Ken Lyen's Home
Ken's Links
London Revisited 2000
Letter from London 2006
Singapore Musical Theatre
Making the Grade
Writing Musicals
Musicals from Movies
Fred Ebb
The Story of Chess
Mama Mia
Bad Vibrations
Chestnuts 2003
Chestnuts 2004
Chestnuts 2005
Incubating New Musicals
List of Musicals on Film
Is Musical Theatre Dead?
Is Classical Music Dead?
Is Poetry Dead?
Why Read Poetry?
New Words
Nothing's Wrong
Hippie Dictionary
Singlish Dictionary
Blog Dictionary
Best of the Best
English Spoke
Reading in Decline
Too Many Books
Magic of Reading
Pablo Neruda
Graphic Novels
Writers Bar
Lost For Words
Encyclopedia Wars
Library in Cyberspace
The Bridge
Growing A Film Industry
Great Levellers
Rote Rites and Rongs
Beautiful Minds
Create Talented Individuals?
Rise of the Creative Class
Perchance to Dream
Children's EQ
Gifted Education
Gifted Children
Mozart Effect
Confucius and Multiple Intelligences
Predicting Your Future
Mistyping Personality
Messy Homes
Does Age Matter?
Too Young for Philosophy?
Philosopher for Hire
Deconstructing Derrida
University Quotas
Ranking Universities
University Ranking Continued
The Future of Universities
If Thine Eye Offends Thee
If It Ain't Broke
New Exams for Old!
Too Many Test
The Sincerest Form of Flattery
Childhood Memories
Signs of Success
Follow Your Dreams
First Impressions
Handphone Etiquette
Handphones Silenced
Apple Of My i
Sex and the Media
The Greeks
Geographic Clangers
Domino Theory
Hello Kitty
Heels on Wheels
What a Racket!
Potty Training
Skip to the Loo
Corporal Punishment
Is Modern Art Rubbish?
Mona Lisa Grins
Sunday in the Park
Vision and Art
Spam Glorious Spam!
Humble Pie
Sour Grapes?
Murphy's Law Calculator
Perfect Search
False Logic
Noah's Ark
Who Discovered America?
Palaces of Dictators
Joys of Stress
Games Academics Play
Virtual Reality Treatmemt
Autistic Underconnectivity
Asperger Syndrome
Pay Attention!
Attention Deficit
Speech Delay
Almost Normal
Prozac Nation
Gilles de la Tourette
Singapore Medicine
Virtual Dissection
War Against Malaria
Into the Frying Pan
Back to Methuselah
Poetic Medicine
Far Eastern Economic Review
History of the Singapore Musical
My Research
Singapore Idle
Best Countries
Brain Drain
Greatest Happiness
Remaking Singapore
Singapore Nobel Prize
Singapore MRT Map
National Day
Caste System
Doctors' Fees
Leadership and Teambuilding
Doctor Do-Much
Play it Again, Doc
A Dose of Music
Prescription for the Heart
Multiple Personality
Fly By Night
Rape of Nanking
Iris Chang
Anne Frank
Angela's Ashes
The Notebook
Hollywood Insider
Fahrenheit 9/11 Pirates
The Front
The Barbarian Invasions
Les Choristes
The Return
Road Home
Farewell My Concubine
So You Want to be a Nurse
School House Rockz
Makan Place
e-mail me

Prescription for the Heart


Prescription for the Heart

by Low Yit Leng

Prestige February 2001

Dr. Kenneth Lyen, the founding chairman of Margaret Drive and Balestier Special Schools, turns to his hobby to raise funds. Low Yit Leng talks with the musically-inclined pediatrician.

One can easily be fooled by appearances. The first impression Dr. Kenneth Lyen gives is that of any other medical professional. However, he is hardly your usual specialist in children’s diseases. The recipient of the 1997 Public Service Medal for community work is also a writer and coauthor of several books on childcare, creativity and education. On top of these, the prolific writer is working with two undergraduates, Vincent Wong and Ivan Ho, on his seventh original musical entitled Sayang. Funds raised from its production, to be staged at the Jubilee Hall in May 2001, will go to the Balestier Special School and the Autistic Resource Centre.

Lyen first started writing musicals back in 1994, but his love for music has been firm since he was a child. "I started learning to play the piano when I was three and I learned to play the violin at about 10," he recalls. The musical streak can be traced to strong influences from the family. "My father, Dr. David Lyen, who is a general practitioner, used to sing. He was a band leader and played the saxophone, and my mother, Edith, played the piano," he shares.

An alumnus of Oxford University, Lyen returned to Singapore after his training in England and the USA. "When I came back, I was helping out at a clinic for mentally-disabled children. There were so many cases, but relatively little was done. Then I was invited to sit on the board of the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (MINDS)," recalls Lyen. He remembers the infancy of the work there. "The services were still at the early stage of development and with the help of the Community Chest, the Margaret Drive Special School was launched. The school caters to the needs of young disabled children, including those with multiple handicaps, and autistic children.

"Starting new services in the 80s was exciting although it was not easy. Many people were not convinced of the need of such services. We did not get immediate support from the authorities but gradually they came round to it. It was all about educating people and changing their perceptions. There was the belief that if you are disabled, you are a parasite and cannot contribute to the economy," he explains.

"We had to convince them that we have to look at everybody as members of a big family and everyone has equal worth - from the gifted to the disabled and less gifted - and all have to be cared for. It does not mean that if your grandfather is in a wheelchair, you don’t care for him. We have to adopt the family approach rather than a corporate approach, where you can sack an employee if he is of no use to the company," he asserts.

"Over the decade, public awareness has increased and there are more support and sympathy from the public. Ten years ago, many people did not know about hyperactive behavior, or what autism is. Parents did not know what to do and they suffered privately. Now I think the kindergartens, schools, and doctors, are more alert to this situation. The support system is also much better and, as more people are aware about it, they can discuss and get counseling," Lyen says, proud of the changes that have taken place. Today about 1000 students attend the two special schools he started.

Although the doctor is pleased with his achievement, he remains modest. "It is not just my work," he insists. "I have been fortunate to work with very dedicated and talented people in this area. That’s what keeps me going. It is a tough area but it is good to see equally committed people around." Lyen has recently relinquished his post after 10 years as president of the Rainbow Centre (which manages the two schools), but he still plays an active role in raising funds for the new school at Balestier.

Today, while Lyen is no longer involved in tailoring the programs for the special schools, he has other plans. "Now that the Margaret Drive Special School has its own purpose-built building, I am trying to raise the building funds to realize the dream and make it a reality at the Balestier School as well. That’s where my musicals and books come in."

"I am an eternal optimist. When working with disabled children, one has to be."

Despite his busy schedule, Lyen has managed to use his hobby for fund-raising activities. "Writing musicals and books is a creative process. You start from nothing and then go through a process of getting it done - that brings great joy. Of course, it gives me a lot of satisfaction to get good comments from people who have read my books."

To date, Lyen has written 12 books, most of which he coauthored. One of his first books was on Asian childcare. "Although the manuscript was completed in 1993, it was only published in 1997. By then another seven books were completed, bringing his total to eight books, which came out in the same year," explains Lyen, who decided to start writing when he noticed recurring questions from his patients’ parents. "The answers cannot be found in the books available. They were questions that were very much related to our local customs, such as ‘Can we take birds’ nest soup?’ and ‘What is heaty food?’ I learned a lot through asking questions, talking to older people, and doing research for this book. The book encapsulates Western practices and Asian customs and beliefs of the Malays, Chinese and Indians," he says.

Lyen hopes to see more volunteers in social work. "The bottom line is, people need to take the plunge by contacting the Community Chest - it is one of the best ways to start. The schools can help a lot because they lay the foundations. When I was at the school, it was compulsory to visit the old folks. Although I did not like it initially because I did not know what to say, once you started doing it, you get acquainted with such work, and I slowly began to like it. School children nowadays should be trained to be helpful and to be eased into voluntary services so that they don’t get in the way of the service providers," he declares.

For those who want to accomplish something but find it difficult to get started, Lyen has this advice. "Try to make time. There are little areas of time when we are not doing anything. For me, the time between 5 to 7 p.m. can be used more efficiently. I also find that my most productive time is when everyone is asleep - all my music composing and book writing are done at this time. It is purely a question of discipline - putting aside a few hours every day and ruthlessly eliminating time stealers - strictly no television or movies."

Now, that’s a tough one!