PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 November, 2014, 4:49am
A mother watches her child as he stacks Play-Doh tubes on top of each other. She grabs his arms before he is able to knock his newly constructed tower to the ground.
This six-year-old boy was diagnosed with autism when he was taken to a psychologist at the age of two, due to his delayed speech.
For two years, the Rainbow Project, a non-profit group that provides special education for autistic children and subsidises therapy for low-income families, had been the best option for her son’s speech therapy, allowing her to avoid the two-year queue for government aid.
But the mother and her child were forced to look elsewhere when the Rainbow Project ended its programme in 2012 due to a lack of funding.
As a beneficiary of last year’s Operation Santa Claus, the Rainbow Project is back with new facilities, new staff and returning families. For the last six months, the mother has been happily returning with her child for the therapy he urgently needs.
“He used to not speak at all, and was constantly throwing tantrums,” she said. “Now [after the therapy], he gets less frustrated because he can express himself much more easily.”
Keith Lee, the director of the Rainbow Project, believes that despite the progress there is still much to be done. Lee sees the group helping more children and becoming a well-established school for autistic kids.
Ever since funding came through Operation Santa – the annual fundraiser organised by the South China Morning Post and RTHK – the Rainbow Project has seen a rise in enrolments.
“We have a great programme and a great service, and we want people to come here,” Lee said. “We also want to provide transport subsidies to families who can’t afford to visit us.”
Lee said sharp drops in enrolment occurred in 2009 when the Rainbow Project’s collaboration with the Hong Kong Academy ended. “When we were cooperating with the academy, the parents of our pupils could at least say their child went to a normal administrative school. Our numbers dropped from almost 30 to only five this year. We almost shut the school down in 2012.”
Lee attributed the sharp drop to an inconvenient location in Sai Ying Pun, and to prejudice.
“The social stigma is still very strong. [Parents] won’t send their kids to a special school if they don’t have to. … However people are realising the need to help their kids if they suffer from developmental disorders.”
Another mother had been taking her six-year-old daughter Sasa to the Rainbow Project since she was diagnosed with autism at three. Sasa used to be trapped in her own world and did not speak, so she was surprised to see her progress. Sasa now runs around the therapy room, laughing and giggling, teasing instructors.
“Thanks to the people here, Sasa can now talk,” the mother said. “This project really changed my child’s life for the better.”
Rainbow will be one of 20 projects to benefit from this year’s Operation Santa, which was launched yesterday.