Mon, May 03, 2010
The Straits Times
Dynamic Dan has a big heart


DANIEL Ng was a most peculiar boy.

As a toddler, he was as bright and lively as they come but he just did not speak. He did not utter his first word until he was three, and up until the age of nine, could not string together a complete sentence. He communicated using mostly monosyllables.

One day, when he was about five, he told his parents he would like some 'poke poke egg'. Baffled, his pilot father and homemaker mother took him to the supermarket but they could not find what he wanted.

The mystery was solved some time later when the boy saw a durian stall while out on a car ride and yelled out excitedly: 'Poke poke egg! Poke poke egg!'

Daniel, 17, was born with Specific Language Impairment, which delayed his language development.

He says: 'My parents consulted a lot of experts including speech therapists and even psychologists and did a lot of tests. They didn't find anything wrong with my brain but they said there was a big gap between my brain performance IQ and my verbal IQ.'

While his parents never doubted that he was normal, some teachers and classmates wondered if he was autistic or even intellectually disabled.

'I didn't speak much but I was always doodling in class. That was my way of mind mapping what the teachers were saying,' he recalls.

He never failed any of his exams, but he was ridiculed not only by students, but also some teachers. It got so bad, he would sometimes refuse to go to school.

When he was eight, his parents decided to withdraw him from school. His mother, Mrs Janet Ng, a former air stewardess and office administrator, started to home-school him.

'She bought every assessment book there was, and turned a storeroom into a classroom, and our kitchen into a lab,' he says.

In 1997, they met Professor Noel Chia, an assistant professor in early childhood and special needs education at the National Institute of Education.

He advised Mrs Ng on how to help Daniel. She started with the alphabet before going on to vowels, clauses and tongue twisters.

'My mother used a lot of nursery rhymes and songs,' recalls Daniel.

Within half a year, he started using full sentences.

Today, the teenager is articulate and betrays no sign of a speech impediment. 'But I still have problems with my Rs,' he says sheepishly.

Now a life sciences student at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, he has an elder sister studying international affairs in the United States.

He looks happy and cheerful but admits that talking about his school days brings back bad memories.

'As a child, you're supposed to enjoy life and have fun. But I lost confidence in myself because some students and teachers didn't understand me,' he says.

Daniel was home-schooled up until Secondary 4, although he was enrolled in several schools for laboratory and other science lessons, as well as to take exams.

He passed his O levels, scoring an A for mathematics, and Bs for additional mathematics, biology, physics, chemistry and English.

Determined that he should not feel sorry for himself, his parents took him on visits to orphanages and welfare homes to see that there were many others a lot more unfortunate.

It also got him started raising funds for charity.

In 2001, as an eight-year-old, he approached strangers and helped raise $5,000 for The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund. His fund-raising efforts included selling chicken wings and bubble tea at school fun fairs.

He was 14 when he told his parents that he wanted to do something more for the unfortunate.

'I didn't want to sell things that would be eaten or could be thrown away after three days. I wanted to come up with something that could be used even after three years,' he recalls.

Since he enjoyed science, he decided on a science dictionary. Except that Dan's Dynamic Dictionary On Science would be different: Not only would each scientific term be explained in simple language, but it would also be accompanied by Daniel's colourful illustrations.

Prof Chia called it 'doodlanguaging - a very creative way of learning to make sense of the world and interpreting all the various concepts that can be found in it'.

Mr Ng Kwai Seng, his father, provided $50,000 as seed money.

Daniel says: 'My father told me, this is seed money. If you lose it, I hope you know what went wrong, and what you learnt from it. If you make a profit, good, you will understand what you have done right.'

With his mother's help, he set up a social enterprise Scores (Smart Children-Oriented Resourceful Enrichment Services).

The book took him six months, with help from his family, as well as two teachers from San Yu Adventist.

'When I was stuck on an idea, my sister or father would come along and help out. My mother helped me to colour some of my illustrations.'

Published in 2007, the book has sold 7,000 copies. He donated $10,000 to the Children-At-Risk Empowerment Association (Care) Singapore. He also donated more than 3,000 copies to several charities and institutions including Yayasan Mendaki, the Children's Cancer Foundation and Roslin Orphanage.

Daniel, who gives regular talks in schools about his experiences, has just come out with the second edition of the book and hopes to help more charities with the proceeds.

Asked if he has plans for other books, he smiles mischievously.

'Yes, but I can't reveal them yet.'

Meanwhile, he hopes to finish his diploma in molecular biotechnology and go on to carve out a career in immunology research.

'Or I might become a manga artist. I have started drawing my own manga,' he says.

This article was first published in The Straits Times.

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