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Raising different, happy, healthy and smart children

Like most parents, we welcomed our first newborn with great enthusiasm and anticipation. We did what future parents usually do: prepare a nursery with decorations, furniture, toys and clothing. We read books and took classes on how to raise the boy during his first year. Little did we know that all this would not prepare us for what lay ahead. Vincent was born in the United States at term without complications. We brought him back to Singapore when he was 10 weeks old. Our goal was to raise him in a multicultural and multilingual environment.

However, at the age of three months, Vincent became a regular visitor to the medical clinic. He was diagnosed with enlarged spleen and liver which required weekly, monthly and then biannual blood tests for lever function. His enzyme level was over 800 when a normal child should be below 50, but his enzyme level stabilized when he was three years old.

At 14 months, he contracted an infection following an injection of compensatory BCG. This required general anesthesia and an operation to remove the pustule. At two years old, the doctor noticed that Vincent had a heart murmur. Fortunately, it was a benign murmur due to growth. At the age of 3, Vincent fell into a curve that required three stitches above his right eye. At age four, he had a high fever for two consecutive days and had to be hospitalized. In between, he got the flu and a cold.

I imagine many parents have experienced similar scenarios. But it wasn’t the challenges that confronted our beliefs, tested our strengths and changed the course of our lives. Vincent had gone through all stages of development until we noticed he was different at one and a half years old. He had no language. That literally meant he didn’t speak a single understandable word. He didn’t call mom or dad. The doctor told us not to worry because boys normally develop language skills later than girls.

We were really worried when he still had no language at the age of two. This led to a new stream of consultations with specialists in ear, nose and throat (ENT), neurology, psychology and psychiatry. It took us more than two years to research, program and conduct the assessment. Vincent’s hearing was tested. The neurologist found nothing unusual in the visual assessment and referred us to a psychologist.

The session with the psychologist was disastrous. She was more than an hour late for the appointment. Vincent lost patience while waiting and wet his pants during the assessment, even though he had been trained to use the toilet. The psychologist prescribed a “Behavioural Disorder” for him. This brought disbelief and confusion. The only positive result was a list of recommended schools that would accept children like Vincent.

A shadow on the board
We then sought the advice of a renowned psychiatrist. I still remember very well the meeting on Vincent’s diagnosis: Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified (PDD NOS). According to Ayman, Vincent had a significant developmental delay, but the doctor could not determine the cause. The psychiatrist’s response, that Vincent may never be able to live an independent life, cast a shadow over the family.

Between numerous assessments, we were able to enroll Vincent in a private school with a special education program from the age of three. This marked the beginning of sustainable therapeutic and learning programs for Vincent. In order to improve the learning of the spoken language, Vincent was introduced to sign language, as were his parents. It was one of the happiest moments of his life to hear Vincent shout “Mommy” and “Daddy” at the age of three years and four months. Although his language went from one word to two words in a relatively short period of time, the speed of learning stopped. The speech-language pathologist advised him to improve gross and fine motor skills before language learning could accelerate.

On the strong recommendation of teachers and specialists, we returned to the United States when Vincent was five years old. This opened a new chapter in the life of Vincent and his family. Through referrals, we were fortunate to find a pediatrician who specializes in child development like Vincent. She did a thorough assessment of Vincent and diagnosed him with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Autism is a lifelong developmental disorder that usually appears in early childhood. Vincent was literal, with a minimum of imagination and common sense, and was inflexible to change. He had no eye contact, could not read social cues, suffered from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), had a significant delay in communication, and suffered from motor and sensory dysfunction.