Parent Spotlight: Raising Teenagers In The ASD Spectrum (Part 1)

“Parenting for autism individuals is hard work or rather, ‘heart work’, I would say. That doesn’t mean I do not experience many joyful moments when my sons achieve something they try so hard to do. But that also doesn’t discount the heartache at night after they go to bed thinking, leaving me to think about what may happen to them when I am gone…” – Mr. Yong Yek Ming

A prominent name and presence in the community, we are extremely grateful to have Mr. Yong share his heartfelt journey as a single parent to two teenage sons with us. His hope, along with ours, is to fuel more awareness surrounding Autism with good faith that through education, we can help steer our society towards being more loving, kind, compassionate and inclusive place for all individuals, one empowering step at a time. And here is his story…

Meet Mr. Yong And His Sons…

“I am a full-time father who chose to take care of my two autistic sons, both age 21 and 20 respectively. I work from home, providing social and digital marketing solutions to companies who wish to digitize their business and operations.

“My elder son, Wei Jie (WJ), is still non-verbal and is still challenged in terms of self-help. He still requires full-time care and attention for his daily needs.

“My second son, Wei Xiang (WX), is verbal and very independent in terms of his daily life requirements. He can help himself along his daily routines, plus helping around whenever I need him to. He is however, socially challenged and lack the skills to earn a living for his daily life, hence, I am still working on his social and financial skills.

“They are both high school graduates (Form 5 according to the Malaysian educational system). I have no intention of furthering their studies as I do not believe this will help them in the long run.

“Being a single father since 2018 with full custody of both my sons, my biggest hope is to give them a family life for years to come. However, I am aware this is going to be very challenging because of their condition and behaviour.”

The Growing Years…

As Infant/Toddlers

“When they both were both at this stage, they were a lot easier to care for because they were much more compliant and obedient. Even though they lacked the verbal communication skills or abilities, they were able to show and tell when it comes to their basic needs.

“However, they got agitated and upset easily whenever they feel any discomfort or when they were not getting what they needed.

“WJ’s temperament tends to be much more reactive, which leads to self-inflicted injuries. Since he was 7, he will beat himself on the head, ears and mouth whenever he is upset. This is understandable because he feels frustrated for not being able to verbalize or request what he needs or wants.

“WX’s temperament tends to be much more in control because he is able to ask and tell what he needs and wants. However, he is born a perfectionist, which makes him very agitated when things do not go his way. He will throw tantrum by way of throwing or breaking things.”

As Teenagers

“WJ became more settled in terms of his temperament and more independent in getting or asking for what he needs or wants. He is still non-verbal but we understand him a lot better over the years and know in advance what he is looking for.

“However, puberty and the result of hormone changes gave us more challenges from ages of 14 to 18 years old. The puberty challenges affected both my sons equally, but especially so for WX because he is more aware of the changes in himself.

“For WJ, going into his teen years did offer a lot more challenges compare to WX. He is much more aware of his social circle, physical activities and changes in his physical and mental self. However, WJ being verbal and able to communicate his needs and wants really helped.”

On Behavioural Changes…

“Both of them were hyperactive as toddlers and did a lot of repetitive movements. WJ liked to play with strings while resting on the floor, and flapped his hands when he was excited or stressed. It was possible to learn from his tone or facial reactions whether he was excited, happy or upset.

“WX had less behavioural issues when he was young and the only issues he had were rigidity and hyperactivity. He jumped and paced around the house a lot, and we had to follow his routine on the dot.”

“Thankfully into his teens, WJ’s self-inflicted injuries were reduced to a minimum; he only resorts to self-harm when I push him too far to do something. One of the things I’ve learned is having to balance the need to teach him a new skill over the consequences of a meltdown, which can lead to another self-inflicted injury. However, I still have to proceed with teaching him living and self-help skills as much as possible in hopes that he will not be a bigger burden to his future caregiver.

“As a teenager, WX has developed a few attention-seeking and rigidity traits. His OCD and rigidity in routine have increased, too. I am hoping with constant so-called “Breaking the Rigidity” practices that I do, he will be able to overcome these patterns, because rigidities are affecting his life in that he will get upset and emotional when those rigidities are not fulfilled.”

To Be Continued…