“There is a planet named ‘STU STU’, no one knows about this planet, except me.” Ethan is a 6-year-old boy who is an ‘astrophile’. He is so passionate about planets that he even created a new one. On the planet ‘STU STU’, he is unrestrained. Yet, back in reality, there are many obstacles in his path.

At the age of three, Ethan was diagnosed with autism. Mrs. Ngai recalled Ethan’s behaviours at school. “When he was in the playgroup and kindergarten, the teachers kept advising us that Ethan was inattentive in the lessons; he always watched the exhaust fan in a daze. My husband and I decided to bring Ethan for a check-up.”

The Maternal and Child Health Centre diagnosed Ethan with autism. Mr. and Mrs. Ngai started to devote their energy to helping Ethan and to seek early intervention. However, getting early intervention can be a long and arduous journey and it is understandable that parents may feel frustrated. “We realised that Ethan is inflexible, struggles to adhere to rules and is resistance to change. One time, his grandma got off the bus one stop earlier than usual and suddenly he lost his temper. He screamed on the bus, requesting his grandma to return to the starting point and get off at the usual bus stop,” Mrs. Ngai says. In order for Ethan to receive early intervention as soon as possible, Mr. and Mrs. Ngai took him to private programmes to fill the service gap, while they were waiting for the government-subvented programmes.

In 2016, Ethan was referred to the government-subvented programme at The Child Development Centre (CDC). In the CDC classroom, Ethan works with different professionals including an SEN teacher, speech and language therapists and occupational therapists. He has been attending the Chinese early intervention group programme for a year.

“In the beginning, Ethan required more support with his social-emotional skills. He became frustrated and threw a tantrum when he lost a game.” Matthew Lee, a speech and language therapist at the CDC, said. Matthew tried to understand how Ethan was feeling and talked to him about it. He then asked Ethan to try and explain his feelings. “Once we understood more about Ethan’s reaction, we could teach him a more appropriate way to express his feelings and get his message across.”

During the lesson time, our professional team demonstrate different social scenarios to students through role play or social stories, focusing on communication and social and emotional coping-skills. Matthew explains that “we also tailor an individual learning pathway for every student in the CDC, in order to record and monitor each child’s learning progress.”

After a year of training, Ethan has shown remarkable improvement in his social skills and is starting to manage his emotions. He enjoys playing games with others and is willing to share his feelings with the CDC’s teachers and therapists. “He likes to talk and play with other classmates, and he tries to accept losing in games, “said Matthew.

“He feels happy to have training in the CDC and now he is willing to talk and share his feelings at home.” say Mr. and Mrs. Ngai. They take time to communicate with Ethan and now understand his feelings more. “He will project his feelings onto the planet he created. Once, he told us a child on the planet was not going to school. In fact, we knew that Ethan was the one reluctant to go to school. We have realised that we need to spend time and try hard to understand and ask about his feelings.”

Now, Ethan is studying in a mainstream primary school. He is interested in Mathematics and has received an award in a mathematics competition. “We accept that Ethan may not excel academically, but it is more important that he have a happy life,” Mrs. Ngai says. With the support from the family, Ethan is no longer alone in his unique learning journey.