Video of fracas involving five-year-old boy with autism draws mixed reactions

A man physically assaulted a five-year-old boy at an indoor playground on April 9, 2018. PHOTO: FACEBOOK/OW MAY CHEN

SINGAPORE - The recent incident involving the abuse of a boy with autism at a playground in Yishun has sparked strong online debate.

On April 9 (2018), a five-year-old boy approached a family of four in a playden at Sunshine Children Playground, wanting to play with the toys they were using. He approached the father from behind, but was kicked and shoved by the man.

This was recorded on CCTV footage, which the playground owner shared with the boy's mother, Ms Ow May Chen , 45.

Ms Ow, who had been outside the playden with her daughter, has since lodged a police report.

It is understood her son, Dexter, has autism.

Ms Ow posted the video on Facebook on April 9 before taking it down on the same day so as to not inconvenience the playground owner, she wrote. But it had already garnered a myriad of responses from friends and strangers alike.

The public's reaction seems divided. Some expressed outright displeasure with the man, with many stating that he has "anger management issues".

Others, however, stated that Ms Ow and her son are also to blame.

Autism Resource Centre's deputy executive director, Mrs Stephenie Khoo, told the Straits Times that the public "should never be too quick to judge, but always seek to understand the circumstances".

"Parents deal with misbehaviour in different ways, whether or not the child is autistic."

On April 9, Ms Ow took her son and daughter, 10, to the Yishun playground. While there, Dexter ran into a smaller room in the playground containing toys, while Ms Ow stayed outside with her daughter.

Ms Ow was separated from her son for less than 2 minutes before sensing a commotion inside. She rushed in to find her son hitting a man. She said she was initially embarrassed, and removed her son from the situation.

"I am usually with my son 100% of the time. But since my daughter was with me that day, and I was only a short distance away from Dexter, I thought it would be OK."

Ms Ow said she did not think further about the incident until later that night when her son complained of his stomach hurting. After she watched the CCTV footage that same night of what happened between her son and the man, she was "shocked and sad", she wrote on her Facebook page.

However, she is not the only parent who has had to deal with the public's negative responses towards children with autism.

Autism Association Singapore (AAS) Eden School's vice-principal, Mrs Patricia Cheng, said it is aware of similar rows involving children with special needs.

She cited an incident in which a child with autism pulled a passenger out of a seat in a crowded MRT train, because he had wanted to sit in his usual seat on the train.

"Persons with autism like familiarity, and don't like changes," said Mrs Cheng.

The child's mother apologised to the passenger, but was scolded for not disciplining her child.

Mrs Cheng said children with autism have difficulties in three areas: communication, relationships and imagination. The AAS advises people to speak clearly and slower to those with autism, as speaking loudly or using a scolding tone may lead the child to have a meltdown.

Parents should be clear what their expectations of the child are, prepare their child well for change, and praise him consistently for every effort shown.

Most of all, parents of a child with autism need the public's support and understanding.

"Of course, it is not easy to do so. After all, we are only familiar with our own world. To understand someone with autism, we have to step into their world," says an AAS spokesman.

"But we encourage the public to be patient, and try."

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