27 May 2014, by Tan Li Lin
I will, rather embarrassingly, admit a sad fact.
In my entire career as a coach – all 10 years, 2700-ish hours of it – I’ve met all SORTS of personalities, seen many quirks, heard so many secrets and gone through hundreds of personal histories, from the ones who barely speak to the ones who run the world.
However none of all these numbers account for any time at all spent with children with special needs (my younger brother doesn’t count, and neither am I referring to my nieces who sometimes have very special, random needs).
My path never really crossed with these little special peeps, until I recently landed a leadership coaching engagement with the VP of AWWA’s Special Education School. Our conversations about her work and aspirations gave me a glimpse into that world. Her dedication to the children and to raising special education standards around the region was really, really inspiring and I felt that I’m missing out on something. As a 30 year old, I felt compelled to understand this ‘new group’ of individuals I have not yet had the privilege to work with. At the mention of AWWA’s upcoming sports-day for the kids, I immediately jumped at the opportunity to volunteer and connect with these kids she speaks so fondly of.
24 April, 11am. I arrived at the AWWA School, along Lorong Napiri, decked out in green because I’d be joining the ‘Green’ House. By then, the morning session kids had already finished all their races – including running, wheelchair, swimming and relay. They were having a break before the Cheer competition. My client showed me around the school and called out to each kid by their name. I asked her,” Do you know all the children by their name?!”, to which she (I’d bet she’d roll her eyes if she could) replied “Of course! All 260 of them.”
Say what! Hats off to her. I can’t imagine looking after 260 kids. I don’t think I can even recall 260 client names.
I was led into a classroom to meet the group of kids who are part of the Green house I’d be joining. Before my nieces came along, my ‘anti-kid aura’ repelled anything that was below knee height – and that wasn’t furry. Then the Cho babies came along and changed all that – at least kids don’t cry around me now, and vice versa. In fact, I found myself automatically, quite naturally, chatting with the kids about their drawings.
As we walked out towards the main hall to prepare for the Cheer event, one teacher entrusted this little rascal to me and said “Just look after him okay! He can get quite naughty.”
I look down at this cute bugger, grinning up at me, with a head a little too big for his body.
“Now, if he see him go into seizures, just make sure he’s not climbing and ask him to get down.”
WHAT. This woman was unbelievably calm, in contrast to how my whole family was in shock for several hours from my sis’s recent 30 second seizure. I was traumatized for days on end, and now I’m supposed to ‘just tell him not to climb’. He was of course oblivious to the warning, grabbed my hand and tugged me towards the direction of the lift, and ZZzzzoooooooooooommm he was off, running so fast he fell face first onto the floor. The teacher warned him that he’s not wearing his knee pads and he’ll break his bones. I stared at his ankles the size of my wrist. I gulped. He picked himself up and grinned at me. I guess this is everyday-normal.
In another corner, a tallish, otherwise quiet boy would burst into random laughter fits and jump on the spot at the same time. I couldn’t help but smile. He reminds me of the Maasai People (an African tribe known for jumping up and down in dance). I had a feeling today would be a great day.
Down in the school hall, everyone was in their colored houses and costumes. The teachers and assistants led their houses into cheers. I was mesmerized by their dedication. It must take so much from them everyday. What is it that drives them? Could it be anything other than passion? How do they overcome their impatience and tiredness?
Then came the parents-child race. It was amusing to witness the parents trying to keep up with their kids. Their smiles were heart-warming, but their silent pride was deeply moving. Did these parents have to give up everything they knew and thought parenthood would be, to keep up with a special needs child? What challenges did they go through to find the kind of peace they experience today? How much tears and frustration are behind those smiles and laughter?
The questions were really humbling, and I felt a sense of peace amidst the noise. I just soaked in the love, struggle and pride I was witnessing. As much as these children faced societal ‘limitations’, it felt like there were less boundaries here. Everyone was allowed to truly, be their unique self. Parents and teachers found new, bigger ways of loving and caring, which seemed to feed into their souls. Love and Suffering know no boundaries, much less here – but the difference is that these are embraced wholeheartedly in this environment, in contrast to our ‘normal’ schools that seem to suppress any true expression of the very same values; where Love comes in a strict, almost contorted form called Expectations, and any display of Suffering is shunned, laughed at, or brushed away. But yet, aren’t these normal human experiences? I watch in awe as these children behave naturally, and their uniqueness truly shining. I think in envy – are these kids more free than we are? How much have societal norms squashed our uniqueness and milked us of our freedom to ‘just be’? What really is normal?
The special morning with the AWWA kids and parents really set me thinking about what Life would be like raising a special-needs child. Undoubtedly it would be challenging, and because I’m only planning to have children ‘considerably later than advised’, this is really a scenario I have to start thinking about now instead of ‘when it happens, should it happen’. Am I scared? Of course. I try to imagine that moment I find out my child isn’t superbly healthy, and I won’t be sure if I can take it. That’s why I think it’s important to consider this aspect now (Here’s some enlightening information on Female Fertility). My mom was almost 40 when she gave birth to my brother, and he had some complications with brain fluid. Luckily, everything turned out well, but my Dad would occasionally recall the moment they pulled my bro out and “he was blue”. Yeah. Must’ve been a harrowing experience for my parents rushing him to the surgeons to stick a tube into his little skull.
At least, I’ve had a glimpse of this very special world that day, and as a parent-to-be, know that there is Hope from the love of many others in a very supportive community.
I’ve learnt that life doesn’t end when you’re not ‘part of the norm’ (what’s that anyway?My siblings and I turned out so differently we probably think each other is somehow abnormal) – for it is up to the parents, families and teachers of each and every child to create that special environment that suits them best.
Lin Tan is an Entrepreneur and an Executive Coach who dedicates more time to making society a better place over making babies (for now). Follow her blog on ilovechildren.sg/blog and journey with her as she embarks on all things ‘life after 30′.