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When a teacher rallied a Village to transform the life of a child with autism

Updated: Jun 18

Today, when you observe Dhil Tay in class, you will not notice any stand-out behaviour from him. Although often seated apart from the other children, he is usually comfortably engaged in his classroom activities with Educational Support Teacher (EST) Ms Diana Tok. However, this was not always the case; things looked vastly different when Dhil first stepped through the doors of LOT Woodlands. Dhil’s first year in his previous preschool was uneventful -  he was quiet in class but did not show much different behaviour from the other children.

This changed in Nursery 2 when he was four, where his parents were called in frequently. They were told that he was overactive, often involved in fights with other children to the point where the staff could not control him. As the complaints escalated and as Dhil eventually refused to go to school, his parents felt it may be better to keep him home, where he was supported by a home early interventionist.

Friends of the family suggested that LOT Woodlands may be helpful for Dhil. After meeting with Principal Rachel Lee, his parents agreed to let him be tested so that he can receive the appropriate learning support. In July 2023, he started the trial under our Educational Support Programme (ESP) in a K1 class. Finally, in January 2024, he received a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Facing daunting challenges

When Dhil first joined us, he had a number of pressing behavioural issues, especially with regard to self-regulation. He was unable to follow school rules - often running around the classroom aimlessly to pick up whatever objects he came across, exploring what he could do with it before and tossing it away once he had lost interest.

When teachers attempted to stop him, he would express displeasure by throwing larger items like chairs, placing things into his mouth, or having a meltdown. He tended to be more compliant for one-for one interactions with teachers, but not in social settings where peers were involved.

Journeying with the parents and rallying the Village

When EST Ms Diana spoke with Dhil’s parents, she found out that lot of things in Dhil’s education plan had not been thought out yet. His mother, who is a stay-home mom caring for both Dhil and his older sister who is currently in Primary 3, was living in anxiety and fear as she thought that mainstream schools were the only option for Dhil. She didn’t think that Dhil would be accepted into any schools.

Both of his parents shared different perspectives when it came to addressing Dhil’s behaviours. He was known to act differently in front of Mrs Tay to get his own way, while he was more well-behaved in front of Mr Tay, so much so that he did not think that Dhil had any issues. Thus, Ms Diana took on the role of the mediator, helping the family to see things from the same angle in order to be consistent and truly help the child. As Mrs Tay was very stressed and lost on how to help Dhil, Ms Diana was always in close dialogue with her on his daily behaviour so that there would be a cohesive and consistent approach taken from all fronts – school at LOT, lessons at his Early Intervention Programme for Infants and Children (EIPIC) centre, sessions with his home interventionist and how his parents manage him at home.

Rallying the village: Ms Diana was always in close dialogue with Dhil's mother on his daily behaviour so that there would be a cohesive and consistent approach taken from all fronts – school at LOT, lessons at his Early Intervention Programme for Infants and Children (EIPIC) centre, sessions with his home interventionist and how his parents manage him at home.

Ms Diana took the time to educate and guide Mrs Tay on what autism is about and the triggers that may lead to certain behaviours. For example, he has a level of rigidity due to his autism. Dhil is obsessed with the MRT and he would ask Mrs Tay to take the train from one end to the other for an entire day. Previously, Mrs Tay would often accede to his requests, otherwise he would have a meltdown, resorting to biting or lying down on the floor. However, Ms Diana taught her that as a parent, there is a way to guide him and teach him how he can get what he wants within limits.

She told Mrs Tay to set her own expectations and non-negotiables, tell him firmly that he has to do fulfil certain conditions before he can get the next thing, and teach him about how his actions have consequences. Slowly but surely, she tried it out step by step, testing these strategies out with success. Everyday, she would come to school and update Ms Diana about her progress with him!

Slowly but surely, Dhil's mother tried out the strategies Ms Diana suggested to manage his behaviour with success. Everyday, she would come to school and update Ms Diana about her progress with him!

A steady and encouraging transformation

In school, Ms Diana started sitting in with Dhil for class, providing visuals for him to understand his daily routine.  She really focused on building an authentic connection and understanding between the both of them, letting him know that there is someone to help him when he faces any problem. She also modifies and simplifies some lessons so that he can learn at his own pace. Ms Diana noticed that teacher-directed class activities can be quite draggy for Dhil and he is unable to pay attention after a while, so she always prepares some fidget toys or manipulatives to engage him when necessary.

After about 3-4 months (Jul-Nov 2023), Ms Diana started to see significant changes in Dhil’s behaviour. He is now able to listen and follow lessons well, knowing that he has to stay on with the class for a minimum period of time before he can proceed to other things such as exploring a learning centre.

"He enjoys class activities and can now function in a group setting, interacting and playing with friends and even making requests to join in. He loves greeting friends and enjoys their company. He is able to pack up his own toys like a regular student, and knows how to ask appropriately whenever he needs his own space to take a break," shared Ms Diana.

He no longer uses his behaviour to express unhappiness, but uses his words. He rarely has meltdowns anymore.  At home, he has learned to ask for things that he wants, and would seek permission before doing something different from his routine. His parents are able to reason things out with him accepting the outcome. Mrs Tay is thrilled that her son is capable, seeing that he can do things like tracing and colouring, as well as recognizing letters and numbers. She is so excited whenever Dhil tells her about what he does in school. She has accepted the reality that he cannot go to a mainstream school - thus, Dhil will attend primary school with Association for Persons with Special Needs.

Pressing on in the journey

Next, Ms Diana hopes to work with Dhil on his independence and self-help skills such as keeping his own bag and retrieving his waterbottle. She plans to do a home visit and share a home schedule with his parents. Ms Diana would like to help Mrs Tay on how she can expose him to more materials and things apart from toys. She feels that it would be most effective to show her a certain structure to doing things at home so that both parents and child will not be too overwhelmed.

There is a Chinese saying, “可怜天下父母心” which means the hearts of parents are always with their children, loving them regardless of any circumstances. Dhil’s parents have come a long way in loving and supporting him in a way that is beneficial for him, and are also thankful for the sacrificial and unconditional love from the teachers in school. The lives of Dhil and his family have really changed drastically, and for the better.


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