When Ignatius was 20 months old, his parents, Jocelyn Sim and Vincent Low, first suspected that their little boy could be autistic.
They researched autism on the Internet. “The more we found out, the more frightening it was for us,” she admits.
“I was devastated when the doctor confirmed that Ignatius had autism,” she says. “It was initially difficult for me to accept it. There were times when I did not know what to do. I was so frustrated that I wanted to end my life.”
“But my mother told me that I could not die. She asked me to think about who would take care of Ignatius if I died?”
“As Catholics, we also know the value of life,” she added.
Jocelyn’s faith and family support helped them through immensely difficult times.
Jocelyn was honest in her prayers, asking “Why God, did this happen to me?” She shed many tears and did not hold back in pouring her heart out. Slowly, she emerged from despair, accepting her son for who he was.
“Many parents do not reach the stage of acceptance,” says Jocelyn. “This makes it very painful for the parent and the child.”
“No child wants to be born like this. Parents have to learn to accept their child. Otherwise, it is hard for them to move on in life.”
Embracing Ignatius for who he was, Jocelyn and Vincent wasted no time in sending him for early intervention programmes. At home, they also came up with activities to help him learn.
At 3, to develop strong lungs and improve his speech, Ignatius had to learn how to blow out a candle. Jocelyn formed a plasticine cake, lit a candle on it and sang a birthday song every day for one year just to encourage Ignatius to blow it out.
Jocelyn was elated when one day, out of the blue, Ignatius blew on a bowl of hot porridge to cool it down.
“I was so happy when he could blow out candles that I bought four birthday cakes for him that year!” she exclaims.
As parents, Jocelyn and Vincent celebrate Ignatius’ every achievement, no matter how small they are. They are thankful for every step he takes.
Ignatius attended Margaret Drive Special School. He was generally happy, affectionate, enjoyed being hugged and kissed by his parents and easy to take care of.
His tantrums and meltdowns however, caused them unspeakable distress as he would bang his head on the wall out of frustration. Ignatius however, always said sorry Jocelyn after every meltdown.
His parents never gave up on him -they sang songs with him, spoke to him, and kept teaching him new words. He was like a sponge, absorbing what they taught and showed him.
After Margaret Drive Special School, Ignatius attended MINDS School until he was 18. Unable to get into a sheltered workshop programme, the teenager spent his days at home without much to occupy him.
“I was so worried that he would regress,” said Jocelyn.
She was relieved to learn that Emmanuel Activity Centre (EAC) in Toa Payoh was nearby and promptly signed him up.
Ignatius started attending the COH in March 2015.
A New Beginning
Vincent and Jocelyn are grateful that Ignatius has matured, and is more able to regulate his emotions since joining the centre.
“From Day One, they made an effort to understand him. They teach from their heart. They do a tremendous work,” says Jocelyn.
She keeps in touch with COH Programme Staff Pauline and Harjit through Whatsapp, and is often pleasantly surprised when they report that Ignatius can do. “He is learning life skills like cleaning the table and washing his plate after meals.”
With his parents and teachers working tirelessly together, Ignatius is becoming increasingly independent.
“Never give up,” Jocelyn urges parents of children with special needs.
“Hope and pray for the best –the best outcome, and the best for your child,” says Vincent.
Also read: Meet Ignatius
About the Author: The COH Resource Team comprises volunteers, content writers and experts, including psychologists, counsellors, educators and social service professionals.