Parent urges S'poreans to show more empathy to caregivers of children with autism

Parents need understanding, not judgement.

Belmont Lay | Andrew Koay | August 30, 2019, 01:20 AM

A 17-year-old boy with autism has gone missing in Singapore a total of 12 times within just the first eight months of 2019.

The boy, Bingjie, who is also known as BJ, has set some tongues wagging on the Reunite Missing Children Facebook page recently, due to the frequency of his disappearance and his family's subsequent appeals to the public and police for help.

Members of the group, many of whom are parents of children with autism, serve as a support network and crowdsourcing platform, who pull together help to find the children who have gone missing.

However, within that group, some questions have been raised after BJ's frequent disappearance and appeals for help.

These include:

  • Why is it that this boy goes missing so frequently?
  • Why didn't his parents watch over him more carefully?
  • Can’t you let this boy wear a GPS tracker on his wrist?

Facebook post calling for understanding

The people in the Facebook group were initially keen to help BJ, but as more appeals for the same person's whereabouts were put up, people got fatigued.

The Facebook page was started in 2017 by a person named Meilan, who also has a special needs child.

Several parents manage the page together, and in the course of doing this crowdsourcing coordination work, one of the parents, Bob Lee, got to know the parents of Bingjie.

And this is where having empathy for parents of children with autism plays a big role, according to Lee.

The comments, that were posted on the Reunite Missing Children Facebook page, moved Lee — also a parent of a child who has autism.

To offer his own take and collate the responses and solutions to help BJ, Lee put up his own post to start a conversation to explain the difficulties parents face acting as caregivers for children with autism.

This post coincidentally came about just two days before a high-profile incident in Singapore, where a woman was seen on video prying open the MRT train doors, in what appeared to be an antisocial act.

But it was later brought to the public's attention that the woman might have been just trying get to her sister (who is a person with autism as well) who had dashed into the train when its doors were closing.

The Facebook post by Lee coincidentally explained — two days before this MRT incident — the circumstances and reasons why people with autism are prone to getting lost.

Here are some of Lee's explanations reiterated:

Why do people with autism keep getting lost?

According to Lee, children and adults with autism have impulsive behaviour.

They will see objects they're interested in, such as elevators, MRT trains, or rotating objects, and run off towards these objects, sometimes compromising their own safety.

Why does BJ keep getting lost then?

BJ is no longer a small child.

He is 17 years old and at 1.7m tall.

His parents are in their 50s, and no longer as strong or fit to keep up and keep BJ under control.

BJ would also remove the GPS tracker that is put on him as he doesn't like it.

And another factor is that BJ is actually able to make his way around by himself using public transport.

This has also resulted in him getting lost eventually in far flung places.

Lee wrote that BJ once took the train from Redhill to Changi Airport by himself and did not know how to make his way back.

BJ also once went missing for a few days and was found swimming in the Singapore River.

Support and empathy important

However, the most recent incident where BJ went missing also brought out one of the most empathetic responses by a commenter online.

Lee highlighted the comment by one Esther Chia:

"Walk a day in the shoes of exhausted caregivers of young autistic active adults, before you judge “why” they go missing frequently…☺☺☺ they needed all the support n help…not judgements."

This, Lee wrote, left him "immensely touched" as it embraced the saying, "It takes a village to raise a child".

Lee wrote that more help is even needed to raise a child with autism.

His final appeal is simple, admonishing the withholding of judgement by those who do not know what is like to be a caregiver to a person with autism:

"Let’s all not be too quick to judge what we see. With a little bit more kindness and understanding, we can help make lives easier for the caregivers and their children."

Top image via screenshots from Unite Missing Children Facebook page and Google Maps