We are gradually transitioning Maya into a mainstream kindergarten for the past 2 weeks. Together with a shadow, we started Maya for 1 hour a day every day at the new school. Meanwhile, Maya still gets at least 5 hours of intensive ABA everyday. She immediately liked her new teacher and she has enjoyed every new experience. So far, she has done a science experiment, a music and dance class, a speech and drama session, learnt Mandarin in school and gone on a field trip with her classmates.
In the past 1 week, Maya has mastered writing her name, day and date on top of her worksheet. Maya has learnt to write her name a long time ago, but she only learnt the days of the week and month only a few weeks ago with ABA. She learnt the names of the day and month, but she has never learnt how to write it down. We have not taught her how to write numbers either. Initially, she needed a bit of prompting writing down the date, but once she learnt how to look at the blackboard and copy the words and numbers down, she is doing well.
Writing is a difficult task for her, her fine motor skills are still something we are working on. She surprised me a few days ago when I asked her what day it is. She said “Today is Thursday” and I asked her to write down the word. There was no prompting or visual guide, yet Maya was able to write and spell it correctly. We are also working on reading during ABA, she can sight-read quite a few words already, mostly 3-4 letter words.
She communicates well with all her teachers and happily takes part in all the activities. She interacts well with the other kids but she has yet to make a best friend in class. She raises her hands to answer questions and always gets the answers right. She loves going to the school library and borrowing a book. Maya is compliant with wearing the school uniform and socks everyday, even the PE uniform which is a round neck white tshirt and plain red shorts. As you may know, this is not an outfit that Maya would ordinarily want to wear.
Last week was Maya’s first exposure to science and she learnt about soluble materials. She listened to the teacher’s instructions and carefully did her experiment without any help from the shadow aide. She was extremely excited and told me all about it after school “Mummy, I made a soluble!”
Maya has always loved music and dancing, but as this was her first time with a new music teacher I was naturally apprehensive. There were also more children there, the acoustics of the room was louder and more echoey and the format was different. I peeked in and saw Maya happily joining in on the fun, dancing around the room with the other kids, waving a handkerchief on a stick in time to the music. Later on in the car, Maya said to me “I did a handkerchief dance, Mum! The music teacher’s name is Ms ****”
The school had organized a field trip for Maya’s class to the fire-station. We were keen on Maya joining in all the activities and our ABA team helped prepare Maya for this big adventure. As much as I wanted to expose Maya to the real world, I was still apprehensive about the school trip. She had never been anywhere without us before apart from with her grandparents. She would be going on a big schoolbus with 25 other kids. Even though she will be accompanied by her shadow aide, I worry about the strange environment, the many kids and the fact that Maya had never been on a bus before. Also, she has had a lifelong fear of men, we were not sure how Maya will react to the firemen.
We were told that Maya really enjoyed the bus ride and the singing with the other kids. She made immediate friends with other girls that were in the other class (same age group, but different class). She listened carefully to the fire safety lecture by the fireman and watched a demonstration of the fire extinguisher. She did not want to climb on the fire truck but most of the girls didn’t, mostly the boys did this. She didn’t want to try on the fire helmet either, but neither would I, who knows how many sweaty smelly heads it’s been on!
When the firemen demonstrated how they slide down the pole, she told one of the fireman to do it again! And she also tried out the water hose with a little bit of help from the friendly fireman. It was hot, noisy and strange and my daughter took it all in stride. Not only did she conduct herself well, she also enjoyed herself. It was a big big milestone for us, words cannot express how proud we are of Maya.
Today, we extended the school time to 2 hours. It was her first time with a new subject, Mandarin. The school has a multi-lingual curriculum, English is the primary language however there is a Mandarin class every day. There are always 2 teachers in the class, one who speaks and teaches in English and another teacher who only speaks in Mandarin. However, for students whose parents do not wish to emphasize on Mandarin language skills, the school has a more relaxed policy for those kids.
There is also a Bahasa Malaysia class 3 times a week, but we will introduce Maya to that a little bit later as the time of the class is not suitable right now. A year ago, Maya could barely even speak English, now we’re introducing her to a 2nd language and soon a 3rd language! Even though Maya is half-Malay, I have never spoken to her in my mother tongue. Unfortunately, due to her language delays, it was better that we only speak in one language so as not to make it harder for her to learn how to speak.
However, because we live in a multi-cultural city, Maya has been exposed to many languages. She hears me talking in Malay to my parents, our maid speaks Filipino to her friends, we hear Chinese and Tamil spoken on the street every day. One of the many joys of living in multi-lingual Malaysia, many of us speak 2nd and 3rd languages. So I assume that she won’t be fazed by a strange language. Right enough, Maya really enjoyed Mandarin class. She has excellent intonation and could pronounce all the words really well, said her teacher.
Our immediate goals now will be to extend her school hours till she is able to attend the full session everyday. And gradually we will phase out the shadow aide. Our ABA team has done a wonderful job preparing Maya for this big transition. They continue to support us daily by brushing up on skills that Maya has never been taught before yet are essential in a typical school environment. A comprehensive ABA program combined with intensive biomedical treatments have brought us here, we are closer and closer to recovery every day. For a child who was diagnosed with Autism 1.5 years ago, Maya is definitely proof that Autism is Treatable. There is always hope of recovery.
In Speech and Drama class last week, all the kids made a little speech about what they did during the holidays. Maya listened carefully to all the other kids’ stories and listened to the teacher’s instructions. Her shadow aide did not prompt or assist Maya in her speech, all she told Maya was that soon it will be her turn to make a speech. When it was Maya’s turn, Maya talked about our holiday in Sabah, how we all played and swam in the pool and when we saw the orangutans! It was all unprompted and completely accurate. Her class teacher, the drama teacher and the shadow aide were there and they were amazed by how eloquent Maya was.
Later that day, Maya told me “I made a speech today, Mum! Ms Lizzie is my favorite teacher!” We went to Sabah in December, 2 months ago. It was gratifying to know that the effort and cost of going on family holidays was memorable to our little girl. I pray that she has many h
appy memories stored away in her mind, hopefully one day she will tell us all about it. I hope we will continue to fill her memories with good ones, may the bad ones be long forgotten in her mind.