Awakening Minds© : Autism, Special Education and Mental Illness
My name is Choo Kah Ying. I am a writer/educator and a homeschooler of Sebastien, my autistic son and my inspiration. I am also a recovered sufferer of manic-depression. Both of these conditions have shaped the trajectory of my life and sculpted the landscape of my character. Most significantly, they have influenced my perspectives in my work and inspired me to create Awakening Minds©.
A Mother's Wish
(Launching date: Jan 12, 2013)
"The day when we won't be around..." is the oft-unfinished phrase that we parents and caregivers of special needs children are all too familiar with. Once these words are spoken, they linger with an oppressive weight that cannot be easily dispelled. For within the pregnant silence lies is the tacit query that we dare not articulate, for fear of tearing up:
Who will be there to love my child, as I have loved him(her)?
This oft-unspoken reality is one that we often push to the back of our minds, as we get caught up in the daily grind and challenges of our parenting journey along the road less travelled. Much as I would have wanted to put off my confrontation with this prospect, I have now reached the crossroads of my homeschooling journey with Sebastien, my moderately autistic son, who is heading into his 17th year of life…
APRIL UPDATE *NEW*
Updated Vision of “A Mother’s Wish - (Please click on the links as the information has just been updated (April 21st): Learn more about the 3 Pillars of A Mother’s Wish — Training and Consultancy, Community Network , and Public Outreach . You can also get an overview of the Phases of the Campaign for 2013.
Calendar of Events
1. First training workshop for caregivers and professionals [Monday, May 6th, 7:30-10:30 p.m., Orchard]
The first workshop to get a minimum signup of 10 participants will run on the date. Workshops will typically run on the Monday timeslots. RSVPs are expected two weeks before the workshop date.
To RSVP or for enquiries, contact me two weeks before workshop date.
3. “A Mother’s Wish” Strategy Get-Together [Sunday, May 12th, 7:30–9:30 p.m., Orchard]
This informal get-together is for service providers and families of autistic youths and adults, as well as interested parties, who would like to contribute to the rollout of “A Mother’s Wish” Community Network — affordable quality programming for youths and adults with autism. In recent days, I have been working on the prospect of turning "A Mother's Wish" into a non-profit organisation and roll out a pilot model of a cost-effective service delivery model for autistic youths and adults. To proceed further, I would like to identify committed stakeholders — families with autistic children/siblings, service providers, and interested parties — who would work with me and form a core group of this entity. Please read more about it here — I have incorporated new information about my vision for this community.
To RSVP or for enquiries, contact me by May 5th.
If you cannot make this get-together, but are interested, please contact me anyway, and I would be happy to meet and speak with you separately.
Sebastien's Art & Fund update: Thanks largely to Sebastien’s contribution of 30% of his earnings from the sales of his paintings to to private buyers [Anonymous (who wishes to be known as “Genuine Buyer”), Angelia Poon, Patricia Sharma, Nicholas Song, and Karen Goh] along with the sales of six paintings at the ARTISM exhibition, “A Mother’s Wish” fund stands at $1610.86.
As the ARTISM exhibition is now over, I will be putting up new portfolios of Sebastien’s paintings with prices in May. Look out for them!
In the meantime, please check out Seb’s latest art (Portfolio II & Portfolio III). Sebastien is donating 30% of the sales of his art to the campaign. If you are interested in his affordable paintings, please contact me directly for pricing.
Latest happenings: I am continuing to meet up and speak with interested parties in my endeavour to hone my vision of “A Mother’s Wish” Campaign and move towards a non-profit organisation. Apart from participating in the 2nd round of the SG Conversation on April 30, I will be meeting up with the Disability Division of the Ministry of Social and Family Services on May 6th to discuss the vision of the campaign.
A Mother's Wish past updates:
View it on Vimeo at https://vimeo.com/user16240190/speakingincolors
Taking Stock: Our Homeschooling Milestones and Reality Check
Over the past seven years of homeschooling, I have been an intimate witness of Sebastien’s transformation from an insecure, reserved, and withdrawn boy into a confident, expressive, and dynamic youth with a passionate appetite for life. Despite his deficits in abstract learning and language, Sebastien has learnt to take on his academic learning tasks with maturity and initiative. In addition, he has also been performing various household chores. Just as significantly, Sebastien has created his own sanctuaries in the lateral universe of inline skating and the world of colours.
Despite all that we have accomplished, together with the help of our loved ones and a handful of wonderful professionals, Sebastien is still held back by cognitive deficits; compulsions that few could understand; and occasional (decreasing in intensity and frequency) bouts of aggression. In a nutshell, Sebastien is simply “not good enough” to function independently in most mainstream settings.
However, this does not mean that Sebastien and other low-functioning individuals with autism should be banished to the fringes of society. What we neurotypical people often fail to realise is that it is not easy for them to live in a world that barely understands them. For we often perceive much of what they deem to be logical and natural to be socially inappropriate and unacceptable. Far too often, we are quick to label them as crazy monsters that should be locked up — out of sight, out of mind — when they hit out in frustration. Thus, we fail to see that they are also extraordinarily courageous people who can transform us with their unique sensibilities and perspectives.
Given a conducive environment, characterised by firm, but compassionate, guidance, low-functioning individuals with autism can astonish us with what they can achieve. As a homeschooling mother who has experienced firsthand the hardships, heartaches, and even the joys of raising Sebastien, it strikes me as morally unjust that my son and others like him are not given the opportunities and support to lead a fulfilling life.
The Awakening Minds Community: Cultivating Lives of Dignity
Thus, my New Year Resolution for 2013 is to embark on a lifelong endeavour to create the Awakening Minds Community (working name):
My objectives for “A Mother’s Wish” are:
Learn more about the Awakening Minds Community in this slide show: "Dignity of Risk - realizing the potential of individuals with moderate to severe autism"
How Sebastien and I Will Contribute
In recent months, Sebastien’s water colour paintings have generated some interest among people in the art world. We are hopeful that they will be able to produce some income for Sebastien.
At the same time, with Sebastien’s blessing, I will also be incorporating Sebastien’s Raw Art series (his water color paintings) into “A Mother’s Wish” in order to promote:
- Public awareness about low-functioning individuals with autism; and
- My vision for the Awakening Minds Community.
He will also be donating 30% of his income earned from the sales of his paintings and related products (art prints and other products coming up) to “A Mother’s Wish”.
I will be spreading the word about “A Mother’s Wish” through my networks and the media (both old and new); contacting interested parties, who could make the Awakening Minds Community a reality; and giving free talks about this campaign.
Along the way, I will be posting monthly updates on the progress of “A Mother’s Wish”:
- My perspectives and “wish list” for the Awakening Minds Community (which will be fine-tuned through my interactions with interested parties);
- Information on related events and activities for targeted groups including caregivers, professionals, and the public;
- New products that will incorporate Sebastien’s art and story to raise funds for “A Mother’s Wish”.
As a start, I will be donating 70% of the proceeds of the sales of my picture book, All Because of the Hummingbird or the Horse, to “A Mother’s Wish”.
What You Can Do
For now, the path towards the Awakening Minds Community remains to be defined.
What I possess is the knowledge and experience on diverse aspects of teaching and interacting with autistic learners, particularly low-functioning individuals. I am in the process of creating comprehensive training systems and organising affordable workshops to educate and empower caregivers and educators. But this is not enough…
Sebastien and I cannot do it alone.
Thus, we are seeking your collaboration AND/OR support for this cause. Whether you are a caregiver, an educator, a therapist, a policymaker, or a concerned member of the public, please:
- Spread the word about “A Mother’s Wish”;
- Share your ideas and feedback: email@example.com
- Contact me for discussions on collaborative endeavours and/or
- Purchase some of the products that are of interest to you, family, and friends.
Thank you in advance for your interest and support! May you also have a rewarding and fulfilling 2013 !
- Sebastien's Art: Jean-Sebastien Choo is a moderately autistic 16-year-old with significant language delays. Unguided and self-taught, Sebastien has been experimenting with water color since he was 12. Deriving visceral pleasure from unleashing a rainbow of colors with broad strokes, Sebastien has found a rare sanctuary in painting.
- Fun and Interactive Sentence & Story Templates, Literacy Levels 1-4 for young learners (aged 5 and above), or older learners with moderate and severe learning difficulties (depending on functioning level) (PDF, printable)
- “Smiles for Sebastien, or A Special Kind of Kindness” – my article on social interactions between my 15-year-old autistic adolescent and others, inspired by our first trip to Myanmar (Dec 2011)
- All Because of the Hummingbird... or the Horse (ebook version, 18 pages, US$6.99)
My heartwarming picture book that is inspired by the struggle of Sebastien (my son who was then eight years old) to come to terms with changes in life and the environment is available in an ebook format! This book is targeted at young readers (aged 7-12) to cultivate the compassion of future generations towards special needs individuals. You can now download this book and read it on your computer or your iPad for just US$6.99!
WORDS, PICTURES, STORY! SERIES
Dog Saved the Day! Story Template (PDF, printable, 18 pages, US$6.99)
Dog Saved the Day! Story Workbook (PDF, printable, 15 pages, US$5.99)
Targeted at children with mild language difficulties (aged 6 and above), who have a basic knowledge of parts of speech, the story template and accompanying workbook can be a fun way for you to interest your child in writing. Filled with hangman prompts, pictures to colour, and clues, you and your child can have fun completing the story!
The accompanying workbook, comprising sections on comprehension, grammar, vocabulary, and a creative activity, will build on your child’s understanding of the story.
Photo Gallery of Sebastien's Paintings
Check out the budding collection of funky and hip photos of Sebastien's love affair with water and colours - his vibrant and dynamic watercolour paintings - at “Autistic Art”, where you can purchase the prints.
At the same time, also check out the beautiful photos of Jerome Poudevigne who has taken the photos of Sebastien's artistic works.
Special Education Workshops (Revampled and Reorganised under TWO themes)
Teaching Special Needs/Autistic Learners (click here)
- The Magic of Scaffolding: How to Design and Implement a Differentiated Lesson (in class/at home)
- Making Customised Worksheets for Your Special Needs Child
- Designing and Implementing Engaging Learning Activities for Pre-School Special Needs Learners (4-6 years old)
- Brainstorming a Story: Let's Compose a Story Together
Relating to Special Needs/Autistic Learners (click here)
- Raising an Autistic Adolescent
- Tough Love: Managing Your Special Needs Learner
- Building a Relationship with Your Autistic Child
- Open Your Mind, Open Your Heart: Caring for Yourself to Care for Your Special Child
- Smiles for Sebastien: Role of Society in Helping Special Needs Families
Coming Soon... in April and May
- Informative booklets on designing learning templates and worksheets (literacy and numeracy) for special needs learners, targeted at caregivers and professionals (PDF, ebook)
- Photo Gallery of Sebastien's Paintings – Ongoing updates and expansion of the collection.
celebration of colour
What is Awakening Minds© ?
Awakening Minds© is a social enterprise that strives to debunk stereotypical conceptions about autism, special needs and mental illness/mental wellness. Through affordable original books, articles, learning materials, talks, workshops and consultations, Awakening Minds aims to:
- Empower sufferers and caregivers to adopt a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) approach to supplement professional treatments;
- Inspire and motivate people to think outside the box about strategies and solutions for their conditions;
- Encourage the pursuit of a physically, mentally and emotionally healthy lifestyle; and
- Combat stigmatisation of people with special needs and mental illnesses.
What does Awakening Minds© offer ?
Awakening Minds© offers the following products and services:
- Inspiring books with personal and practical perspectives on autism and manic depression.
- Innovative learning materials that provide fun scaffolding and hands-on learning for children with special needs.
- Informative talks and workshops on:
- various aspects of autism and special needs – learning strategies, curriculum design and implementation, social and communication approaches, sensory regulation, behavioural management, etc.
- mental illness/mental wellness – practical lifestyle strategies on treatment and recovery; addressing life issues; stigmatisation; creating a programme plan for recovery, etc..
- Individualised on-site/in-home consultations to provide targeted services – creating a programme plan for recovery and training individuals/caregivers to execute the programme.
Who is Awakening Minds© for ?
Awakening Minds© seeks to reach out to:
- Individuals with autism, special needs and mental illnesses (particularly those with manic depression or depression)
- Helping Organisations and Community Agencies
- Members of the Public.