Help with fear of heights and lizards

Ever since he was young, every time Kenneth (not his real name) glanced out of a window, he would start to shake and quickly walk away.

Even while walking along the school corridor, he would divert his attention to other objects so that he would not have to look out into the open. "It's a fear of heights and the fear that I may fall," said Kenneth, who has mild autism.

But this year, the 14-year-old Secondary 2 student from Juying Secondary School reached a milestone by overcoming his phobia with the help of a school-based programme, Facing Your Fears.

From January to April, he would meet his school's allied educator, together with a classmate, Jessie (not her real name), who also has mild autism and anxiety issues.

Over 10 sessions, the allied educator, who specialises in learning and behavioural support, helped Kenneth and Jessie, also 14, to confront their fears. Both classmates helped each other by reinforcing the strategies they learnt.

Ms Ng May Ling, the school's senior teacher (special educational needs), said the sessions helped both students open up about their fears, which is typically harder for those with autism to do.

"We're proud of them being able to manage their fears. The support they give each other as peers can be more powerful than that coming from the teachers."

For Kenneth, the approach was to gradually expose him to heights, starting with the school's ground floor and moving up to the fourth.

He was taught techniques such as deep breathing and counting, and thinking positively, to combat his fear. "I remind myself that the fear is irrational because I'm safe and it's not like I will fall," he said.

Today, he does not tremble any more at the sight of heights.

"Now when I go to high places, I can take in views that I would not have seen otherwise, like Singapore's cityscape," he said.

For Jessie, it was the fear of lizards that made her cringe. In her case, the allied educator used strategies like getting her to look closely at a toy lizard, and watch videos of lizards.

Thinking rationally also helped, said Jessie. "The lizard is so tiny and it won't bite me," she added.

"Now I'm not scared any more, although I still dislike them."

Amelia Teng

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 09, 2019, with the headline 'Help with fear of heights and lizards'. Print Edition | Subscribe