In one of the more endearing relationships a sibling can have, Hsu Li, sister to a Day Activity Centre’s (DAC) client, shares what makes her brother unique and the impact of the DAC has on her brother’s behaviour.
Hsu Li is a sister to 29-year old Zhao Xiong who was diagnosed with autism when he was three years old. After graduating from a special education school, Zhao Xiong joined the Day Activity Centre (DAC) at St. Andrew’s Autism Centre (SAAC) in January 2011.
“The DAC promised to deliver what was sorely needed not only for Zhao Xiong but his peers as well,” explains Hsu Li on why her family had no hesitation in enrolling Zhao Xiong with SAAC’s DAC programme.
Aimed at preparing prepare adults on the moderate to severe autism spectrum to lead independent, dignified and meaningful lives, the DAC programme includes training and support in the development of daily living, recreational, vocational and community skills.
According to his family and coaches, Zhao Xiong has progressed significantly since first joining the DAC more then ten years ago. Today, Zhao Xiong is usually responsible, completing tasks he is assigned.
At home, his family sees the positive change that the DAC has made in Zhao Xiong. For example, his chores at home include changing all bed linen, setting and clearing the dining table at mealtimes, and carrying the heaviest grocery bags.
Persistence is Key
While it may sound like Zhao Xiong is one of the most compliant and easy-going persons with autism around, it was not always the case. When he first entered the DAC, he required much support. Also, during Zhao Xiong’s growing years and his family had to learn how to help him learn the skills necessary for daily living, including how to communicate and make friends. He had frequent meltdowns and outbursts that tested his family’s wits and mettle.
Hsu Li feels that the DAC’s strength lies not only its curriculum and physical environment but in the environment created by its staff. Furthermore, each small behavioural change towards independence by an adult client is celebrated by their coaches – and appreciated by their families
“Zhao Xiong’s tantrums have been reduced to a rarity and he can be seen to exhibit self-control during stressful situations,” says Hsu Li. “With encouragement, he is now able to verbalise what he wants in sentences.”
“The coaches have created a system that accepts and loves Zhao Xiong and his peers, and crucially, works with clients’ family members to provide a holistic and all-rounded approach to the clients’ development,” adds Hsu Li.
Recognising the uniqueness of each client and to respect them as an adult, the DAC has a wide range of activities that provide an opportunity for Zhao Xiong to grow. This includes activities such as cooking and other skills useful in preparing food, other work tasks, music, swimming, and an exercise programme.
Through the Eyes of his Sister
Persons on the autism spectrum typically face challenges with communication, social interaction and repetitive behaviour. They may seem to be aloof, unresponsive, or even appear to be living in their own worlds.
However, Hsu Li, who perhaps knows her brother better than anyone else, describes Zhao Xiong as a social butterfly at heart.
She says that his desire to look good goes beyond putting up with haircuts (due to sensory issues) so that he can look good. And Zhao Xiong is “a vain pot who often insists on matching the colour of his outfits”.
The family also discovered that Zhao Xiong is a foodie who loves baking, with an appetite for cookies. And baking is an activity that he looks forward to during Daily Living Skills classes at the DAC. His other gastronomical delight is taking pleasure in savouring a plate of delicious chicken rice. Thankfully, he enjoys swimming which releases his inner dolphin in the pool, says his coaches.
It may be easy to assume that all persons with autism prefer solitude to interacting with others. Yet, with persistent encouragement from coaches and family members, an autistic person can learn social skills and interact with others, as Zhao Xiong proves.
“Behind his condition lives a young man who would summon the courage to interact and play with others, and even comfort them when they are distressed,” she adds.
Hsu Li’s description of her brother hammers home the point that there is much more to Zhao Xiong than the autism he has. And this is true of each autistic person. Everyone is a unique individual with unique personality traits. In relating to and interacting with persons on the autism spectrum, we need to look beyond the autism to try to get to know and understand the individuals.
The road travelled by Hsu Li and her family has not been an easy one. Even so, Hsu Li hopes to see “Zhao Xiong of the future as someone motivated and with an explored passion for baking and cooking. He will be able to make lifelong friends and be more independent. Meltdowns would have been relegated to history, and beyond that, he will be well-loved by his family and friends.”
*This write-up would not have been possible without the courage and openness of Zhao Xiong’s family, in particular his sister, Hsu Li, and her husband, Ian, whose invaluable contribution helped present Zhao Xiong as he really is.