Optism: Carmen Li's Initiative to Support ASD Families

Carmen Li, a parent of a child on the spectrum, launches Optism to support ASD families in Hong Kong and beyond.

Unedited CarmenPlay

Share this Article

Carmen Li's extraordinary journey began when her 13-year-old son Vincent, who is on the autism spectrum, declared, "Mummy, I think we need to help people." This ignited a spark that propelled Carmen to create Optism – a beacon of hope and a resource for families with children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). 

As a parent of a child with autism living in Hong Kong,  Carmen experienced the same ups and downs encountered by many Asian families living with ASD. Vincent's autism diagnosis at three left her feeling isolated and overwhelmed, and the limited knowledge on ASD and lack of an available network at the time forced her to embark on a tireless quest for information. 

Carmen devoured every resource she could find on children with autism, but dealing with the huge amount of conflicting advice on ASD only caused her anxiety. Carmen reflects, “I found a lot of information but didn’t know what was accurate or most up-to-date. Some information I found wasn’t adaptable to Asian communities. I felt like I was in a maze.”

Empowering parents of children with ASD

Hoping to ease the burden for others parents of children with ASD, Carmen founded Optism to provide accurate and curated information, inspiration, and practical expert advice to ASD families in Asia.

“Through Optism, I want to alleviate the stress and anxiety often experienced by parents by offering readily accessible resources on various ASD-related topics,” Carmen says. “Knowledge is power, and when equipped with the right information, parents can feel empowered to help their children and manage their own emotions, too.”

Raising a child on the spectrum is a multifaceted challenge that extends beyond therapy and education. Carmen is filled with passion as she explains, "As parents, we carry the weight of our child's well-being on our shoulders – physically, emotionally, and financially." 

The unique challenges of autism in Asia

The experience of parenting a child with autism in Asia diverges significantly from that of parents with neurotypical children.

While other parents may worry about school interviews, we find ourselves wondering when our children will utter their first words. The sense of isolation as a parent of a child with autism can be crushing, leaving us feeling like we're fighting this battle alone.
carmen  Vince
Samantha Sin
Carmen and Vincent, the duo behind Optism

More than just an information resource on the autism spectrum disorder, Optism is a testament to Carmen's commitment to nurturing communities and creating a supportive network for families of kids with ASD. Fusing "autism" with "optimism," Optism shines a light on the unique qualities of individuals on the spectrum while raising awareness among Asian communities, where open discussions about autism are often limited.

“True inclusivity requires everyone to truly understand autism and genuinely embrace neurodiversity,” she says. “We must take steps forward, both in our generation and the next, to ensure our children have a brighter future.”

The challenges of parenting children with ASD

With her journalism and interior design background, Carmen had thrived in fast-paced environments, meeting impossible deadlines and getting things done quickly and accurately; but her son’s ASD diagnosis compelled her to slow down. 

“I’ve learned so much over the years. I used to be incredibly impatient,” Carmen admits. “I really wanted my son to shed his diagnosis by the age of six, but when that didn’t happen, I felt really down. We tried so hard, but why wasn’t our hard work paying off?” She spiraled into negativity as anxiety took hold until she realized that she needed to prioritize her well-being. “We often expect our children to be in control of their own emotions, but at that time, I couldn’t even handle my own.”

Accepting that raising children with ASD is a marathon and that the day-to-day fluctuations of her son’s condition couldn’t dictate her mood, Carmen learned to manage her emotions and embraced her responsibilities with fresh positivity.

Acting as a voice for Asian families dealing with ASD

Now the Chief Inspiration Officer of Optism, Vincent attends a mainstream school and has discovered a passion for track and field. Carmen and Vincent have come a long way in the past 10 years, thanks to the invaluable support of doctors, therapists, teachers, friends, and family. 

Optism allows Carmen to extend a helping hand to others on a similar path, giving fellow parents of kids with ASD guidance rooted in empathy and empowerment. 

She encourages parents to focus on their children's strengths and unique qualities, while also reminding them to prioritize self-care. 

Parents often stand behind their neurotypical children, but parents of children with autism, especially in Asia, must lead the way – advocating for their children's needs and speaking up for them. Though the road may be challenging, now parents of children with autism don’t have to walk it alone. 

Carmen's Words of Advice:

  • Teaching our children simple manners and politeness is essential for their interactions, relationships, and life journeys, as they will require support from others at various stages.
  • ASD is a condition that, similar to short-sightedness or baldness, is merely a part of an individual's identity and does not define their worth or potential.
  • Empower yourself with accurate, up-to-date knowledge of ASD to better support your child's journey.