More acceptance required over children with special needs
Playground shoving incident sparks autism debate
The incident was so jarring it remains fresh in Ms Denise Phua's memory even after 18 years, and it made her determined to help society understand autism better.
Speaking to The New Paper yesterday, Ms Phua, MP for Jalan Besar GRC, described the incident in 2000 when she stood outside a restaurant with her then four-year-old autistic son when a man accused him of disturbing his dog.
The man then hit her son, causing him to fall on his face.
Distraught, she asked him why he would do such a thing and tried to explain that her son, now 22, had special needs.
In response, he sneered and replied: "My dog has special needs too."
Ms Phua said: "I was heartbroken but I was determined then to change the mindset of society, and to make sure that there would be less of such unjust behaviour."
Eighteen years later, an incident involving a five-year-old boy - who is autistic, his parents say - has sparked a discussion.
TNP reported on Wednesday that a man allegedly shoved the boy at an indoor playground at Northpoint City in Yishun.
The boy's mother, Madam Ow May Chen, posted CCTV footage of the incident on Facebook on Monday night but later removed it.
The man was with another woman and two little girls.
In the video, the boy tries to take a toy spade from the man, who swings his foot at the boy, who evades it.
As the boy continues to hover around, the man pushes him away with his arm. After the boy hits the man's back with both hands, the man retaliates by shoving him, causing the boy to almost fall onto a slide. Madam Ow then appears and takes her son away.
TNP understands that Madam Ow was with her 10-year-old daughter at another section of the playground during the incident.
The police told TNP yesterday that they have identified the man, who is assisting with their investigations.
Madam Ow told Channel News Asia on Tuesday that her son, who is in kindergarten, suffered injuries to his stomach and groin.
Ms Brenda Tan, mother of a 13-year-old autistic boy, told TNP that negative reactions to her son are not uncommon.
"I often have to apologise on his behalf when he bumps into people or cuts the queue in his enthusiasm to board public transport," said the 43-year-old. "But so far, members of the public are appeased when I explain that he's autistic."
On the recent incident, she said the man may not have known the boy was autistic and so saw him as a potential threat to his own children.
Ms Phua said: "We shouldn't be too quick to blame either party because most of us don't know what really transpired. Instead, let us look at what we can and should do."
Artwork by autistic artists on MRT train
Passengers on the Downtown Line may get a chance to view 10 pieces of artwork by artists who are autistic, from Pathlight School's Artist Development Programme.
The 10 pieces are featured on a Downtown Line train and four interchange stations - Bugis, Newton, Serangoon and Tampines - until May 9.
The initiative is part of a month-long community outreach programme, launched yesterday, to raise awareness of autism and celebrate the talent of people with autism.
It is a collaboration between the Autism Resource Centre (ARC), the Land Transport Authority and SBS Transit.
Ms Denise Phua, ARC's president and school supervisor of Pathlight School Board, said: "Through this programme, we want to support inclusion and celebrate abilities."
She said that one of the best ways to understand autistic people is through their artistic work.
"Not all are strong communicators in the typical way, but many often have intriguing and refreshing views of the world around them."
Through this programme, we want to support inclusion and celebrate abilities.Ms Denise Phua, on the initiative to display artwork by artists who are autistic on the Downtown Line
For example, Mr Ng Li Jie, 21, whose watercolour painting of a flower springing out of barren land was selected for the programme, said it came from his outlook on life.
"It represents my realisation of the unlimited potential of all children, even those with autism, despite the harsh realities of the world around us," he said. - LOW LI PING