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A Place Where Sebastien, My Autistic Son, Could Belong

by Choo Kah Ying

Sebastien at Canggu, Bali, June 2023

There Sebastien was, standing tall and strong in the water, as he beheld the billowing waves tumbling towards him. His shoulders slumped, his arms hanging down from his sides, there was not a tinge of uncertainty or hesitation. Yes, it has been almost seven years since Sebastien has lived in Bali, and he's clocked some time in the ocean. Still, I marveled at how at ease he was in the ocean.

At that very moment, time seemed to collapse — the past overlapping with the present. In a scene not too different from this one, a younger Sebastien was yelping excitedly in the water. Whenever a sprinkle of seawater landed on his face and grazed his eye, he would turn agitatedly to me, rubbing his eye in distress, and would bark in a loud monotonous voice, “Towel!” Back then, Sebastien was extremely sensitive about having errant water drops splash on his face. He also expected me, his mother, to run up and down the beach to fetch the towel for him.

Now back in the present, Sebastien was striking a far more laid-back pose. Though he kept his eyes fixed on the horizon, he was no longer yelping and howling so much — a far "cooler" dude, smiling and letting out a little laugh from time to time. He seemed impervious to my presence. I was standing to the side of Sebastien, giving him some room, but also hanging behind, feeling far more intimidated by the big waves than he was.

Suddenly, a big wave rushed towards us. Moments before, Sebastien had decided that he would do his ritual of wetting his hair in the water and sleeking it back and he had lowered his body into the water. My heart leaped up, a surge of uncertainty. Would he get up in time or would he get smacked in the face? I stood paralyzed, planting my feet firmly into the sand, needing to focus my energies so that I could withstand the wave.

Sebastien stood up in a nick of time, though he still got splashed! I wondered what would happen next: would he ask me for a towel? My mind just drifted there automatically. He brushed the droplets of water from his cheeks, from his eyelashes, registering the sensation, but looking unperturbed. Not once did he throw me a glance.

I felt a tiny surge of pride. It was a trivial thing, but he no longer needed his mother to fetch him a towel. At almost 27, Sebastien seemed to be at ease with himself in the world, without his mother by his side.

Perhaps, it's because we've finally created a carer team who has Sebastien’s interests at heart over the last eight months, after seven years of hits and misses. Through it all, Sebastien has persevered and displayed tremendous resilience along this road less traveled, determined to make Bali his home.

And today, we are finally making Sebastien's dream come true: we are in the midst of building an edifice of Sebastien’s future that is nestled in a village, with the support and blessings of the locals.

Sebastien's future home under construction in a village in Bali, June 2023

All of this has enabled me to feel more at peace than I have ever been, since starting A Mother's Wish and embarking on a quest to find a place where Sebastien could belong. This journey that would lead me to let go of Sebastien and inspire others to love him as much as I do has led me to realize that this should be the final project of any parenting journey — a message that I share with other caregivers in “What is Autism Caregiving?” video.

To prepare our kids for a life without us, we need to step aside in order to help them with the transition process.

It has been seven years in the making, but I finally know where Sebastien belongs.

Happy Birthday, Sebastien!


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