Mother of autistic adults: 'I worry that my sons might get into trouble with the public'
Mother of two autistic adults shares struggles of taking care of them
They have been accused of being Peeping Toms, child molesters and a nuisance to the public.
But brothers Andren Ma, 19, and Jason Ma, 20, are none of those. They are autistic.
Their mother, Madam Wong Ngan Yue, 52, tells The New Paper on Sunday: "Caring for two autistic children is very stressful.
"I had to quit my job (as a shipping co-ordinator) because it was too tiring juggling work and family."
Madam Wong now spends her time at home caring for her sons.
She is married to an engineering executive and they have another son, Winston, 21, who is a chemistry student at the National University of Singapore.
Madam Wong says: "I worry (Andren and Jason) might get into trouble with the public as there is so much stigma against autistic people."
She is among a community of parents here who struggle with the challenges of taking care of their grown-up children with autism, which is characterised by difficulties in socialisation and communication.
A week ago, a Facebook post by Ms Choo Kah Ying, an autism and wellness educator, went viral after she recounted an incident in which her 20-year-old autistic son was detained by the police for his behaviour. (See report)
Madam Wong says even though her middle son Jason is an adult, she is afraid to let him out alone as his behaviour might get him in trouble with strangers who are unaware of his condition.
She explains: "He gets excited when he sees young children. He likes to kiss and touch them as a way of showing affection."
Madam Wong recounts a violent incident when he was 14 - he was at a park with his brothers when he spotted a young girl, and proceeded to touch her head.
His action enraged the girl's father, who was beside her.
Madam Wong says: "The man yanked (Jason's) hair and shouted at him to apologise.
"When (Winston) told me about it, I was really hurt. (Jason) knows how to behave when I am around. It worries me to know that he might get in trouble with strangers when I am not around."
Mr Jason Ma attends Eden School, which is for students with autism. He takes a school bus and is dropped off at his void deck every day.
Madam Wong says she had previously tried letting him be independent , but things did not go smoothly.
She says: "There was a period of time where I tried letting him take the lift up by himself.
"But a few months later, a neighbour from the opposite block told me he was loitering outside her home and stealing her slippers.
"I was so afraid that he might get in more trouble that I went back to picking him up from the void deck."
Madam Wong's younger son Andren attends Pathlight School, another school for autistic students.
He was four when he ended up in a police station alone.
Madam Wong says: "He walked out of the playgroup centre on his own and wandered around the streets until someone took him to a nearby police station.
"That was when I knew he might be different, just like his older brother."
When Madam Wong found out that her youngest son was autistic as well, she broke down.
"I was still learning how to care for my first autistic child, let alone a second one. Even when I think about it now, I still get teary," she says.
A typical day now for Madam Wong involves cleaning the flat, cooking for the family and picking up her two autistic sons after the school bus drops them off.
She says: "I cannot go on holidays because I have to settle their meals. Jason is not able to buy food on his own and I try to keep a close eye on him at every moment."
She adds: "I am used to being so busy these days."
Once a week, she brushes Mr Jason Ma's teeth for him.
She explains: "I am afraid he might get tooth decay because he does not brush his teeth very thoroughly.
Her eldest son Winston says he admires his mother's strength and love for her children.
He says: "She has been through so much. If I were in her shoes, I do not think I will be able to do half the things she does."
Debunking myths on autism
They are adults but with autism they may not behave like one.
Those with severe autism may not even be able to speak, and they can get aggressive and violent if put under stress.
Dr Lim Boon Leng, a psychiatrist at Gleneagles Hospital, says it is important to know how to communicate with someone with autism.
He says talking patiently to an autistic person who is acting aggressively can defuse the situation.
He tells The New Paper on Sunday: "If there is no imminent danger, do not use physical force. Instead, try talking and listening to how the person responds. It might help you get an inkling of whether the person has special needs.
"If talking one-on-one does not work, get more people to surround the person. It might calm him down and make him more self-aware of his anger."
Ms Denise Phua, president of the Autism Resource Centre, says there is still a lot to be done when it comes to autism awareness here.
Ms Phua, who is also MP for Jalan Besar GRC, says: "I fully empathise with Kah Ying and Sebastien." (See report)
"This incident shows there is more that can be done as a society in terms of awareness and training.
"But it will take the effort and resolve of all of us - government agencies, schools, families, voluntary welfare organisations and members of the public who will take action with us by joining awareness events such as The Purple Parade."
Five tips for interacting with someone who has autism, according to the Autism Resource Centre:
• Visually show or write what you want to say
• Speak clearly
• Pause to allow time for response
• Remember that each individual is unique and may act differently from others
• Give praise to reinforce good actions