active in seeking out the right support for their children. Eventually, their perseverance paid off. In Mrs Cheng’s case, she found out about the EIPIC programme from a hospital.

Both women were referred to SG Enable, which became was a pillar of support for them. Caseworkers helped provide pertinent information to help them make an informed decision. Mrs Lee recalls her caseworker advising her on factors she had not considered before, such as whether a centre had a general or autism-specific services, and how far the centre was from her home.

Both mothers stressed the importance of early intervention no matter how challenging the situation seemed.

Said Mrs Cheng, “Back then, they didn’t tell us what was so special about it. But now, we know that early intervention is important and that our 6-year-old is lucky to get a place in an EIPIC centre.”

Early intervention is important

Today, Mrs Lee attends EIPIC with her son twice a week, while Mrs Cheng attends training courses and works with the EIPIC staff to refine their strategies.

Within three months, Mrs Lee’s son started to communicate with her through hand signs, and Mrs Cheng’s son was able to follow a schedule and manage his anger. Furthermore, EIPIC not only helped their children, it also helped them: they felt better equipped to support their children at home.

Don’t face your problems alone

According to Mrs Cheng, raising a special needs child is a collaborative effort between many parties including the parents, school, and organisations such as SG Enable.

“Don’t face your problems alone. You need to work with other people. Because although parents play a major role, they cannot do it themselves,” said Mrs Cheng. “This is easier said than done though. I’m still learning and trying to stay strong.”

Asked about what message they would like to give to parents with special needs children, Mrs Cheng says, “Try to understand your child’s behaviour, because you are their first-line of support. But first, you need to understand that your child is much more than just his or her special needs.”

She urged parents facing similar struggles to stay strong and persevere. Mrs Cheng says, “As a parent, this is not only for your child, but also for yourself. If you’re not strong, you won’t be able to help your child and yourself.”

One of Mrs Cheng’s hopes is that people can be more understanding towards special needs children, especially when they are out in public places. For example, when they throw tantrums, oftentimes, it is not intentional – it may be due to sensory overload.

As for aspirations for her child, Mrs Lee says, “As long as he can be independent, and understand what is right and wrong, that is enough for me. That’s the best thing I can ask for.”