Love is where the heart is
A single mother struggles to raise her autistic son with love and strength
Keeping a firm hold of her son at all times when they are in the street, apologizing to people when he screams in a restaurant, teaching him the basic steps of daily routine such as brushing teeth and putting clothes on are just some of the common struggles for Ms Lau Hiu-Ha.
Ms Lau is a single mother of two boys. One of them, Hang, who was diagnosed as autistic when he was three, is the source of her family's tough life.
"I was so confused and mad when the doctor told me the diagnosis. My son was different from other kids. He could stand there and stare out of the window for a very long time, but sometimes he was a bundle of energy," said Ms Lau. "But I was hoping that he was just an average child with a unique personality."
She sought help from doctors and social workers. However none of them could provide her with a satisfactory answer or guarantee her son's full recovery.
Autism is a spectrum disorder, which means the degree of disability
varies among individuals, each of whom may display different behaviours.
With little language ability, Hang suffers one of the most severe forms of autism.
Ms Liu said the hardest part in handling her son was that she could never truly be sure of his needs.
"You don't even know what will set him off. It just did and what you can do is to try to calm him down," said Ms Lau.
She remembers a time when she took her eyes off Hang for a few seconds in the playground. When she turned to see him again, he was standing still on top of a jungle gym. She was terrified and pulled him down immediately.
Like other parents with autistic kids, she hopes that there could be understanding of the apparently strange behavior of autistic children from other people.
"People are afraid of a screaming child who might be having a little outburst. I heard people muttering behind us and children asking their parents what's wrong with him," she said. "And it is lucky that Hang could not understand it."
Hang's situation is apparently getting worse as he gets stronger and taller. Ms Lau said she could barely get hold of him when he has a sudden outburst. But still, maternal love enables her to plough on despite all the adversities.
"Frankly, I have thought of giving up several times," Ms Lau admitted.
But what she is really concerned about is her son's future.
"Who will take care of the children after I die," she asked worriedly.
Ms Liu Xiao-Yan, her former colleague at Song Tao Hotel, said Ms Lau was a strong and contented woman, who enjoys exchanging banters with her friends.
"I never hear her groaning about the difficulties in her life," said Ms Liu.
As the sole breadwinner of the family, Ms Lau works from 6 pm till midnight at a Chinese restaurant. Her son used to stay in boarding school but has been transferred to the Lung On Lutheran Day Activity Centre.
She prepares a meal for the two brothers before leaving for work. When she comes home, she will take off the boy's headphones. He has been listening to the same song "It's a small world" for years, she added, with a chuckle.
Despite the hardship she endures, what Ms Lau wants is not pity from the society. She is tired because of Hang's disorder but she is still happy for having them in her life.
"He is my son. He never calls me ‘mama' like other kids, but he kisses me on the cheek when he goes to bed and hugs me gingerly when he has done something wrong," she said.
"Even students who cannot speak have language," said Ms Connie Tsang, director of development and supervisor of Aoi Pui School, which provides autism-specific education for students aged 4 and over and individualized learning programmes catering for children of different abilities.
"Their language is just not expressive like others," she added.
Ms Tsang said treating autistic children was about choosing the right teaching method based on the individual's functioning level and cognitive ability.
"It's about the collaboration of the teachers, parents, children and everybody if you want the treatment to work," said Ms Tsang.
Reported by Hilary Wu
Edited by Stephen Leung
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