Joseph and I have three lovely children – Andrew, 15; Angie, 14; Ansel, 11. Our dream when we got married was simple. Have children, give them a good education and raise them up as godly people and contributing members of society. So you can imagine our excitement and joy when our eldest son, Andrew was born.
Diagnosed with Autism
At three years old, Andrew was diagnosed with Autism. Our world collapsed and we could not accept the truth. Andrew, who is generally quiet and sweet-natured, would have meltdowns at home and in the public.
Following the doctor’s advice, we started our frantic search for a vacancy in an early intervention program (EIP) school. In those days, such vacancies were very limited so even though the school was a long way from our home, we decided to enrol Andrew there.
That was how we started our journey into the world of autism.
Physically, Emotionally, Mentally Tired
During the early years, we were always tired as we were constantly juggling the demands of our full-time jobs and looking after Andrew. Sometimes he would cry hysterically in the middle of the night and we had to figure out what was wrong.
Each day was a challenge to walk in faith and believe that God has a plan for us. We would pray and hope for Andrew’s recovery although deep down inside, we knew there was no cure for autism. We were so tired. But we couldn’t stop working because we needed the money to pay for the many different therapies that Andrew needed.
Searching for Therapy
Besides attending pre-school class with Angie, we had to send Andrew for EIP therapy three times a week. We also needed to find speech and occupational therapy for Andrew. While we managed to secure speech therapy sessions at one centre, Andrew did not show signs of progress and we felt frustrated with the constant changes of therapists.
Eventually, the Centre closed the department and we had to repeat our search. After much effort, we finally found another speech therapist and Andrew began to show gradual improvement. Separately, Andrew also underwent occupational therapy for almost two years.
It takes a village to raise a child.
Buoyed by Community
By then we were already in a Love Circle, a community made up of married couples like us who attended the Marriage Encounter (ME) Weekend programme. Through our active participation in the Love Circle meetings and later as ME presenters, we grew tremendously in our spousal relationship, while experiencing support and encouragement in our struggles.
We learnt to express our innermost feelings, heartaches, pains and fears to each other and that relieved a lot of our burdens. We also grew so close to our Love Circle couples that we could cry and pray together, asking God for help and strength.
Beginning of New Phase
One afternoon when Andrew was five, we were blowing bubbles when suddenly he said “blow”. Tears welled up in our eyes. For the past two years, Andrew had worked daily at blowing bubbles and whistles, making letter sounds and desensitising his mouth. Soon, more words came and that was the start of another stage of development as he continued to improve on his speech.
In 2011, Andrew played the piano in a concert hall in front of an audience, an extremely difficult task for a nine-year-old child with autism. After the performance, he walked towards us and broke down from his pent-up fears and anxieties.
We were so proud of Andrew for persevering and coming so far in music. When Andrew was just six, he was labeled by a teacher as “someone with no hope of learning music”. All credit goes to his current music teacher who believed in Andrew and has been nurturing him since he was eight.
In May this year, Andrew represented his school and participated in the 9th Special Olympics Singapore National Games swimming events at the National University of Singapore (NUS). As part of the preparation and actual event, he had to stay in the NUS hostel.
Changes in environment are very difficult for persons with autism. We were so proud that Andrew was able to stay through and participated well in the events.
Andrew: second from the right
It takes a village to raise a child. Looking back, we are deeply grateful that Andrew has had teachers, relatives and friends who had and will continue to impact his life positively in big and small ways.
Through bringing up Andrew, Joseph and I have both grown in patience and love. Angie and Ansel, though younger, have also learnt to care for their elder brother in their own small ways. Seeing the children care and love one another deeply, what more can we ask for as parents?
Our greatest wish for Andrew is that he can integrate into society and live an independent and meaningful life, with little support from his siblings. While he is under our care, we will continue to love and provide for Andrew especially in his growing up years.