by Suzanna Pillay
WHEN a child does not talk at that normal age and seems to be in his or her own zone, speech therapy may hold the key to communication.
EIGHT-year-old Keane, like any ordinary boy, loves potato chips but he isn't able to tell you that. Instead he lets you know this by pointing to the chips.
Keane is autistic and, like most autistic children, uses hand gestures to communicate wants and needs, as opposed to vocalising them.
After undergoing speech therapy for several years, he has made significant improvements and can now put his request in simple words, as opposed to just gesturing, says his mother Gene Ng, 36.
"Keane doesn't socialise much and is an introvert. He only communicates if he wants something and only answers if you ask questions. He used to gesture when he wanted something but now he can make a request in words. For example, if he wants to eat a potato chip, he will say "I want eat".
Keane has three other siblings. His younger brother, Ethan, 3, (Ng's third child) is also autistic.
However, despite having speech difficulties like Keane, Ethan has a milder form of autism and is more outgoing. He also interacts well with his other siblings, says Ng.
He has also benefited from speech therapy which has helped him to identify and label things (associate words with things) as opposed to using only hand gestures to communicate.
"Sometimes, when they are throwing what you think is a tantrum, they are actually trying to communicate with you. Speech therapy teaches them to speak up and also makes it easier to communicate with them," she says.
Similarly, Peggy Chai's autistic daughter has also benefited from speech therapy.
"When she turned 4 last year, she had yet to learn to talk. But within a year (of seeing the therapist), we could see a difference," says Chai.
It took half a year to get results, with a lot of extra effort from her and her husband to work on exercises with their child.