Autism and figure skating: How sports helped 17-year-old HK Special Olympics gold medallist find happiness and direction

For 17-year-old Joshua Lau, winning gold at the Special Olympics was a pretty cool moment. For his parents, it was a lesson in never placing limitations on what someone can achieve

Kelly Ho |

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Figure skating has helped him to be more confident and sociable.

As I enter the coffee shop,  I spot the Lau family right away. They’re sitting in a corner, and Joshua, the son, is putting down some drinks. Wallace and Joanna, his mum and dad, greet me warmly, and after some encouragement from them, Joshua shakes my hand and introduces himself.

“I am Joshua Lau Yan-chai … I am 17 years old … I study at C.C.C. Mong Kok Church Kai Oi School,” he says in broken sentences. 

It may seem like a simple self-introduction, but it took Wallace and Joanna years to build up Joshua’s confidence before he could talk to a stranger. When Joshua was two years old, his parents were told by his kindergarten teachers that their son was stubborn and not as well-spoken as his peers.

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Joanna then began to notice he insisted on taking the same path to school every day. Any attempts to make him take a different one would result in temper tantrums, or an awkward stand-off on the street. As much as they wanted to believe it was just a phase, they decided to have Joshua checked out by a doctor. 

The results of the test confirmed what Wallace and Joanna had long suspected; their son was both autistic and moderately intellectually disabled. “We were very upset of course. All parents have a certain level of expectation for their kids, and it felt like Joshua wouldn’t be able to fulfil our initial hopes,” says Wallace.

In addition to sports, the 17-year-old also learned to express himself better through drawing.
Photos: Wallace Lau

Joanna also recalls her frustration with Joshua’s condition, which later developed into a sense of hostility toward other children, as she could not help but compare them with her own son. “I was in denial at first and I kept asking why this happened to us,” she says. 

But it was at their lowest point that Joanna and Wallace decided they needed to change their attitude. Instead of dwelling on the challenges the family would face, they began to embrace Joshua’s disorder, while doing all they could to give Joshua a full, rich life. 

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One way was to let Joshua try various extracurricular activities, from playing the piano and drawing to unicycling and swimming. His favourite hobby is figure skating, as he gets to travel abroad for competitions. “I like figure skating, because I can go to Austria. I like Austria, it makes me happy,”  he says. 

oshua (centre) and his parents return from Special Olympics in Vienna
Photos: Wallace Lau

The trip to Austria took place last February, when Joshua represented Hong Kong in the Singles (Level 2) event at the Special Olympics in Vienna. He scooped up a gold medal at the event – but he was far more excited by the prospect of flying on a plane and eating airline meals. 

Wallace was there to witness his son’s moment of glory. The achievement was far beyond anything he and Joanna had expected; they had simply hoped that sport would improve their son’s delayed growth and body coordination. “The most obvious change sports had on Joshua was boosting his self-esteem,” Wallace remarks. “It also served as an outlet for his negative emotions and extra energy.”

Looking back at their family’s journey, Wallace and Joanna admitted it hadn’t been easy, but they felt blessed nonetheless. “We are really thankful for the great progress he’s made,” says Wallace. 

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Joshua turns 18 this year, but he already has a clear idea of what he wants to do when he leaves his special needs school: become a baker at Caritas, an NGO that helps the city’s poor and distressed.

At present, Wallace and Joanna aren’t too worried about Joshua’s future; they’re confident he will find a job working at a social enterprise. In fact, Wallace is considering starting one of his own with other parents from the school, to provide opportunities for other graduates. He has also made provisions to ensure Joshua won’t struggle financially. 

But the question of who will take care of Joshua remains, especially once his parents are no longer around. “Our long-term goal is to get him a place at the hostel for mentally disabled persons,” says Wallace. “I hope that with the life experience he gains in the coming 10 or 20 years, he will be more capable of taking care of himself.”

Edited by Charlotte Ames-Ettridge

【泰國滑冰比賽之旅 2018 - 第一集】

幾個月前當恩齊知道有機會去泰國比賽,他便好興奮和「每日多提」,驚我們忘記.....。主因是因為除比賽外,他還有機會坐飛機、吃飛機餐、住酒店、吃美食一連串他喜歡的事情...... 目標主導?(現實的小伙子)
昨晚當他穿上「戰衣」考試和作最後採排時,明顯地.... 他比平時的練習認真起來,或許這就是所謂「對星兒的『強化物』」。
前期的計劃及安排,要做的都九九十十完成了,期待著幾天後的泰國滑冰比賽之旅 ....... 好好地享受比賽 。「如果不是耶和華建造房屋,建造的人就徒然勞苦;如果不是耶和華看守城池,看守的人就徒然警醒。(聖經,詩篇一百二十七篇,第 1 節)

#伴星戰記 #恩齊日誌 #泰國滑冰比賽之旅

Posted by Wallace Lau on Wednesday, 1 August 2018