The Stories Behind: Father posts autistic son's activities on TikTok — unembellished — and gets 'likes' and love in return
SINGAPORE — Mr Bob Lee Keng Siang, 46, still remembers the day when his son Jun Le, then three years old, was diagnosed with autism in 2010.
Every so often, the internet thrusts ordinary people into the public eye. But as quickly as they come, they tend to fade away from the limelight soon after. In this series, TODAY journalists talk to some of these viral sensations to find out who they really are behind the social media screen and how their lives were affected by their fleeting fame.
- Mr Bob Lee Keng Siang uploads his autistic son Jun Le's activities onto a TikTok account ‘ahbobpapa’ that he created March this year
- Since then Jun Le, who is shown on the page displaying his talents, doing tasks independently and having fun, has been recognised by strangers outside
- Comments online have been largely supportive, with some parents and caregivers of children with autism reaching out to him
SINGAPORE — Seeing the artwork and calligraphy plastered on the kitchen walls of Mr Bob Lee Keng Siang's home, it reaffirmed what I saw on his social media pages — a father who is deeply proud of his 15-year-old son Jun Le.
After all, his Instagram and TikTok accounts are awash with videos showing Mr Lee gleefully celebrating achievements by Jun Le — who is diagnosed with autism — that some might regard as trivial.
But as I chatted with the 46-year-old photography business owner, I learnt that it was not always this way.
He still remembers the day when Jun Le, at the age of three, was first diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder in 2010.
“As parents, my wife and I hoped for our child to become someone good and successful. So we were stumped when we first heard the news from the doctors,” Mr Lee recalled of that fateful day.
He had difficulty coming to terms with the situation, so he did not make Jun Le’s condition known to anyone until about one-and-a-half years later.
“As we did more research on autism, we grew increasingly worried, especially about what we had to equip ourselves with, to be able to handle this as parents,” he said.
Mr Lee also recalled that when he posted pictures of Jun Le about 10 years ago on Facebook, several of his friends said that the boy looked “normal”.
This, he said, came from a general lack of understanding of what autism is and the challenges faced by the family.
It also occurred to Mr Lee that his photographs, which were taken to look beautiful, did not reflect the realities of living with autism.
“So I started shooting a variety of moments. He cries, he laughs, he jumps… I then realised that it is okay to share all these real moments, not only the beautiful ones,” he said.
Mr Lee and his wife, Ms Lim Hwee Hwee, then decided to open up about the situations they had encountered.
He wrote a Facebook post about an incident when Jun Le cried for over half an hour because the tap in a public toilet at a park did not work.
“Passersby stopped to ask if he was injured, and I found it hard to explain his condition to them.”
Mr Lee’s friends who read the post told him that they never knew what Jun Le had been going through.
From then on, Mr Lee realised that sharing the real moments is good for everyone, especially parents who are also caring for children with disabilities.
ENTERING THE TIKTOK UNIVERSE
Wishing to reach out to a younger demographic, Mr Lee created a TikTok channel in March this year.
Using the name ‘ahbobpapa’, the channel has garnered more than 4,000 followers and 86,800 likes.
The channel shows Jun Le, now 15, doing everyday things, including taking the transport by himself, picking items in a grocery store, making his bed and cleaning the house.
Mr Lee used TikTok at the recommendation of a colleague.
“Initially I wanted to make use of YouTube, film videos in a professional way and put subtitles. But later on, I dropped the idea as I found it too troublesome,” he said.
For one of his first few posts, Mr Lee decided to film his son going from his house in Toh Guan Road to the McDonald’s outlet at IMM and back by himself.
The response to the post was massive, growing to 140,000 views since.
Mr Lee said that he received several comments. “Many comments were nice and encouraging. We liked the support and positive energy gathered from the posts,” he said.
Mr Lee said that several times, Jun Le and himself were recognised by members of the public.
People had also reached out to him for his advice on taking care of autistic children.
Yet, there were some who wrote disparaging comments like "what is the big deal".
As Mr Lee was saying this, Jun Le had just finished his snack. His father then reminded him kindly to wash his plate and Jun Le happily complied.
Continuing our conversation, Mr Lee remarked that much has changed during his blogging days where all people could do then was simply to observe his writing and pictures.
He said that the two-way nature of present day social media did feel “scary” at first. But the positivity he encountered spurred him to carry on.
“You don't really need to delete posts or comments, just let it go,” he said.
Occasionally Mr Lee does see vulgarities in the comments section. But this is a reality about social media that he has accepted, he said, adding there are many TikTokers who would speak up against unkind comments.
Jun Le’s artistic talents have also gained attention via TikTok.
He draws Chinese characters in a unique style, which has impressed Mr Lee’s friends who have made requests to buy his works.
It all began during the circuit breaker. Wanting to keep him occupied, Mr Lee and his wife had encouraged Jun Le to copy the Chinese version of the Heart Sutra, an ancient Buddhist text.
After tracing Chinese characters, Jun Le eventually was able to draw complicated strokes in an original style.
“Initially he took an hour to write it, when he followed the simplified Chinese strokes. When he started getting faster, we decided to introduce traditional Chinese strokes,” Mr Lee said.
He finds Jun Le’s style of drawing "interesting", despite the fact that he does not follow the conventional Chinese calligraphic method.
“Also Jun Le’s big commas in his works seem like a trademark,” said the father, who decided not to engage a calligraphy teacher for Jun Le so that he would not lose his originality.
Jun Le is also able to do English calligraphy and Jawi writing.
His parents have printed Jun Le’s designs on T-shirts, too. Mr Lee said that he would tell people wanting to buy his son’s works to pay the price they like for the time being.
Mr Lee and his wife hope that this skill can help Jun Le, who will be graduating from the autism-focused Pathlight School when he turns 18, earn an income for himself.
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