Involvement of both parents vital in raising ASD children

Fatimah in a conversation with David Ngu (left) Lawrence Cheah (right) as well as his son Delwin Cheah during the online talk “Fathering in Autism” via online on Facebook.

KUCHING: Parents play a vital role in developing the potential of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

Welfare, Community Wellbeing, Women, Family and Children Development Minister Datuk Seri Fatimah Abdullah said a child’s wellbeing would be much better if both parents are involved.

“With appropriate intervention, attention and continuous support from families, ASD children can attain a better quality of life during their early formative years as well as the transition from adolescence into adulthood,” she said during an online talk titled “Fathering in Autism” hosted by Sibu Autistic Association (SAA) in conjunction with SAA’s 20th anniversary and World Father’s Day on Facebook, on Friday (June 18).

Lawrence Cheah, the father of Malaysia’s first autistic savant artist Delwin Cheah, now aged 18, was also invited to share his journey of bringing up an ASD child during the talk, moderated by SAA president David Ngu.

Fatimah said research over the last 30 years found that positive engagement from fathers, alongside the input of mothers, led to a range of educational and psychological benefits for children.

“At Leeds Beckett University, they studied the father’s engagement in care, play and education of their children with autism, and found that many men were significantly involved in these areas, with most of them in close collaboration with mothers.

“This study shows that professionals, who work with autistic children, need to be more aware of the important role that fathers play alongside mothers, in the lives of children with autism. Thus, they need to develop more effective ways of supporting both parents.”

Fatimah explained that mothers were often the ones most depended on when it came to nurturing children, especially special needs children, however, with the present trend of both parents working, fathers were now more involved.

“Involvement of fathers results in better developmental outcomes for children in terms of thinking skills, language and behaviour.”

She noted that ASD was increasingly becoming more common in the community, with last year alone, more than 100 new cases of ASD diagnosed in Sibu.

“I’m also amazed by Lawrence’s story. A child’s success is always determined by the role that is played by the parents.

“What I have learnt from you (Lawrence) today is that you have identified your child’s ability and developed his talent to the maximum, together with your wife.”

Fatimah said Delwin’s achievements such as holding his first solo exhibition at nine years old with more than 70 paintings and also receiving recognition letters from former US President Barrack Obama and England’s Queen Elizabeth II for his artworks, all these would not have been possible if his father had not nurtured him from young.

“Therefore, this is what we want to emphasise on and it is very important for parents raising a special needs child to concentrate on the ability and put aside the disability.”

Meanwhile, Lawrence called upon all fathers to be patient and support their child as much as they can.

“At first I was in denial when Delwin was diagnosed with ASD. But I stopped questioning myself and did not blame my wife. Nobody knows what happened to our children. So stop asking why me or why us.

“So, to all fathers, don’t give every job to your wife. Take part of the responsibility, the child is yours, you are the total ownership of the whole product.”