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Book Review: A Journey With Brendan by Dr. May Ng

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Dr. May Ng’s debut book, A Journey With Brendan, is a 10-year document of her life as a medical practitioner and mother to an autistic child. Ng is a paediatric endocrinologist and a mother of three based in Liverpool, England. Her eldest, Brendan, aged 14, has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Her book details the struggles faced with raising a child on the spectrum and offers practical advice and a wide range of resources to help families cope.

In the beginning, Ng was convinced that all Brendan had was a speech delay in the two years preceding his diagnosis.

In the chapter Will He Ever Talk? she lays bare reasons to support her theory, just as any hopeful parent would. And just like any parent, she put herself through the wringer when those proved to be untrue.

To make sense of her son’s life-long condition, Ng turned to her training and threw herself into finding out all she could about ASD.  She has since become Brendan’s biggest supporter.

Ng hopes that A Journey With Brendan will “help clear the misinformation about autism and encourage healthcare providers to become advocates for families of children with autism.”

Empathy

From the get-go, Ng, who grew up in Kuala Lumpur, writes like she’s talking to an old friend. She shares with us her coming-of-age as a first-time mother struggling with the diagnosis she dreads – that her long-awaited child is autistic.

Ng successfully bridges her experience as a specialist, academic researcher and mother, in a relatable and honest way, peppering her book with endearing anecdotes.

“As a medical student, I had been taught how to break bad news… the patient is unlikely to retain any information once they’ve been given bad news. Now I knew how true that was.”

Ng recalls well the day a team of three experts sat down with her. The diagnostic team confirmed that Brendan had ASD, and they believed it to be at the severe end of the spectrum.

Ng uses this experience as a reminder to give her patients written information that they can look at later. She also arranges to see them again soon after to give them more details once the shock has worn off.

The daily grind

Ng does not shy away from the grittiness of daily routines. Toilet training, relationship struggles and admitting to the failings of her decision to place Brendan in a mainstream school show an honesty and strength in her efforts to help her son achieve his full potential.

She tackles puberty candidly. Ng admits that teaching a child with special needs to protect and respect one’s private parts is especially challenging. She and her husband ultimately succeeded following months of daily work using visual aids.

Practical advice

In the chapter How Can We Help? Ng shares details of courses that she and her husband signed up for in the hope of improving communication with Brendan, who started out non-verbal. While they are UK-centric, this chapter gives readers an idea about therapies that might work for them.

A handy QuickTips list rounds off each chapter, offering highlights for easy reference. For example, in Out and About, Ng encourages parents to give their child the opportunity to experience different environments. She insists that “they have just as much rights as others to enjoy outings.”

Ng also recommends using Autism Awareness Cards, which she hands out when the family dines in restaurants. The cards let others know why their child behaves in a certain way whilst creating an opportunity to raise autism awareness.

Perhaps this is what the general public and service providers need: to be educated about ASD so that incidents similar to the detention of an autistic boy in Malaysia last year will be handled with kindness and understanding.

In what has become a trend of doctors turning their hand at novel-writing, Ng succeeds in her debut which is warm and heartfelt as it is methodical and objective. A Journey With Brendan has a lot going for it. Save for tighter editing, this is one for the bookshelf.

“People who don’t judge or glare and who offer a kind word, make a world of difference” – Dr. May Ng.

A Journey With Brendan is available at Kinokuniya.com

All photos are from @AJourneyWithBrendan

Anita Anandarajah is a former features writer. She has called Hong Kong home for the past 10 years and loves everything about this vibrant, thriving city. A stay-at-home-mum, she enjoys exploring the city’s streets and walks in the country park.

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