WHEN Damien Lim Han Xi was diagnosed with autism at the age of three, his parents were devastated – they were in denial for quite a while.
However, like any good parent, they wanted the best for their child, including a suitable education that would meet his unique needs.
After researching a number of options, this family from Miri made a life-changing decision to homeschool Damien.
Witnessing the positive impact that it had on the boy, their young daughter Imelda Lim Xin Xu eagerly joined her brother in this adventure.
Decision to do homeschooling
The family’s story began with Damien’s diagnosis. It was a life-altering moment, but Peter Lim Kai Loong, 42, and his wife Jenny Lau Yee Lue, 40, were determined to do whatever it would take to give the boy the best possible life, including his education.
Driven by a deep parental instinct and armed with the belief that they knew their children could do better, they made the decision to homeschool him.
Deeply committed to ensuring Damien’s growth, Jenny left her job to dedicate herself fully to homeschooling.
“Our decision to homeschool our children was made around six years ago, when Damien was seven years old. We set out on our homeschooling adventure right after he completed kindergarten,” said Peter.
“Damien was diagnosed with high function mild autism when he was three. Therefore, my wife and I decided to take his education path into our own hands instead of sending him to any special school.
“By the time our daughter Imelda completed kindergarten, she personally requested to follow her brother’s way of study and became a homeschooler as well three years ago.
“Now Damien is 13, and Imelda is 10,” he added.
Peter said from the moment they made that courageous decision, both he and his wife encountered self-doubt. They questioned if they had made the right choice.
However, their determination never wavered. Seeking support, they joined homeschoolers support groups on social media platforms, like Facebook, to exchange ideas and seek inspiration from the more experienced ones. Connecting with others on similar journeys reassured them and provided valuable guidance.
In the beginning, they struggled with creating a routine and keeping Damien focused on learning. They had to figure out the logistics of homeschooling, such as developing their curriculum, seeking support and finding ways to get Damien socialise and engage in peer groups.
Peter said by meticulously observing his progress, they could design a personalised learning approach tailored to his unique condition.
They also realised the importance of managing a daily schedule to keep their children engaged.
By consistently enforcing a routine, they established a balance between structured learning time and ample opportunities for exploration and play.
Peter said they curated a homeschool curriculum that incorporated fun and interactive elements. By utilising various educational resources such as apps, online courses and hands-on activities, they could ensure a well-rounded education that would spark Damien and Imelda’s curiosity and foster their love for learning.
“By consistently enforcing a routine, we’re able to balance between structured learning time and ample of time for exploration and play. This approach helped Damien and Imelda thrive academically and emotionally,” Peter told thesundaypost in Kuching.
One key advantage of homeschooling is the practitioner’s ability to tailor the curriculum to meet a child’s specific needs and interests.
Jenny, as Damien’s dedicated teacher, has the flexibility to focus on the boy’s strengths and at the same time, she is able to provide extra support in areas where he may need more assistance.
This individualised approach has empowered Damien, promoting self-confidence and fostering in him the love for learning.
“Homeschooling allows us a tremendous amount of flexibility, and that is a game-changer for Damien. We are able to create a personalised curriculum tailored for him including hands-on activities, computer programmes and other creative teaching methods.
“This allows us to zero in on his strengths and interests, while working on improving his areas of weaknesses.
“Damien nurtures his musical talent by learning to play the piano, while Imelda explores the sport of archery with X-tune Archery Club Miri,” said Peter.
Generally, the children’s homeschool activities are about their social activities such as sports, camping, educational trips, and then random homework and reading time anywhere the family goes such as in cafés, the library, and even in the airport.
Despite taking on the majority of the teaching themselves, the family does engage external resources to supplement their homeschooling efforts.
Peter said they hired private tutors to teach subjects that they were not capable of teaching themselves. For example, they hired a tutor to teach Damien Japanese, as he did show a fondness for the language.
Looking ahead to the future of their children’s education, Peter recognised the need to make decisions regarding their academic paths including choosing between the Science stream or Arts stream, and deciding on which qualification such as Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) or other available options, that would be best suited to their abilities and goals.
“There are many qualifications to consider and that the choice should be based on the individual abilities and aspirations of their children.”
According to Peter, homeschooling is often mistaken as confining children at home, away from meaningful interactions.
However, his children’s homeschooling experience has proven otherwise. The family actively seeks opportunities for socialisation and engagement in the local community, debunking the myth that homeschoolers are isolated.
“Homeschooling does not hinder socialisation. We encourage our children to engage actively with society. They are involved in activities at the church and clubs, and extracurricular programmes such as martial arts classes like tang soo do/ soo bahk do.
“Just recently, Damien attended a three-day teenage rally conducted by the church without my supervision; indeed, he is able to socialise with his peers normally,” said Peter.
“As for Imelda, since she loves crafting artworks and interacting with people, we encourage her to set up booths to sell her artwork at the Miri Artisan Market whenever we can.
“From this activity, Imelda can learn about entrepreneurship, marketing and even simple accounting taught by her mother.”
“Homeschooling itself is a bonding experience for the family, as it requires everyone to work together,” said Peter.
“Imelda is able to learn along with Damien and share his successes, strengthening their bond as siblings. When we go on family field trips, we all go together, and the benefits go far beyond the educational experience itself.”
Peter said homeschooling provided the freedom to explore and engage in extracurricular activities that might not be readily accessible within a traditional school setting.
He said his children’s involvement in martial arts, music and archery illustrated the diverse range of opportunities that they could pursue.
“By embracing these activities, they (Damien and Imelda) not only develop new skills, but also cultivate lasting friendships and immerse themselves in real-world experiences.”
Peter said he understood the challenges and the rewards of homeschooling based on the family’s experience in handling a child with autism.
He advised parents who were considering homeschooling to take the time to research other homeschooling families and learn from their experiences.
“Use these families as a benchmark, but remember that each family’s homeschooling journey is unique. Find inspiration and guidance from others until you discover your own personalised approach.
“Additionally, one needs to consider financial factors. Homeschooling often requires one parent to sacrifice their career in order to dedicate themselves fully to their children’s education.
“The family’s journey exemplifies the profound rewards that homeschooling can bring. Reflecting on our own experiences, I feel a heartfelt gratitude for being able to witness our children’s growth and development first-hand.
“Homeschooling has paved the way to unlocking Damien and Imelda’s potential, strengthening the family bond along the way,” said Peter.
The story of the Lim family serves as an inspiration for parents considering alternative forms of education for their children, reminding them that the path less-travelled can lead to remarkable accomplishments and also immeasurable joy.