I first saw Wesley in the morning of the opening day of a new school year.
Parents were dropping off their children and meeting teachers for the new classes while their children were mingling with friends they hadn’t seen for summer break and were eagerly aligning themselves with their new class.
At the bottom of the staircase stood Wesley; quite distressed. His new found class was moving up the stairs with their teacher and he, for some reason, was showing a resistance to follow. His arms were moving and he was loudly babbling an indistinguishable sentence of complaint.
Wesley was 12 years old. He was American, and had only recently arrived with his family from Florida as his father had taken up the prestigious position of General Manager for the Fairmont Hotel. The problem was, Wesley was autistic, had limited communication skills and severe learning difficulties. His pants were pulled up as high as he could yank them. His shoes were downtrodden at the heals because he could not tie his shoelaces. He stood with a mop of curly hair on top of his tall thin frame. Yes, Wesley looked odd. No other school in Singapore would accept him.
As a teaching assistant moved towards Wesley to help him, it was immediately obvious to me that Wesley needed specialist care that I didn’t think my school could give him. On asking how Wesley was admitted to the school, a school that specialised in helping children with learning difficulties, I was told that the new psychologist had accepted his family’s application while the rest of us were on holidays. The admission had slipped under the wire and, as I looked at Wesley, it was a mistake: I didn’t think he would benefit even from our program of small classes and individual learning therapy. But, I decided we would stay the course, and give it a chance.
The next few weeks were dramatic, for all of us. Wesley, when induced to class, would hide under a desk, or he would leave class and run around the interior of the school, or worse, leave the building and just wonder around babbling to himself. I had to assign a personal aid for Wesley, if only to protect him from harm.
With persistence and understanding to gird a therapy program and a just-right challenge education approach, Wesley made progress.
In an open letter to the school, Wesley’s father writes: “The impact your therapy service has had on us as a whole family, and on our son, Wesley, has been amazingly positive. On the whole, Wesley gets frustrated far less often. Although Wesley has only been at the school and on therapy program for the past three and a half months, we have noticed a number of positive changes and growth. He couldn’t hold a pencil or pair of scissors correctly, nor could he cut three months ago. He has gone from being frustrated in this area to now enjoying cutting pictures from magazines. Wesley has always been a happy boy but is now more confident and has recently started being helpful at home, integrating more and recognizing and appreciating his input. He’s also started to enjoy reading and now mostly looks at books the correct way up as opposed to upside down. His colouring in and choice of colours shows a significant improvement and his speech has also improved considerably. He now pronounces many words correctly, some of which include, “yellow” (previously pronounced as “Lello”), “blue” (previously “Glue”) and “black (previously “Glack”). He used to speak in 2 or 3 word sentences, just enough for us to understand but has recently begun to question things, and his spontaneous speech, thinking and reasoning abilities have also improved. The other day while in the car driving through a tunnel, Wesley said, “Mommy, my hand is yellow because of the light”.
The father adds: “The Director is passionate about helping children, who don’t function according to society’s norms and/or expectations, to improve through intensive therapy. The open door policy of the Director, teachers, therapists and staff is wonderful”.
Wesley went on that year to take a lead role in the school concert. His life, and his future, had been changed through the Reynold Learning Programme.