“At Seven, He Called Me Mummy For The First Time”

The Weekly asked author Brenda Tan to open her heart and tell us what it feels like to be a mum with an autistic child


Brenda Tan shares what it's like to be a mum to her autistic son, Calder

My son Calder has autism.

When he was lost, he wouldn’t cry, but would walk on and on. He wouldn’t seek help because he can’t talk well, and lacks the motivation to talk. He isn’t good at answering questions, either. Once we let him wear a watch to school; he came home without the watch and couldn’t tell us where it was, or what had happened to it. He cannot answer “why” questions, so we never really know the reasons for his meltdowns, or why he’s trying to blink away tears.

Calder was diagnosed with autism shortly after his third birthday. Because he was my first child, I didn’t think much of him not talking and not responding to our calls. I thought he was being “cool” or “bochap” (indifferent). At 18 months, we brought him for a scheduled health check. The paediatrician noticed he didn’t look at her when she called his name. Then she tested him, “Calder, where is your nose?” He just gazed at her. She advised us to take him to the Child Development department of the KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital.

Is there something wrong with my child, I wondered. My aunties had told me that boys tend to speak later. I read up on speech delay, and was led to the term ‘autism’. Yes, not only did Calder not talk, he did not play imaginatively. If we gave him a toy car, he would turn the car over and spin the wheels. He liked to watch the fan spinning. And if no one stopped him, he could spend the whole day turning switches on and off.