A father of two lashed out at a five-year-old autistic boy after seeing him “playing roughly” near his children in a sandpit.
Soo Wen Jie kicked the child in the stomach after he tried to take a plastic shovel from him, then swung his arm at him, knocking him onto a slide.
The incident was caught on camera and went viral on social media while the boy, who attends a school for students with special needs, had to see a psychologist after the incident.
Soo, 29, was sentenced to a week in jail on Tuesday (June 6) after pleading guilty to an assault charge.
He was visiting Sunshine Childhood Playland in Yishun Avenue 2 with his wife and their two young children on April 9 last year when he noticed the boy “playing roughly” near his son, Deputy Public Prosecutor Chee Ee Ling said.
Soo was standing between them when the autistic boy – who cannot be named due to a gag order to protect his identity – tried to take the shovel.
Soo kicked the boy, who became “frustrated”. Soo then shoved the boy away when he tried to hug him, before hitting the child’s upper body, knocking him onto the slide.
The boy’s 45-year-old mother, who was nearby, heard the commotion and took her son to another play area.
Later that evening, the boy complained of pain in his abdomen, and his mother contacted the playground which had a closed circuit television footage of the incident.
He was taken to Yishun Polyclinic the next day where he was found with tenderness over his upper abdomen and breastbone.
DPP Chee urged the judge to sentence Soo to a week’s jail, stressing that he had assaulted a “very vulnerable victim”.
Defence lawyer Walter Silvester pleaded for his client to be given either a fine or a day in jail, saying that Soo had “over-reacted” and was not aware that the boy has autism.
The lawyer also said that Soo had offered to pay a compensation but was rejected.
The boy’s mother was in court on Tuesday but she declined to comment to The Straits Times.
For assaulting the child, Soo could have been jailed for up to two years and fined up to $5,000.
Be supportive and understanding
In an earlier interview, Autism Association Singapore (AAS) Eden School’s vice-principal, Mrs Patricia Cheng, said it is aware of similar rows involving children with special needs.
She cited an incident in which a child with autism pulled a passenger out of a seat in a crowded MRT train, because he had wanted to sit in his usual seat on the train.
“Persons with autism like familiarity, and don’t like changes,” said Mrs Cheng.
The child’s mother apologised to the passenger, but was scolded for not disciplining her child.
Mrs Cheng said children with autism have difficulties in three areas: communication, relationships and imagination. The AAS advises people to speak clearly and slower to those with autism, as speaking loudly or using a scolding tone may lead the child to have a meltdown.
Parents should be clear what their expectations of the child are, prepare their child well for change, and praise him consistently for every effort shown.
Most of all, parents of a child with autism need the public’s support and understanding.
“Of course, it is not easy to do so. After all, we are only familiar with our own world. To understand someone with autism, we have to step into their world,” says an AAS spokesman.
“But we encourage the public to be patient, and try.”
A version of this article first appeared in The Straits Times.
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