Sunny Chan’s Son Breaks Autism’s Barriers

In the first nine months of his life, Edgar Chan (陳駕樺) was as active as any other toddler his age. He loved to laugh and loved to play. He learned to crawl at four months, learned to sit straight at six months, and took his first steps at nine months. Parents Sunny Chan (陳錦鴻) and Ada To (杜雯惠) raised their son with love and care.

Edgar was strong-willed and independent. When he struggled to walk, he preferred to pick himself up back to his feet rather than have his parents help him. When Edgar was born, a fengshui geomancer examined Edgar’s birth time and said he had the attributes of overconfidence and arrogance. Sunny therefore gave Edgar the Chinese name “Ka Wah” (駕樺) – controlling the strength of birch wood.

Edgar’s Delayed Development

Sunny and Ada found Edgar easy to care, until he turned a year old, when Edgar showed symptoms of impaired social interaction. Edgar refused to socialize with other toddlers his age and did not learn how to talk until much later. Sunny and Ada took Edgar to a reputable day care center, but a few months later, Edgar’s teacher informed Ada of Edgar’s refusal to interact with other kids and follow orders. The teacher implied to Ada that the school did not want Edgar as a student anymore.

“They are a reputable school, yet discriminated against my son,” said Ada. “When kids don’t follow orders, isn’t it the school’s job to teach them?”

Fortunately for the Chan family, Edgar stayed in school, but his conditions worsened. Unable to speak, Edgar was often frustrated and had uncontrollable temper tantrums. At two years old, Edgar still did not know how to say “mom” and “dad”. The only thing he could do was sing and yell in nonsense words. To not trouble their neighbors with Edgar’s screaming, Sunny decided to move away from the city to the suburbs in Sai Kung.

It never occurred to Sunny and Ada that Edgar had a developmental disorder until the school released a psychological assessment of Edgar – he was diagnosed with autism, a disorder that severely impairs social interaction and verbal communication.

A Bright Student

When Edgar turned three, he left regular preschool to attend Heep Hong Society, a school that trains children with special needs. Edgar noticeably improved in the next two months – he was beginning to learn how to speak, and even learned to call out mom and dad.

Edgar still has trouble speaking properly, but his vast improvement in the next year and a half was praised by Edgar’s teachers. Sunny said, “He now recognizes a lot of [Chinese characters]. His grammar and vocabulary is good. For example, he recognizes basic words ‘street sign’, ‘book’, and ‘newspaper’. He only has trouble understanding [others]. Maybe his way of understanding is different from our way of understanding.”

After shooting the TVB drama Curse of the Royal Harem <萬凰之王>, Sunny took a year off of work to spend more time with his son. Sunny hoped to establish a closer connection with his son, who had trouble learning the feelings of trust and empathy.

“I told him to climb trees. The higher he went, the more scared he got, and whenever he lost balance, I would be there to help him. Slowly, he learned to trust me.”

Sunny traveled around the city to educate Edgar. When learning the word ‘supermarket’, Sunny took Edgar to a supermarket. To learn the word ‘swim’, Sunny and Edgar spent a day at a recreational pool. To learn the word ‘ferry’, Sunny and Edgar took ferry rides at the bay.

Attending a regular public school, Sunny and Ada feared that Edgar would not be able to keep up with the rest of his classmates. Sunny hired a “shadow teacher” for Edgar, who accompanied Edgar to class.

“The teacher told us that learning a new word a day may be too much for Edgar to handle,” said Sunny, “He advised Edgar to learn a new word every week instead.” Sunny even spent the time to teach some new vocabulary to Edgar himself at home. “He has great memory,” Sunny said proudly. “He memorized over a 100 words in a short time. He’s learning the Tang poems and the Thousand Word Classics right now. He even has the multiplication table memorized.”

Edgar is currently learning how to formulate sentences on paper. Both he and Edgar would each write in their diaries every night for practice. Stressing the importance of education, Sunny said that both he and Ada are working on getting Edgar into a mainstream school, in hopes to have his son get the best education he needs. “I want our son able to be a part of society. School comes first in this society. In the past, it was home, but now it’s the school. That’s why we’re looking for a mainstream school so he’ll be able to adapt to our community easier.”

In September, Edgar entered his first year of primary school. Hitting the first milestone of his education, Sunny had lessened his workload to help Edgar prepare for school. “There are a lot of stuff to consider once you enter primary school. There are rules that students must follow, especially for boys! This is what my son doesn’t understand – why does he have to be obedient? Why does he have to follow the rules? He still doesn’t understand many things, and the teachers will not spend time to explain the rules to him. He has to rely on himself, to slowly accept and handle his own emotions. I will spend more time with him this month to look after him, to see if anything has changed for him. That way, I can better explain his situation to his teacher the next day.”

Edgar is an intelligent boy and studying is not a problem for him. An obstacle that he still has not overcome is interaction with others. Ada said, “He will not initiate conversations with other classmates. He doesn’t interact with them, but he’s learning his classmates’ names. He knows all the students that line up before him or after. It’s not bad. It takes time.”

To be able to see Edgar enjoy school and embrace others is really all what Sunny and Ada hope for, but they realize that there is still a long road ahead for Edgar and themselves as parents.


This article is written by Addy for

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  1. The Heep Hong Society? I helped out with that organization before. Glad to know his son is making progress!

  2. As a parent of a 7-year old autistic boy, the title of this article is misleading. The title implies that his son has overcome his autism but that is not really true. Most of what the article says Sunny’s son can do is truly amazing but actually a lot of high functioning autistic kids are great in terms of academics. My son knows his ABCs, 123s, and can read before he turned 3. He currently can read at a 4th grade level, but reading is not the same as comprehension. Just because he can read something, it doesn’t mean he understood what he read. Autistic kids tend to have excellent memories. Like my son, he, too can recite passages from books. He memorized all the states in the US and it’s capital. He recognizes country flags. But none of these skills means that he has broken the autism barrier. He is still autistic. For example, the lack of social skills, language difficulty, and inability to focus definitely prevents him from being mainstreamed into General Ed. And for Sunny’s son, it may not be beneficial for him to be in general Ed because it will be difficult for him to catch up with the so many students in the class. He will not get as much attention as she should. I think keeping him in a more specialized program for special needs will be better for him because those classes has a lower teacher-student ratio so that the student gets the special help they need. But all just my two cents from an experienced perspective.

    1. My thought exactly … very misleading headline … i was glad when i saw it thinking there are miracles and breakthrough … but am glad he’s progressing.

    2. I thought that when I first read this and there were no comments.

      It is misleading in some ways to imply that he is “cured” of autism.

      I understand why parents want their child to excel in academics and everything but you need to do it at a slower pace. I think he has resources to give him more therapy that most people would have access to which is a shame because everyone should be able to access such services not just those who can afford it.

    3. hi just wondering do you know what causes autsim.Autism has increased exceptionally over the last 20 years or so.

      1. There is much speculation in regard diet etc… but so far the only thing science has linked to it as a risk factor is the age of the father.

      2. It may seem like there are alot of people with autism suddenly but you have to remember that it is easier to diagnose autism now than it was say thirty years ago.

        Thirty years ago if you exhibited any characteristics of autism you may have been labelled “eccentric, anti-social, odd”.

      3. It’s ALL in the vaccine$.

        Get your full do$age of vaccines.

        (see – first 9 months healthy & bouncy..after that ..)

      4. From what I’ve learned, no one knows exactly when causes autism, but there is speculation that it could be affected by the age of the father during conception of the child (quality of the father’s sperm decreases as one ages) or environmental factors exposed to the fetus while in the mom’s uterus. Lots of research that needs to done!

    4. my daughter is in autism spectrum disorder. yes the title is quite misleading. in malaysia, still alot work need to be done to educate the ppl about autism. talking about schools, i think it depends, there are pros and cons, be it mainstream or special school. some high functioning autistic kids can actually function well at mainstream school, of course with alot of hardwork and sacrifice from the parents to teach and use alot of social stories to train them. for ordinary kids, we dun need to teach them about social cues, but we need to teach them everything, from saying hello to making friends. sadly in malaysia, special schools are crowded with severe ones, i have friends with special kids, lost their existing speech when they mix with the severe. But then if the kid really can’t adapt to mainstream, then the options are always there, go to homeschool or special school.

  3. As a parent myself I understand the needs to raise a child. Raising a autism child even takes more patience, time, care etc. I wish Sunny & Ada all the best in raising Edgar.

  4. Sunny and Ada are such great parents and glad that their son has progressed!!! Truly wish them the best!

  5. We really need a full dna database of everyone so we can compare who has autism and mismatched eyes.

      1. Cleo

        I think you need to be careful, not everyone with mismatched eyes has ASD. Just like not every woman in the work place is a gossiper.

        Lack of awareness and knowledge breed ignorance.

  6. I sympathize with families that have autistic kids. It’s sad that the Asia doesn’t put more emphasis on special care services and bring more awareness to these disorders. I spent my entire life in Canada but I can tell you this much, a child’s diet can hinder or improve his situation too. Anything packed with high gluten will only cause more damage and discrepancies to brain activities and motor skills! I think a lot of parents should read and research materials to change their child’s diet!

    1. In my previous job, I used to hire Special Education Assistants to teach Autistic children. I can tell you that most Asian parents are embarrassed about their children who have disabilities whereas the Caucasioan parents would try to find every mean to helo their children.

      1. I agree with you to a point, but have to disagree that parents are embarrassed, it’s society and culture that label, isolate and put a stigma on children who aren’t ‘normal’ by their standard, not because parents are embarrassed.

  7. I am happy for Sunny and Ada with Edgar’s improvement. I am glad that they caught onto it young so they could learn the techniques of communicating to him. My heart fluttered when I read the part when he finally was able to call them “Mum” and “Dad”.

    I feel for families with autistic kids and people often misunderstanding them as naughty and rebellious or label their parents as bad parents. I hope the community gets more educated about autism so we can do more to help them.

    I used to tutor a young girl with dyslexia so I understand their frustrations and limitations when spending hours to get her to do something that comes naturally to me in one second.

    Thank you Heep Hong!!!

  8. Parent will go all out to take care of their children. Nowadays sad to say children do not do the same to their parents.
    SUPERBRAIN YOGA can help autism. Hope Sunny get this message and give it a try to help his son.
    God bless you & your son.

  9. Definitely very glad to hear that Edgar has been progressing well! Sunny and Ada are great parents and I wish them all the best!

    By the way…even though I had already read quite a few articles the past few years about how Sunny and Ada cared for their son and the struggles they went through, it truly truly hit home for me after I read the book that Ada wrote (which details how much Sunny and Ada’s lives changed from the moment they discovered their son was autistic and chronicles their entire experience the past few years, including the obstacles they had to overcome as well as the successes and miracles they enjoyed). I definitely recommend that all parents with autistic children — especially Asian parents — read Ada’s book (I was certainly enlightened and inspired after reading it).

    1. May I know whether the book by Ada as mentioned above is written in Chinese or English ? Or if there’s any English translated published?

      Where can I get the book?

  10. Im really glad to hear that sunny son has improved.
    I agree with some members here about how asian parents just bury their head in the sand with children with special needs.
    I have an autistic son myself who is now 10, my husband has always told me not to tell people that our son is autistic cbut i dont mind telling ppl what is wrong with my son. im not ashamed and im very proud to have him as my boy.
    At school because everyone knows of his problem a lot of parents find it easy to come to talk to me about their kids problems too.
    My son is in mainstream school he is about 2 years behind academically but it doesnt matter as long as he lives healthy.

    There are prob lots of ppl walking the same footsteps as me finding ways to improve and adapt an autistic child’s life.
    All i want to say to all those with children with special needs. Good luck and your doing a great job!

  11. It is heartwarming to read always of Sunny’s hands on involvement with his son.

    Kids didn’t ask to be born, healthy or otherwise.
    Thus it’s sad to hear parents who deny or are ashamed of their kids’ existence …these folks should NOT be considered parents in the first place.

    If it’ becausewell meant – ie to prevent the public from bullying the kid or making unkind remarks bec they’re ignorant…
    I’d say the first step is to hold your own head high, and acknowledge it. That way, you’re standing behind your own child, and there’s no Achille’s heel for mean people to poke at.

    KUDOS as always to Sunny and his wife Ada!
    Edgar is very lucky to have enlightened openminded parents like them.

    Why is Autism on the rise? There’s also a milder form called Asperger’s Syndrome which many high IQ genuises out there supposedly also have.

    I recall reading articles linking it to the new MMR shots introduced in the 1990s which all babies take. There seemed to be a spike after, though of course the power pharmapheutical companies have denied it.

  12. I have a couple of theories that could possibly cause autism.
    the mmr tripe shot, powerful antibiotics given to kids under 3 years old,drug induced pregnancy, gmo food, fructose corn syrup,not eating healthy foods during pregancy,family history of gut problems.

  13. Wrong translation of the boy’s name. 駕樺 is pronounced Kah Yip, not Kah Wah.

  14. Autism can cause by radiation such as having any x rays during pregnancy.

  15. What is the Chinese word/phrase for autism? My cousins tried to explain to her in-laws that their child was autistic and elderly her mother-in-law explained it back to me as “unable to hear or speak but not deaf”. Then I had to go through and explain the whole condition as best I could translate into Cantonese. I still don’t think they understand.

    Those that claim they do think it is the same as mental retardation. Also spent the last two years trying to describe the difference between ptsd induced neurosis, bipolar, depression, and schizophrenia. r

    1. “Those” = I’m referring to my older relatives.

      Somehow the mental conditions they have encountered are mostly from how the conditions have been portrayed in TVB shows – which are horribly inaccurate.

    2. Autism is known as 自闭症. Loosely translated, it means a condition where the patient excludes himself from his surroundings.

      1. Thank you. I think they should rename the condition to something else. It suggests the patient is all else normal except not wanting to interact socially or step outside the home.

  16. Autism

    zhi pai zheng (cantonese)
    zi pi zhen (mandarin)

    It’s hardly mental retardation, though it’s hard to figure out the needs of autistic child bec communication can be frustrating esp if the speech is delayed.

    Intelligence is not an issue, but comjunication and social interaction is, or being out of sync with societal norm which makes autistics somewhat ‘oddball’. Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man is a pretty good portrayal.

    There are so many ‘normal yet quirky’ traits in the PPSD spectrum.

    Someone really intelligent I knew used to talk out loud to himself, or repeat back small portions of his own speech. I didn’t think anything of it, except to think it quirky or his own way of thinking out problems.
    Later I found out that kind of speech repitition is actually a pattern of speech called echolia.

    1. I know there is huge spectrum from very high functioning (almost complete normal social activity) to unable to function.

      zhi pai zheng (cantonese) – suggests too much of enclosing oneself to the outside due to fear. From personal experience I feel it is more that the patient has “rigid” train of thought and find difficulty in dealing with new information or stimuli.

      Rainman was very good portrayal. I find TVB portrayals very lacking because often they show the character to be lesser in intelligence and shying behind others with their heads down not even communicating with their own family members.

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