“He was asking too many questions.”
These are the words uttered by one of his son’s tuition teachers 20 years ago which left him confused.
Recalling that day with such clarity during an interview with Higher Education Today recently, Loke Meng Choong, 71, said he was also shocked when his son was asked not to come to the tuition centre anymore because he pestered the teacher (with the same questions) on purpose.
“So I was wondering why at that age was he asking too many questions?” he said.
Loke Lee Roy, or friendly known as Roy was diagnosed late with Asperger syndrome when he was 32. It was a rather late diagnosis, but according to Loke Meng, it was indeed a blessing in disguise.
“I learned leaps and bounds about Asperger’s through journals, newspapers and from asking around. It is something very new for me and my family, so we made efforts to equip ourselves with necessary knowledge. Today, I am able to see him in a brand new light.
“We had several episodes of father-son conflicts occasionally because I always forced him to go out and make friends. Little did I know that it was not his choice (to behave as he does). He is just wired differently from all of us – or to put it another way, he is autistic,” he said.
Asperger’s is one of a group of developmental brain disorders, which are collectively called autism spectrum disorder or ASD. It’s generally considered to be on the “high functioning” end of the spectrum.
According to Autism Speaks organisation, people with Asperger’s have difficulty with social interactions, often seem expressionless and have restricted interests. They normally have distinctive strengths and great attention to detail. They also have to overcome certain challenges like hypersensitivities to lights, touch and sounds, difficulty with the give and take of conversation and anxiety disorder.
“Roy is a bright person. Intellectually he is fine. However, apart from lacking social skills, he is also vulnerable to what is known as sensory overload like loud sounds. If there is too much (of sensory stimulus), he could get overwhelmed and lose control over things, ” he said.
Roy graduated his bachelor’s degree in Pure Accounting in a local university before working in a company in Kuala Lumpur. While most students graduated in three years, Roy took five years to finish his study.
“It was indeed a struggle as he has to put up with overlapping symptoms of psychological disorders like anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), two of his biggest enemies. He also has to put extra efforts than a normal person to understand a subject. An average person might need 2 minutes to comprehend a concept, but he might take a day to process it all,” Loke Meng said.
Upon knowing that he has Asperger’s in 2014, he said Roy did not look further. He resigned his accounting job to further his second bachelor’s degree in International Relations. He graduated in 2017, before continuing his Master’s degree in Strategic and Defense studies in University of Malaya. He is now in his second semester.
“My wife and I were both very supportive to his decision of quitting his job and focusing on studies as he convinced us that he’s the happiest when he studies.
“Moreover, subject on war and strategies is something that he has always loved. He can even recall every detail verbatim, something a normal person struggles to do,” he said.
Loke Meng said it is important for every parent of people with Asperger’s to seek professional advice when they sense that something is wrong with their children.
“There are varying spectrums to it and it helps to get proper diagnosis so that interventions could be done from early age.
“In my case, my son was diagnosed when he was 32. So it’s rather late, but it’s better late than never,” he said.
Loke Meng said the diagnosis, albeit late, also brought the family closer.
“It has been a steep learning curve for us all, but no steeper than him, himself who spent his whole life desperately trying to fit in, but finally made incredible progress towards finding his own place in the world.
“We might have misunderstood things in the past and we might have hurt each other, but we are now together in this,” he said, ending the interview.