Friday, November 15

‘My autistic son made me who I am’

0

PETER Lim Kai Loong of Miri credits his son for making him who he is today.

“The boy is special. And it’s his specialness that drove me into feverish research on a little-known subject called Nonverbal Communication.

“So here I am today, a freelance Nonverbal Communication trainer – and a passionate one at that,” he beamed.

Lim said his son, Damien, now nine years old, is “special” because he has been diagnosed as “mildly autistic.”

Lim showing his certification obtained from Joe Navarro, his body language guru.

When Damien was still a toddler, Lim and his wife, Jenny Lau, noticed their child did not interact with them like other toddlers would their parents.

He didn’t respond when they called his name. He liked to play alone and was very particular about the arrangement of his toys – which had to be according to the pattern he wanted.

The couple also noticed their son couldn’t communicate well and would withdraw into his own world. Other children his age found him weird and didn’t like playing with him.

“My wife and I saw all these signs even before he was three but we refused to believe he was different and tried to ignore it, thinking he was just a slow learner or had delayed speech development – that’s all.

“But when we noticed he also started to have bad temper and throw tantrums, we decided to send him to Miri General Hospital. That was where and when we were told he had mild autism,” Lim recalled.

According to him, before Damien was diagnosed with autism, they had sent him to an early childhood learning centre.

Damien has been homeschooled for the last two years after kindergarten.

At first, the caretakers or teachers also noticed Damien was a bit different from his peers, thinking it was just his personality.

But after Lim told them Damien had mild autism, they started saying how difficult it was for them to handle him.

Lim subsequently took his son out of the school and tried to look for a kindergarten willing to accept him. Damien was four at the time.

“By God’s grace, we found him a place in Tadika Sri Harmoni. The principal was willing to give Damien a chance,” he said.

Imelda is like Damien’s guardian angel. Only she knows how to interact with him effectively.

Lim admitted that though Damien’s overall behaviour was not that difficult to handle, it was no easy task for the teachers when it came to dealing with his tantrums.

Only certain teachers knew how to channel his energy positively and calm him down when he lost his temper. As if fated, it was also at this kindergarten that something truly special about Damien was discovered – his high sensitiveness to music tempo.

Once Lim realised his son had a gifted ear for music, he wasted no time developing his musical talent and quickly got him into piano. Now, Damien is doing very well in his piano lessons.

 

Utmost concern

Asked what was his utmost concern for Damien, Lim confessed it was his future.

He said he and his wife always wondered how their son’s future would turn out when they were no longer around.

“This is just so worrying that we sometimes don’t even want to think about it.”

Another thing that saddens Lim is how Damien’s peers are not able to interact with him.

Damien likes to play with friends but doesn’t know how to approach them and so is always ignored.

Lim said it really hurt to hear some children calling him crazy or weird albeit innocently.

“Even in Sunday class, some children refused to let him sit with them and asked him to move to another table. He didn’t know what to do or how to tell the teacher.”

Lim hoped society at large would learn to be autism-friendly and not prejudiced against autistic and other people with special needs.

“Those afflicted but are still able to contribute can be given the opportunity to give something back to the community.”

He believed Damien’s mild autism was “quite manageable” compared to others. For this reason, he said, he could readily empathise with parents whose children had a more severe condition.

“I’m not speaking on anybody’s behalf and I want to point this out because I understand the struggles of parents with autistic children are real, and cases can vary in degree of severity.”

A family photo after Damien won the silver medal in duet category of the piano competition during the last Kota Kinabalu Musical Festival.

Home-schooled

Damien has been home-schooled for the past two years after kindergarten. For this, Lim said his wife gave up her full time job as an accounts executive while he himself moved from full-time to part-time lecturing to spend more time with their son.

“Damien has been making noticeable progress. The piano lessons also help him a lot.”

Lim revealed that Damien’s six-year-old younger sister, Imelda, is the only person who understands him best.

“Imelda is like Damien’s guardian angel. Only she knows how to interact with him effectively. She’s some sort of spokesperson for Damien, helping to explain to others who may not understand what her brother is trying to say.”

 

Unique personality

Since Damien loves playing the piano and is good at it, Lim said he would try to nurture his musical interest and talent.

“I like to think being autistic is not a handicap but a unique personality. All autistics are different – they may be gifted with certain talents waiting to be discovered.”

He also said he had accepted the fact that he had been blessed with an autistic son.

“It’s never helpful trying to refuse to accept fate, and worse, hide it from the public.”

He believed it was fated that he should be having the energy and focus to find ways and means to develop his son’s potential.

“Damien loves to play music and is also quite a fast learner. He won a silver medal in the duet category of a piano competition in the Kota Kinabalu Musical Festival.

“That was his greatest moment. He faced an audience and understood what a competition meant. He even learned the element of teamwork by working with a partner in the competition.”

Damien will join the KK Musical Festival again in August this year.

Asked if he had any tips for parents with autistic children, Lim said he was not an authority on autism and what he knew was that since autism is very wide subject, there is no one method that fits every case.

His only advice is first to accept the reality you have an autistic child, secondly, cooperate with a trusted therapist and thirdly learn to understand your child’s own special ways of communicating with others.

Lim in one of his presentations.

College lecturer

Lim has been a college lecturer in Miri for the past 12 years. From lecturing, he cultivated a love for conducting training and giving motivational talks.

About four years ago, he was certified as a trainer of PSMB (Pembangunan Sumber Manusia Berhad or Human Resource Development Fund). He then started conducting workshops for students as well as leadership and team-building with his college’s support.

The turning point of his career came when he found out that Damien was autistic.

Lim said he would like to think having Damien was a blessing in disguise. The moment the diagnosis was confirmed, he plunged into the World Wide Web to learn more about his son’s condition.

He narrowed down his search to communication with autistic children. That was where he came across Nonverbal Communication or Body Language.

Through the research, he found humans also communicate with one another nonverbally or through Nonverbal Communication.

That was why he turned freelance trainer to coach corporate companies various on soft skills, including his pet subject – Nonverbal Communication

Damien practising on the piano.

Non Verbal Intelligence

Lim said he is quite an expressive person. He likes to crack jokes and feels comfortable when people feel the same talking with him.

In class, he tried to make his lectures fun and interesting and got positive feedback from the students. That encouraged him to have a go at corporate training which turned out to be a platform for introducing Nonverbal Intelligence or Body Language as his niche product in Sarawak.

His foray into this specialty has seen him conduct some 10 Nonverbal Intelligence courses in Miri to date and he is planning to hold more throughout Sarawak and Sabah.

Lim’s Nonverbal Communication trainees are usually from different career backgrounds and industries, including insurance agents, sales personnel, teachers, parents, company executives like HR managers or marketing and sales managers.

He said being a freelance trainer had its challenges. For him, it’s having to constantly look for companies to sell his product partly because Nonverbal Communication is almost unheard of in Sarawak.

He noted that most people would mistake Nonverbal Communication or Body Language as Sign Language and this had given him the opportunity to explore the subject during Nonverbal Communication courses.

“If there’s no market, I’ll create the market. Nonverbal Communication is actually a very valuable skill to have.”

At this point, he mentioned a person whom he admires and is very grateful to for continuously encouraging him to pursue the training pathway and inspiring him in his “lonely job” as a freelance trainer.

Luke Bong has become a close family friend. He is the first accredited NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) trainer for East Malaysia and also the clinical hypnotherapist in Miri.

He was Lim’s college lecturer and mentor and had enthusiastically supported Lim in his quest to become a professional body language trainer when many others tried to discourage him.

 

By instinct

According to Lim, everyone, by instinct, knows the basics of body language but it would be very useful to understand the finer points.

Body Language or Nonverbal Communication is important as a major part of daily communication besides verbalising messages.

Knowledge of body language can help salespersons understand their clients’ nonverbal behaviour, hence enabling them to render resourceful and empathetic service.

“For instance, when salespersons try to sell a product their clients, the latter might say they like the product but their body language can indicate otherwise.

“When the salespersons sense this, they can switch strategy to convince their clients of the benefit of the product.”

Lim said people used body language as a mode of communication with or without realising it.

“Body language is millions

of years old. In fact, it was the first language our primitive ancestors used to communicate with one another. This communication tool had helped the human species survive through millions of years.

“Our primitive ancestors had also learnt the body language of animals and were able to interact with them either as friends, predators, or prey. They had to know the body posture of wild beasts to not trigger their preying instinct.

“The freeze response is one such body language. The natural instinct of many living things is

to freeze when sensing danger. The equivalent action of the freeze response in modern humans is to be stunned speechless when asked a question they refuse to answer.”

He added that generally, body language was reflected by facial expression, body movement or gesticulation, eye contact, touch like shaking of hands or hugs, space sensitivity and tone of voice.

“As for the general body language of one suffering from depression, it will exhibit a tendency towards isolation from communicating with people around them.

“The depressed person might minimise body gestures to

appear small. He or she might not want to talk much or might maintain minimal eye contact or show a poker face while gazing in a fixated position for a long time.”

Asked whether he had any unforgettable experience as a body language coach, Lim said he could never forget his recent trip to Amsterdam where he met Joe Navarro, his American Nonverbal Communication guru.

Navarro was a formal FBI special agent. He went to Amsterdam to attend his Master Course in Non Verbal Communication and Human Behaviour as part of his continuous development.

Lim was coached by Navarro and other European body language coaches.

He said he felt proud to be the only East Malaysian to go for this niche training pathway.