For this champion caregiver story, our Programme Head for Early Intervention Programme for Infants and Children and Continuing Therapy Programme, Ms Dawn Wee, talked to the vivacious Mdm Joan Ow, 45 (second from right) , mom to Natania Hwang, 10 (first from right), who has Autism Spectrum Disorder. Natania is currently receiving occupational therapy with the Continuing Therapy Programme at SPD Ability Centre. Here, Joan answers 10 questions and shares with us her biggest hurdle to date, what keeps her going and her wish for her daughter.
Q1: You are Natania’s biggest supporter. How did you face her condition early on?
I first brought Nat to the doctors when she was three and a half years old but they didn’t diagnose her at that time because they said she was too young. The doctor said at that time she could have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), and a whole list of other conditions. My initial thought was that none of these were diseases, and that they were just conditions. When she was six years old, Nat was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). I realised early on that the autism was not going to go away but I believed that with therapy, support and if given opportunities, she could be like any other child.
Q2: What was the best thing you did upon learning her condition?
I decided early on that I wanted to share that I have a child with ASD. When I shared, all of a sudden, I realised that I had a friend who was a psychologist. When you are willing to share what you are going through, you give others the opportunity to offer help and support. If you keep it a secret, you may not get the necessary help that people can offer.
Q3: What has been your biggest hurdle to date?
The biggest hurdle I’ve had to overcome was that Nat’s father and I were not on the same page when she was diagnosed. While I was ready to accept her condition and move forward, he was not. He refused to accept and acknowledge that she has a condition. He thought she would grow out of it and therefore, he didn’t see a need for doctors and therapy. I had to face this alone in the beginning.
Q4. How did you overcome this?
I overcame this by accepting our differences in opinions. Since he didn’t want to face it, I decided that I would do everything I needed to for Nat.
Q5. How did you get started with helping Natania?
I started by investing a lot of time looking for as much information as I could. Sometimes I read a book and learned nothing but then I would read another book and learned two strategies. I also spent a lot of time “talking” to Mr. Google and learning through trial and error.
We have also been through speech therapy and now Nat sees an occupational therapist. I learn the strategies from the therapist, practice them at home with her, upskill her sister and her caregivers, and work very closely with her teachers every year.
Q6. You are currently seeing an occupational therapist with our Continuing Therapy Programme (CTP). How has this programme helped you and Natania?
CTP has helped Nat and me by allowing us to have a place to turn to when we need information and strategies to help her. The regular weekly sessions are also important to keep track of Nat’s progress and identify any new difficulties that surface as she gets older. Therapists are like our life lines and I appreciate having someone to reach out to when I need help and support for Nat.
Q7. It can be overwhelming to look after a child with special needs. How do you cope?
Having a job has been quite a life saver! I’m currently a teacher. When I am at work I am “resting”. When I get home I do my job as a mother. There are times I get demoralised and I need someone to motivate me to keep going. During these low moments, I give myself a time-out and ask my husband to take over because if not I will become a screaming mess. Adults need time-outs as much as children so no one gets hurt.
Q8. Can you share some tips for parenting a child with autism?
I have four tips. Establish trust with your child. Set clear expectations. Set boundaries. Have consequences. And one last thing: offer solutions. In other words, the child needs to understand that there are expectations and boundaries set for them, for example, finishing homework within a stipulated time, and there will be consequences if they do not meet these expectations. However, parents would be there to guide and help the child meet these expectations.
Q9. Please complete the sentence, “My ultimate wish for Natania is….”
My ultimate wish for Nat is for her to happy and independent, where she doesn’t need financial aid from me or my husband, is able to stand on her own and isn’t a liability to anyone else.
Q10. Do you have anything else you would like to share with us?
I am happy to speak to any parent who has questions or needs support. Please get in touch anytime. I am always willing to offer a listening ear.
Thanks so much for sharing, Joan, and for inspiring us to keep at it and never give up!