Yao shares his experience on autism with other parents

From Star Online

Story & Photo by YU JI
19th April 2010

FORMER Sarawak Health Department director and current Kuching Autistic Associationpresident Dr Yao Sik Chi speaks with conviction.

Talking on autism, Dr Yao speaks from personal experience. “I have a 28-year-old autistic child. I got involved with the NGO, partly due to my medical background, but also because my wife and I wanted to help other parents.”

Since retiring from the civil service earlier this decade, Dr Yao has kept himself busy with the association. He also continues his medical service, operating an affordable general practice for the masses at Padungan Street in Kuching.

The NGO currently trains 43 children between the ages of four and 18. A staff of 14 teachers, one supervisor and one administrator run the centre, which operates at an old bungalow at Bampfylde Road.

Dr Yao, although clearly opinionated, is a soft spoken man and keeps his conversations on issues, preferring to shun the limelight himself.

It is difficult to obtain his profile, there’s none on the association’s website - only his name under the section of the committee members. There is no personal phone number or e-mail address. No photos of himself either.

The same can be said of the association’s brochures.

The best way to speak to him is to call his mobile number directly or turn up at his clinic.

When StarMetro met Dr Yao at his clinic, he was in his formal doctor’s uniform – shirt, tie and overcoat – and he talked on a wide range of matters on the learning disability.

His concern for autism, and how to help people with learning disabilities, mirrored his own qualities.

We’ve all got to be patient dealing with autistic people, especially young ones,” he said.

“Often, because autistic people lack social skills, they are bullied and looked down upon. This is an awareness problem. What’s worse is that some parents become depressed or ashamed of their autistic child’s behaviour. As a parent dealing with an autistic child, you can never let them languish at home.

You have to disregard how outsiders may react. The more you keep them away from society, the more you inhibit their ability to integrate.

Given all the challenges autistic people face in society, Dr Yao is nonetheless enthusiastic about improvements. As society continued to develop, so too would people’s mindset towards becoming more inclusive.

Moreover, support for the association has been steadily growing.

“Right now, we are in the midst of collecting funds to build a new training centre. It will be located at Jalan Desa Wira, next the new rest house of the Sarawak Children’s Cancer Society, which is in under construction,” he said.

Dr Yao said, the association has collected RM1.3 million thus far.

It is enlightening to hear the passionate Dr Yao speak; not that his soft whisper grows any louder, but he does become more animated, using his hands to make out signs in the air.

Perhaps because of his long experience in medicine, Dr Yao has a way of presenting harsh facts in a comforting manner.

For example, he made a point that one out of every 500 birth is autistic, but added quickly that most of these children can grow up to earn a living for themselves.

Given the proper training, autistic people can hold jobs. Some are good at packaging, others are good at laundry services, and there are those that can use computers, designing things like birthday cards.

Dr Yao also made it clear that autism is purely a matter of chance. “Its occurrence is not affected by race, social class, family income or the educational levels of parents.”

In more ways than one, autism is plain and simple mathematics.

Dr Yao makes a strong case that what human beings cannot prevent, at the very least, we can try to make things better. More than that, his past work and present efforts remind us that life is for learning.

For example, the autistic association’s main activity is pre-school education. The children there receive one-on-one learning. When they have difficulty expressing themselves, teachers use photos and pictures.

Every effort is spent on getting the child to communicate. What makes autism painful is isolation.

The NGO was founded in January 1998 by a group of parents of autistic children. Dr Yao has been its head for the past four years.

“My wife and my desire to help other parents was really based on our own experiences bringing up an autistic son,” he said.

And that was as personal as Dr Yao got during the entire one-hour interview.