Mother's Day tale of sacrifice: Teaching her girl to move and write

Mother's Day tale of sacrifice: Teaching her girl to move and write
Gwen was born with profound developmental delay, affecting her both physically and mentally, but her mother Cassey refused to give up on her. She tried to encourage Gwen to take up sports through several programs, one being Runninghour. Now, Gwen can run 5km in under an hour, when she previously could not run more than 1km.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

While many mothers will receive flowers, gifts, dinner treat or a handwritten card from their children tomorrow, the best Mother's Day present for Ms Cassey Chia will, hopefully, come in a few years' time. Ms Chia is working hard to make sure that happens.

Her daughter, Gwendoline Chow, 19, has a condition called global developmental delay.

She struggles to write, for example, so Ms Chia is not bothered if she does not receive a card from Gwen, as she calls her daughter.

Her greatest gift would be the day when the young woman is able to live independently, said Ms Chia, 49.

"I can take care of her now, but then what happens when I'm gone?"

Ms Chow struggles with language and mobility skills. She also sees double or triple of everything as her eyes cannot focus properly to form a single image.

It results in poor coordination. She took her first step only at 2 1/2 years old, when most babies do it before they turn one.

"I cried a lot seeing her unable to move and there was nothing I could do," said Ms Chia.

She tried various therapies in Singapore but there was little improvement. Then she discovered a programme by the Institutes for Achievement of Human Potential, called What To Do With Your Brain-Injured Child, after reading a book by Mr Glenn Doman, its founder.

In 2002, when her daughter was 4 1/2 years old, Ms Chia, her husband and Ms Chow flew to Philadelphia in the US for two weeks and a programme was customised for the family.

The trip cost them a five-figure sum and they could afford only one trip.

Ms Chia had given up her job as a commodity trader. Her husband, Mr Raymond Chow, who works as a ground handler at Seletar Airport, was the sole breadwinner. But family, friends and anonymous donors chipped in to help the family make eight trips to Philadelphia.

It was the start of a lifelong commitment.

Mother and daughter would work at walking, music and learning patterns - sometimes till 9.30pm.

"It was difficult," said Ms Chia, tearing a little. "Sometimes you feel like you're all alone."

There was also guilt towards her other child, Marcus, who was then seven and often left in the care of the maid when the rest of the family went to Philadelphia.

Mr Marcus Chow, now 21 and in national service, respects and supports his mother's decisions and just hopes she stays healthy.

Meanwhile, the future looks promising for Ms Chow.

She has been running with Runninghour and is able to clock 5km in under 60 minutes.

Runninghour is a non-profit group that encourages people with special needs to run weekly by partnering them with able-bodied guides.

Ms Chow can also play simple songs on the piano after a year of hard work. She is also able to communicate using cards printed with letters of the alphabet.

For the first time since 2002, Ms Chia recently went for an outing with a friend.

Ms Chow is taking steps towards independence. Using her communication cards, she confidently spelled out three words to her mother: "I love you."

Help after disabled's caregivers die

It is important to care for people with disabilities, but what happens when their caregivers die? There are various services to help adults with special needs in such situations, ranging from different living arrangements to financial planning schemes.

If the disabled cannot be cared for in their own homes, they can live in community group homes, adult disability homes, or adult disability hostels.

The community group homes are designated Housing Board rental flats which have disabled-friendly features. Such homes are suitable for people who are employed and can live independently with other people who have special needs.

Adult disability homes provide long-term residential care, along with therapy and recreational activities. But admitting someone into such welfare homes is usually considered a last resort, and reports from professionals, such as social workers, are needed to apply.

The hostels are for people whose disabilities are less severe and thus do not need institutional care. Training in work and life skills is offered.

There are also financial plans that caregivers can consider to ensure their charges are supported, even after the caregivers are gone.

Caregivers can set up a trust fund with the Special Needs Trust Company, which disburses monthly payouts to cover the basic expenses of a person with special needs after their caregivers die. The trust fund requires $5,000 to start.

Parents can also set aside their Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings for their children with special needs under the Special Needs Savings Scheme.


This article was first published on May 7, 2016.
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