Nico Tay Kim Seng

Autism is not by choice. Treat us fairly, with dignity and unconditional love.

Nico Tay (24 years) is the third recipient of the Dare to Dream scholarship at the LASALLE College of the Arts. Halfway through the Foundation year, he has enjoyed his course so far, putting in much effort in his assignments and projects, and is looking forward to starting on his specialism in Animation.

Misunderstood & bullied

But it has not always been smooth sailing for Nico. When he was in kindergarten, he was assessed by a family physician to have autism. His parents were advised to delay his enrolment into Primary 1 so that he could have more time to catch up on developmental delay disorders associated with autism. Nico recalled having repetitive language, a tendency to talk to himself, slurred or mumbled speech and also lacked eye contact. At one-on-one special needs classes, he learnt speech skills and reading so that he could be better prepared for primary school.

Delaying entry into Primary 1 was both an advantage and disadvantage. He was better equipped with speech skills. But with weaker speech skills than his classmates, he became the target of bullies especially since he was a year older and yet vulnerable to both physical and verbal abuse. He lacked the social skills to form friendships. Schoolmates did not understand his autistic condition. The bullying continued in secondary school. Nico did not have close friends. He often felt lousy, lacked self-confidence and had poor self-esteem. He gradually learnt that he should keep quiet, withdraw and ignore the bullying as a coping mechanism. He described his time in school as "painful".

Bright spots

Despite the bullying, he recalled bright spots during unhappy school days. One was the dedication and understanding of two class teachers at critical phases when he was in Primary 6 and Secondary 3 & 4. They treated him with respect and encouraged him despite the mistakes he made. His Sec 3/4 class teacher taught him mind mapping skills to tap on his visual strengths so that he could grasp information for problem solving and better internalise instructions.

The other bright spot was his strength in art which was his favourite subject and one that he fared well in. Speaking animatedly and with confidence, he recounted that his work earned the praise of his teachers and classmates. He felt that he could express himself through art and put his imagination and dreams on paper. Playing with colours and shapes, he experimented and explored different media. His favourite subject has been imaginary and legendary figures, which are drawn intricately, and creating a story based on them to make them come alive.

Moving on

At LASALLE, Nico is developing new interests and skills to deal with more abstract subjects and learning the use of new software for his art. In an environment where his peers have a common interest in the arts, and lecturers and instructors are understanding, approachable and helpful, Nico's dream is that he will get the requisite training to find a job as an artist or designer after graduation in order to support himself and his family.

Nico displays the qualities of an enthusiastic, self-assured and polite young man. Being high functioning, he has awareness that his autistic characteristics will not go away but he has come a long way and tries hard to work on appreciating and adjusting to his environment.

Nico's wishes

Nico asks that more in society will understand that autism is a genetic disorder and that behavioural traits of autistic persons are often not within their control. He asks that we be sensitive to the behaviour of special needs persons, instead of being unfriendly or unkind, and try to put ourselves in their shoes to appreciate their personal battles, struggles and difficulties in coping. He also suggests leaving trained experts to teach and handle those with autism. But if we are familiar with people with autism and want to help, try to identify what their interests are and use these to connect with them.

Nico's wish is for fair treatment, dignity and unconditional love for autistic and special needs persons. It sounds straightforward enough.

January 2017



Firing up his imagination

Nico's fine eye for details as illustrated in his drawings of legendary figures.



Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder, lifelong and present from early childhood, that impairs a child's ability to communicate, interact and form relationships with others. Due to the range of symptoms, the conditions variously referred to as Autism, Aspergers, Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, etc, are grouped as ASD.


Patterns of behaviour

A person with ASD usually demonstrates restrictive, repetitive and fixated behaviours and has limited interests. He (or she) develops specific routines and is uncooperative, even resistant, to change which is viewed as disturbing. He usually does not engage in imaginary or imitative play and lacks the ability to see the big picture. He may have problems with gross motor skills and sensitivities to light, sound and touch.

Social communication and interaction

Common characteristics are a lack of eye contact and facial expression, resistance to physical contact, a lack of or delayed speech or language development and an inability to initiate or hold a conversation or read between the lines. A lack of general social awareness and appropriate behaviour often leads to poor social interaction.

Some children with ASD show signs of lower intelligence and are slow to gain and apply knowledge or skills. Others have normal to high intelligence (some have an exceptional gift in music, math or art) but have challenges communicating and applying their knowledge or adjusting socially and, therefore, their true abilities are often masked.


ASD has no single known cause. Given the complexity of the disorder, and the fact that symptoms and severity vary, there are probably many causes. Both genetics and environment may play a role.

One of the greatest controversies in ASD revolves around a purported link between ASD and certain childhood vaccines, particularly the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine. However, despite extensive research, no reliable study has established any link between ASD and the MMR vaccine which should not be avoided otherwise the child is placed in danger of catching or spreading serious diseases that the vaccine is meant to prevent.


There is no known cure for ASD. While there are medicines that can help to alleviate conditions faced by those with ASD, e.g., severe behavioural problems affecting learning, the medicines do not remove the root of the problem.

The goal of treatment is to maximise the child's ability to function by reducing ASD symptoms and supporting development and learning. There is no one-size-fits-all treatment. Early intervention via structured, individualised and intensive programmes is useful to improve behaviour and communication. Options may include:

Behaviour and communication therapies

These programmes address the range of social, language and behavioural difficulties associated with ASD. Some programmes focus on reducing problem behaviours, teaching new skills and hence modifying undesirable behaviours and encouraging desirable ones. Other programmes focus on teaching children how to respond in social situations or how to communicate better with others. Though children do not always outgrow ASD symptoms, they may learn to function well.

Occupational therapies

These programmes include the use of purposeful activities to help children and adults achieve independent living.

Family therapies

Parents and other family members often play a pivotal role in encouraging and teaching ASD children how to play and interact with others thus promoting social interaction skills, managing problem behaviours, and teaching daily living skills and communication.

Useful links