Once a week, Ms. Kou has been with her seven-year-old son in a language training class at a family service center in Macao's Taipa District since the boy was diagnosed with severe autism in 2015.
From mouth muscle training at the very beginning to vocabulary and sentences, as well as emotional training, her son was slowly making progress, bit by bit.
"He has finally begun to ask me questions, sometimes where his dad is, sometimes where I put his toys," she said. "I feel all my efforts paid off at that moment."
The center of about 1,400 square meters is inside a residential building. Its website said it primarily provides local residents with education and tutoring, preliminary diagnoses, child development training, parental support and professional treatment for families with special needs.
Besides the reception and office area, other spaces are divided into small classrooms and playrooms under different names such as happyland, game zone, kids' world and growth station.
"Parents usually become worried and anxious if they notice that their children are different from their peers in growth development or learning abilities. They can always seek emotional or resource support here to help their children grow healthily and happily," said Choi Hio Tong, supervisor of the education and family support center of Taipa.
Various pamphlets are available at the entrance. One reads: You are advised to get in touch with social workers if your child has insomnia, behaviors of hurting self or others, fear of darkness, anxiety, frequent crying, nightmares, traumatic experience, or screams.
The pamphlet said in addition to pleasure, children can also express their inner world and feelings naturally through games. The game-based treatment is for children of 3-12 years old, and free of charge.
"The whole process is children-oriented. They can choose their favorite toys to play with, while social workers usually do nothing but keep them company and listen to them, to assist them in venting distress and trauma, so as to dissolve their negative emotions and hopefully strengthen their minds," said Lee Yuen Sum, a staff member of the center.
Taipa is a relatively well-off community in Macao. Both parents of most families have to work and leave their children with babysitters. As material life is getting better, many parents begin to pay attention to children's psychological health.
The center has 690 registered members, and 10 professional social workers with related degrees. Through close contact with children during all kinds of interest groups and parent-child activities organized by the center, the professionals are more likely to spot abnormal behaviors and offer timely suggestions to parents.
"The facilities and activities are open to the public. Parents bring their children here to play. Students come here to read and do homework after school. With more people around, parents and children with special needs can relax," Choi said.
Ms. Kou has met other parents with similar challenges at the center over the years. They offer comfort to and draw strength and experience from each other.
Her son receives a special allowance of 18,000 patacas (about 2,240 U.S. dollars) a year, and the tuition for his special education school, nearly 40,000 patacas a year, is also exempted.
Wong Pak Kei, services coordination unit chief of the Macao Special Administrative Region (SAR) government's Social Welfare Bureau, said there are 36 family-based community service centers in Macao, with 400 employees, including 160 professional ones. A total of 300,000 households received services from those centers last year.
Other service institutions targeting children and teenagers, senior citizens, recovering patients, people with drug dependence and problem gambling, and ex-prisoners are also scattered throughout the city.
Statistics show that the Social Welfare Bureau allocated about 1.3 billion patacas to public service facilities last year, up 40 percent.
The SAR government has been continuously expanding its investment in public services since Macao returned to the motherland in 1999, from 170 million patacas 20 years ago to last year's 2.67 billion patacas, with the number of subsidized facilities rising from 160 to 250.
With a population of about 670,000, over 2.5 million public services were used in 2018, 30 times more than in 1999 when they were only used 80,000 times.
"Basically wherever you stay, you can find a public service center within a 10-15 minute walk. The receiving facility will notify a specialized center to help solve your specific problem. People say our centers are like convenience stores, and they really are," Wong Pak Kei said.