Help pours in for man with 5 Down syndrome children

SINGAPORE - He has had offers of help from the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth and the Down Syndrome Association.

They have also approached Mr Zakaria Abdul, 77, to offer assistance and advice to admit his five grown-up children into homes.

The oldest is 55 and the youngest is 44, and all of them have Down syndrome. But Mr Zakaria is mulling the offers of aid.

That's because for the past 55 years, the proud man has been caring for them on his own with little financial help.

Mr Zakaria works as a freelance surveyor and earns about $2,000 monthly. The family live a simple life in a three-room flat in Tampines.

His wife, a housewife, died in 2000 from complications due to diabetes. She was 69.

Since his story appeared in The New Paper on Oct 11, Mr Zakaria and his children have been receiving donations and offers of help, even from the public ( Read full report here ).

Though it has been increasingly hard on him after he suffered his third heart attack in two years last month, he is reluctant to hand over his "duties".

Mr Zakaria also has thyroid disease and has to constantly shuttle between Singapore General Hospital and Changi General Hospital for check-ups in recent months.

And his children can be a handful.

Two weeks ago, two of them, Ms Rashidah and Mr Hassan, were sent to the Institute of Mental Health (IMH).

Fighting and screaming 

Fighting and screaming

Mr Rugiman, 59, his neighbour who has been helping him, previously said that he felt that it was time for Mr Zakaria to get professional help for his children.

His neighbours Mr Rugiman and his wife, Madam Tuminah Salim, 60, and Mr Aziz Ali, 60, visit Mr Zakaria's three-room flat in Tampines every weekday morning.

For more than 10 years, they have been helping with cleaning the house and feeding the children when Mr Zakaria is at work.

"Two of them, the eldest and the fourth, take turns to use the toilet, and they spend hours inside each time. I don't know what they are doing inside," he said.

"The eldest son and the daughter are also problematic. When their father was in the hospital, they kept screaming at night, disturbing the neighbours."

Mr Zakaria said: "Recently, they've been fighting with one another. Neighbours were starting to complain because of the screaming. I miss them, but sending them to IMH couldn't be avoided."

Though it's not something he wanted, he admits things have improved at home.

His neighbours agree that the change is for the better. Mr Rugiman Supaat said: "The house is cleaner and more peaceful now. The two of them were very problematic."

Hospital visits

Hospital visits

Since the two were admitted to IMH, the neighbours have been visiting them at the hospital. But the neighbours advised the father to avoid visiting the children until they have settled in.

Mr Zakaria will be heading to IMH to discuss further arrangements with the doctors on Wednesday.

Mr Rugiman said: "Mr Aziz and I went to visit because we miss them. Rashidah kept saying that she wanted to go home, but I told her she can't do so."

The rest of Mr Zakaria's children, Mr Shariff, Mr Akbar and Mr Rijal, are still living with him. "At least there is still someone around him (Mr Zakaria)," Mr Rugiman said.

But time might be running out for the devoted father.

Mr Zakaria said: "I cannot drive any more. My chest feels heavy and I cannot sit down for too long. I might have no choice but to stop working soon. "

Older mum, higher risk

DOWN syndrome is a genetic condition which occurs universally across race and gender in about one in 800 births, according to the Down Syndrome Association of Singapore (DSA).

Gynaecologist Christopher Ng said the most common cause of Down syndrome is related to the mother's age - the older the mother, the higher the risk.

"It is due to an error during cell division which results in an extra 21st chromosome that leads to Down syndrome," he said.

"But in this case, since all five children have Down syndrome, it could be the inherited form of Down syndrome, which is rarer.

Defective gene

"Although a person with the defective gene may appear physically normal, he or she has a greater risk of producing a child with an extra 21st chromosome."

The DSA said that early and accurate diagnosis with appropriate treatment and follow-up allows people with Down syndrome to live a healthy and longer life in the same manner as it would allow people without it.

The DSA offers services for both adults and children.

The Adult Enhancement Programme is targeted at persons with intellectual disabilities who have graduated from special schools at the age of 18.

It aims to help them become more independent and productive in life.

The Mental Capacity Act

Parents of intellectually disabled children can appoint caregivers to take over the role of looking after the children if the parents die or become mentally incapacitated.

These caregivers, to be known as "deputies", will have to be vetted by the court, under the Mental Capacity Act.

The Act, which took effect on March 1, 2010, aims to give Singaporeans a say over who will look after them if they lose their mind to dementia, illnesses oraccidents.

In both cases, the guardians will be allowed to make decisions concerning the day-to-day welfare, medical, money and property matters of their charges.

But guardians will be barred from taking decisions such as making or revoking a Central Provident Fund nomination, or an Advanced Medical Directive.

From April 1 last year to March 31 this year, there were 225 court orders appointing 344 deputies. Eleven per cent of these cases involved developmental psychiatric disorders.

linheng@sph.com.sg


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