Caleb Tam (right) overcame his difficulties with autism to obtain the Edusave Character Award and Good Progress Award, presented by Education Minister Heng Swee Keat (left).
Despite the challenges of being in a mainstream school environment, Caleb Tam, 13, a special needs student with autism, has persevered over the years and demonstrated a turnaround in his behaviour. He was recognised for his resilience and good behaviour with the recently introduced Edusave Character Award and the Good Progress Award.
The Edusave Character Award recognises students for their values and outstanding personal qualities. At the Edusave Award Ceremony held last Saturday, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat presented the awards to deserving students.
"It is very challenging for a child with special needs to thrive in a mainstream school, much less get this award," said his mother, Mrs Karen Tam, who was shocked when she first heard the news.
"He was looking forward to receiving the awards because it would be a morale booster for him. He has been trying to do better in his studies and behaviour, so this shows him that he has done it."
Overcoming Personal Difficulties
Caleb has been attending Tampines North Primary School since Primary One. However, in Primary Three, he had to deal with changes in his environment, such as the timing to observe for school, teachers and classmates. This was no easy feat for a child with autism.
"He went into a total shutdown and would even have a meltdown in class," said Mrs Tam, as she recalled how he had refused to go to school and do his homework.
Mrs Tam (right) has seen her son, Caleb (left), progress from a young child with severe speech, sensory and motor issues, to the happy and able boy he is today.
Mrs Tam was grateful for the understanding and support shown by the school. They allowed Caleb to come late and gave more time for him to complete his homework, if at all. At each step of the way, Mrs Tham Mei Fong, the Allied Educator (Learning and Behaviour Support), worked closely with Mrs Tam to monitor her son's development and developed a strategy to help Caleb cope with his new routine.
For example, his mother was initially allowed to sit in the classroom with Caleb to help him feel comfortable and adapt to the environment. Later, he attended counselling sessions and also had a reward chart system, set up by Mrs Tham, to praise and encourage his good behaviour.
"Initially, autistic children live in their own world and have no desire to learn. By giving rewards, they begin to understand and enjoy learning, and then these rewards can fade off," explained Mrs Tam.
With constant communication and partnership with Mrs Tham and his teachers, Mrs Tam could also reinforce at home what was being encouraged in school. Caleb slowly learnt to keep trying and did not give up.
"It took about a year and a half before we saw a total change. He became responsible about his work, respected the school rules and greeted the teachers. There were no more tantrums in school!" said Mrs Tam.
Contributing to the School Community
"I was overwhelmed with happiness when I saw how Caleb (right) overcame his challenges with autism," said his mother, Mrs Karen Tam (left).
Today, Caleb is conscious of his behaviour and is able to cope well without additional support. He has become more outspoken and would give constructive suggestions for things that often go unnoticed. When a classmate was punished for using the pointed end of a compass to bully others, Caleb offered a suggestion to address the incident.
"I told my principal that it was unnecessary to bring the compass to school unless you are in Primary 6 and are learning about circles," said Caleb, who noticed that pupils would bring the whole set of mathematical instruments to school, even though they usually only needed the set square.
Caleb was commended by the Principal for his keen observation and his suggestion was put into action.
Affirmation for the Future
"Society is opening up to accept children with special needs, like my son, and to give them an opportunity to learn, grow and integrate into the community," said Mrs Tam.
Receiving the award is an affirmation of the effort and change that Caleb has shown in his behaviour, as well as his resilience in overcoming these challenges. She also noted that the support of fellow pupils played a role in helping Caleb, as they learnt to care and accept children who were different from themselves.
Caleb has decided to use a small part of his reward money to purchase some of his "favourite things" and save up the rest for the future. His mother also hopes to encourage him to use it to help the needy.
To find out more about the programmes and provisions for your child with special needs, read A Parent's Guide to Choosing the Right School for Children with Special Education Needs.