“We didn’t know until Caleb was two years old,” says Zita, “being a physiotherapist, I see patients with Autism Spectrum come into my department, doing repetitive body movements like flapping, biting their hands and mumbling which mirrored the behavior of my son.”
After spotting these similar mannerisms, Zita confided in her husband that Caleb could possibly have autism.
Coming face to face with this truth wasn’t easy to come to terms with.
“We couldn’t help but be in denial,” says Zita.
The denial phase came with the hope that Caleb was just different compared to his elder sister and was growing according to his own individual pace.
“Since he was our first boy, we thought that he was a slow learner and that he needed a little more time. But by then, he was two years old and still wasn’t able to walk. When we relocated our family to Beaufort, I started bringing him to a specialist.”
After the confirmation that Caleb was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, they no longer negated reality and instead embraced it with open arms.
“Although he has trouble expressing himself verbally, he’s definitely loving,” smiles Zita, “he loves his siblings very much and he kisses their head, their cheeks especially to his youngest sister who’s only six months old.”
Zita also mentions that Caleb is a keen explorer who’s constantly immersing himself in his environment exhibiting his aptitude to learning simple tasks.
“He likes to discover things. He will go to the kitchen and do new tasks such as taking the glass, pouring the water in himself, and take the food without us telling him to. He’s observing us doing it every day and he learns at his own pace,” she told us.
“He likes to hide things like bags and keys. And, he’s very spirited,” laughs Zita when talking about Caleb’s comical aspect.
She shares that on one occasion, her husband and she would put their kids on a high shelf and Caleb would drag a chair, stand upon it, reach it and discreetly keep the keys.
“When we realize it, the key is gone. A lot of things get lost but after a few days to a few weeks, they’ll reappear again. He’ll laugh about it, that’s his cheeky sense of humor,” she laughs.
As with any sibling relationships, fights are an inevitability. Zita does admit that sometimes his affectionate tendencies do land him in trouble with his brothers and sisters especially when they’re eight of them.
“As mentioned, he’s very doting and loves cuddling. And at times, my other kids are doing homework, watching television and playing games,” she continues, “so when Caleb disturbs them, they do get upset. When this happens, I always tell them, “Kalau kau tidak sayang dia, orang lain tidak akan sayang dia.”
Zita then informed me that holds tightly to the belief that the changes should start from home.
“There are times when my kids do say, ‘but mom, I have homework’ and it can be quite a challenge,” she adds, “Caleb will pull their hair, but it’s often misinterpreted, he’s actually just getting them to play with him but he doesn’t know the proper way to express it.”
Time and time again to diffuse the arguments, she reminds her children to practice the virtue of patience.
“I tell them, if you don’t accept your brother, how will the public accept your him? So, from there we repeat this to them, and they learn to cultivate patience and compassion,” she says.
When asked about challenges faced as a family especially in when they’re out and about, Zita ponders on.
“A lot of challenges,” she says while she quietly contemplates.
“Sometimes when we’re out, he tends to go to other tables and grab people’s beverages and drink them himself,” she continues, “those who understand will be okay with it but as for people who don’t, they definitely get angry.”
To appease and make up for the unintentional accidents, Zita and her family replaces the drinks of those who were affected by it.
However, a serious occurrence left Zita rattled as a mother.
“There was an incident went Caleb went to someone’s table and ate their fries. The man got very angry and just threw them to the ground, and when I saw that I was so angry and thought about why this man do this?”
“I then I recalibrated my thoughts and told myself to stay positive and remind myself that this man didn’t know anything, so I forgive him,” she says.
When asked about how she stays calm and composed, Zita’s reply was austere.
“We keep it simple. We have a son with autism, and we have to accept it, and nothing more.”
“Just be strong,” Zita starts says.
“Don’t be shy if people look at your family and say certain things. Sometimes, Caleb will shout, laugh or cry out of nowhere and they might think, ‘what happened to that kid?’ They think, he has no manners and his parents didn’t raise him right.”
Her advice is to suspend the judgement of other people.
“Who cares? You know what you stand for, you know what’s happening in your family, you know each of your kids,” she affirms.
She lastly adds her view on raising Caleb and the hopes of bringing him up in a more inclusive society.
“What autism means is we need to let society accept them as they are. It’s not about us going into their world but bringing them into ours and accepting that in our society. To not be treated differently.”
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