The cover story is about Sunny Chan -- one of my favorite actors -- who took a year off from acting this past year so he could take care of his autistic son. He will be returning to TVB next month to film a new series with Raymond Wong and Sonjia Kwok (the cast revealed so far).
Sunny has always been one of my favorite actors -- ever since he started in the 90s, I've followed his career and watched practically every series he's been in (except the ATV ones). In recent years, he's gotten alot of crappy roles in forgettable series and alot of the series he starred in were warehoused for years -- it got to the point that I started to question why he even continued to stay with TVB given how crappy they treated him. Then, last year, I found out the reason -- his son is autistic and because he wanted to make sure he spent as much time with him as possible, he wanted to keep his career primarily in HK, which meant that his only choice was to continue working for TVB (since the only other choice is ATV and we all know that station doesn't film series anymore). I will be very honest and say that when I first found out that his son is autistic, I literally cried -- but then I saw the positive and optimistic attitude that Sunny (and his wife Ada) constantly displayed toward his son's situation and I couldn't help but admire him even more. Sunny has always struck me as a great husband, father, and person overall -- this interview pretty much reinforces that fact! (Btw, I also cried buckets after reading this article, primarily because I was so touched by it!).
Best of luck to Sunny, Ada, and little Kah Wah -- I support you guys 100%!!!
Mingpao Interview: Sunny Chan stops working for a year to help his autistic son overcome his speech impediment
Source: Mingpao Weekly, Issue 2285
Olympic sailing champion Lee Lai Shan once stated that “it takes 4 million dollars to raise a child.” For Sunny Chan (陳錦鴻) and his wife Ada To (杜雯惠) however, the amount of time and energy they spend on their 5 year old son Chan Kah Wah (陳駕樺) cannot be measured with any amount of money!
Sunny and Ada’s son Kah Wah is not only mildly autistic, but also has a speech impediment, therefore, the couple has put all of their effort into taking care of him – in addition to giving up city life and moving to the suburbs to provide a more natural environment for their son, they also specially hired a ‘shadow teacher’ to accompany him to classes. Having endured an English language impediment himself when he was a kid, Sunny did not want his son to go through the same suffering he had back then – therefore, in September of last year (2011), Sunny decide to completely stop working so he could take care of his son 24 hours a day. Now one year later, Sunny finally has his greatest reward: during his Kindergarten graduation ceremony this past July, Kah Wah was able to perform a recitation all by himself in front of a crowd of people! However, the meticulous effort that Sunny and his wife had to put into achieving such results was far greater than any outside observer can understand.
Sunny Chan and his wife, radio DJ Ada To, had their son Kah Wah in 2007. Two years later, at an age when most toddlers already know how to utter a limited number of words, the couple discovered that their 2 year old son still did not know how to speak – not long after that, Kah Wah was confirmed to have a speech impediment that hindered his ability to speak. As if that wasn’t enough, when Kah Wah turned 4 years old, he was diagnosed as having mild autism, which meant that not only would his learning ability be slower than normal kids, his ability to form social relationships with others would also be impaired. Having great love for his son, Sunny Chan immediately hired a ‘shadow teacher’ to accompany his son to Kindergarten in the hopes of providing personal, specialized instruction – unfortunately, the results did not turn out as well as expected. Last September, after the filming for his Mainland China series wrapped, Sunny announced that he will stop working completely in order to focus on taking care of his son. However, this past Tuesday (August 21st), Sunny was spotted arriving at TVB City and meeting up with producer Leung Choi Yuen (梁材遠) to discuss filming of a new TVB series – turns out that his son’s situation has improved greatly, to the point that Sunny is able to return to work now: “Within the one year that I’ve been working with my son on his condition, his progress has truly been very good. This past July, during his Kindergarten graduation ceremony, Kah Wah was actually able to do a recitation all by himself! This achievement is huge encouragement for me, my wife, my son’s shadow teacher, as well as his kindergarten teachers because just last year, when my son was in K1, he couldn’t even say very simple, single words – at that time, even though I would constantly create songs to sing with him to help him learn single words, he still was not able to speak clearly. But now – not only is he able to do a recitation in front of a crowd of people, he is also able to recite an entire book! This result was unexpected, but of course we are very satisfied with it.” As Sunny recounted his son’s latest achievement, he was so happy that he could not stop smiling – ironically though, Sunny actually did not attend the that particular ceremony, so he was not able to personally witness this memorable achievement!
Three step method to help his son improve
With their son’s condition improving significantly, Sunny and his wife Ada can finally relax a bit, as this past year, the couple had pretty much spent almost every minute of the day with their son. Sunny explained that he utilized a ‘3-step method’ to help his son improve his speech ability: “First step was to invest time. To be honest, this past year, I basically spent every minute of the day with my son. In the past, whenever I had breaks in between filming, I would go and take care of some matters at the restaurant almost daily, but now, the only time I would go out was to take my son to tutoring classes, speech therapy, behavior therapy, etc. – the rest of the time, I would stay at home and watch over my son – I would refrain from doing any work and just watch him everyday. The second step was to closely observe his actions and through that, figure out his interests as well as things that he liked – as soon as we discovered something, we would use it as a teaching opportunity for him, as this helped to increase his interest in learning. For example, when we found out that he seemed to react well to music, my wife immediately took him to play drums; when the school taught the word ‘ferry’, we would immediately take him on a ferry boat ride; when the school taught the word ‘swim’, we would immediately take him swimming. Every time he learned a new term, we would put it into practice to help him understand what the words meant – that’s why this past year has been very enriching and has brought me great satisfaction and joy!”
The third step that Sunny took was to strengthen his relationship with his son and gain his trust. Due to his condition, Kah Wah initially had problems trusting people – when his teachers or his parents would try to teach him the meaning of certain words, he had difficulty believing them: “Before, I would constantly have to correct his speech – for example, instead of saying ‘yau sui’ (swim), he would say ‘ying sui’. Every time I tried to correct him, he wouldn’t believe me and instead would get upset at me because he felt I was trying to ‘challenge’ him – pretty much he didn’t like people correcting him. I felt that this was because my relationship with him wasn’t good enough, so I decided to build a better relationship with him – not an ordinary father/son relationship, but rather a friendship in which he could wholeheartedly trust me.”
Climbed trees daily to build relationship
In efforts to build a ‘trusting’ relationship with his son, Sunny arranged a lot of outdoor activities for them to do together – the activity that proved to be the most helpful in building trust was taking his son to climb trees together: “Every time we went tree-climbing together, I would be right next to him, singing to him: ‘climb tree, climb tree, one step at a time, Daddy holding my hand, I can climb higher!’ Actually, every time we did an activity together, I would create a song for him so he could learn individual words within the song – for example, the words ‘climb’, ‘tree’, ‘step’, etc. These songs not only helped him learn new words, it also helped to strengthen our relationship. When climbing trees, the higher he climbed, the more scared he would get – every time he lost his balance, I would be right there to hold him up and keep him from falling. We would go climb trees everyday and each time, he would lose his balance, but I was always there to steady him – after 2 months, he was finally able to establish trust in me. The next time I would try to correct his speech, he was very willing to listen and wouldn’t get upset at me anymore, which helped speed up his progress tremendously. After that, I would take each word and teach him pronunciation, meaning, and also how to put them into sentences.”
In addition to this ‘3 step method’, Sunny and his wife also made another important sacrifice – they decided to move out of their apartment in the city and instead move into a house in the surburbs so that their son could interact more with the environment and nature. Moving actually served 2 purposes for them – one was that they could take their son to play in the park everyday, and two, they could avoid disturbing their neighbors: “Our home is right next to the Sai Kung Country Park, so every day I would take my son there for at least an hour. Before when we lived in the city, we were in an apartment – my son loved to study sounds, so he would constantly bounce a ball on the floor and listen to the ‘pa pa’ sound the ball would make when it hit the floor. He could listen for one year, two years, and never grow tired of it! But we were concerned that this would perhaps be disruptive to our neighbors – plus I felt that we should constantly find new things for my son to ‘study’, as he was only interested in the sound of a ball bouncing on the floor or footsteps going up and down the stairs – therefore, we decided that it was best to move to the suburbs. This way, whether he enjoyed throwing a ball around or singing loudly, he could do it freely – also, in the suburbs, the things that you get to experience are very different. For example, when the school taught about snails, I could take him outside and show him how a real snail looked like.” If it was for the best interests of his son, Sunny did not mind making whatever sacrifices were necessary – definitely a ‘twenty-four filial’father!
Doesn’t want son to repeat his childhood nightmare
Kah Wah is showing signs of improvement now, but with Sunny taking 1 year off to care for his son, he obviously missed out on a lot financially -- but how much? “I never calculated it. Pretty much each time someone called with a job opportunity, I would decline it – I never gave a thought about how much I would be losing. It’s really a matter of choice – as a father, what exactly do I want? I could definitely choose to work endlessly day and night like I did in the past, but then my son’s improvement would not be as good. For example, last year in September when I returned home from filming a Mainland series, the shadow teacher told me that my son only learned one word per week – normal children his age were learning one word a day! I was concerned and felt that there was no reason he couldn’t do it too, so I spent the entire weekend teaching him and he was able to learn 10 words – it proves that he has the ability, it’s just that previously I didn’t spend enough time by his side teaching him.”
Sunny himself also had a language impediment back during his school days and spent 6 to 7 torturous years going through high school. To ensure that his son doesn’t go through the same suffering he did, Sunny felt that all the sacrifices he made (job opportunities, money, etc.) in order to be with his son were worth it: “I actually had an English language impediment in high school – the school I went to taught mostly in English and I basically had no clue what was being said in any of the classes. I would go to class and not know what the teacher was saying, but would pretend to understand because I didn’t want them to tell my mom. Year after year it was like that, the feeling was very torturous – I really don’t want my son to go through the same experience."
Set aside plans for another child
Even though Kah Wah no longer has a problem learning words and reciting text, he still has issues communicating with people that will require more time to improve: “He’s able to recite a lot of the textbooks now and learns a few new words every day – his problem isn’t in learning words but rather in responding to questions. When he’s asked simple questions such as ‘What did you eat today?’ or ‘Where do you want to go play?’ or ‘Who’s knocking at the door?’, he’s not able to answer, but when you write it down for him, he’s able to recite the words. I’m hoping that by the time my son enters primary school, he will no longer need a shadow teacher and can go to school just like regular kids because if he’s 7 -8 years old and still has a shadow teacher accompanying him to school, he will feel that he is different from other students.”
In the past, Sunny hoped to have lots of children, but when asked about his plans now, he expressed that he and his wife have set aside all plans for another child: “We had planned to have another child because at that time, we did not know where the issue was with our son and thought that perhaps having another child to accompany him would solve things. But now that we figured out the problem, we felt it would be best to focus all our attention on solving the problem. We also thought about the age factor too -- if we were to have another child, by the time I’m 60, he/she would not have graduated from college yet!”
Seeing his son’s progress, Sunny expressed that he is very touched: “Even though my career is acting, my son will always be first priority in my life. With the good progress he has made this past year, plus my wife won’t be doing her radio program starting in September so she can take care of our son full-time, I will essentially be ‘trading places’ with her – my wife will take care of Kah Wah full-time and I will go earn money. However, our ultimate goal is still the same – if we have the opportunity to choose, the first choice will always be to stay home with our son.”
‘Raise a son for 100 years, worry for 99 years’ – definitely the words from the heart for all parents!