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Removing the Obstacles To Learning

Removing the Obstacles To Learning

Christina 1

When Christina’s younger daughter, Edena (then 6), was diagnosed with dyslexia in 2009, she was determined to look for an intervention programme that could help her catch up with her reading age within the shortest time possible. She and her husband also decided to defer Edena’s Primary 1, as they saw how low her confidence was. They wanted to do what they could to give her the necessary interventions before the demands of the mainstream curriculum overwhelmed her.

Christina found the solution in the Davis Dyslexia Correction Programme (DDCP), a holistic approach to correcting dyslexia developed by Ronald D. Davis. He is also author of the books, The Gift of Dyslexia and The Gift of Learning. Being autistic and dyslexic himself, Ron figured out how to overcome his severe dyslexia and taught himself to finally read and enjoy a book without struggling at the age of 38. Ron subsequently opened a centre in California in 1982 to help children and adults overcome their learning difficulties.

The DDCP is an individualised, one-to-one correction programme given on an intensive schedule over 30 hours by a Davis Facilitator. It adopts a strength based approach by working with what a dyslexic can do, as opposed to what they cannot. Christina witnessed Edena’s transformation, going from hardly recognizing most words taught to being able to read a short paragraph by the end of the programme. This has not only met but exceeded Christina’s expectations.

For the next one year, Christina continued working with Edena using the Davis tools and techniques. By the time Edena returned to school a year later, she had a new found confidence. Now 17, Edena is pursuing her studies in junior college. This would not have been possible if not for the timely intervention and support from family, teachers and friends.

The journey from suspecting that Edena might have some learning difficulties, to seeking out professionals for advice, to researching and selecting the intervention programme, had been a daunting but enriching experience. While Christina has the desire to help other parents in similar situations, it is her conviction that to be in a position to provide guidance and support to other parents, she needs to have gone through the experience, successfully remediated the problem and be sufficiently well versed with the subject matter.

Hence she decided to dive into special needs education, first completing a Diploma in Disability Studies and later getting trained as a Davis Facilitator. Christina subsequently set up a Dyslexia Group on Facebook, with the mission to create more awareness about dyslexia and to help parents navigate their journey.

Contrary to what most people think, Christina shares that dyslexia is not a complexity but a combination of a few factors that can be tackled step by step. She explains that the symptoms of dyslexia are actually symptoms of disorientation. Disorientation is a state of mind where mental perceptions are not in agreement (i.e. distorted) with the true facts and conditions in the environment. When a dyslexic is sufficiently confused, he will react by disorientating spontaneously, thereby leading to perceptual distortion which results in mistakes made when reading, spelling or writing. Dyslexics therefore need a way to ‘turn off’ the disorientation at will.

But what caused the confusion? Basically, when a dyslexic encounters certain symbols, and all words are symbols (as are alphabet, punctuation marks, speech sounds, math symbols and numerals), they get confused by those symbols whose meaning they cannot picture. Dyslexics tend to think primarily in pictures, as opposed to thinking in words. Because of the way they think, whenever they come across symbols whose meaning they cannot picture, confusion sets in and once that threshold for confusion is reached, they will disorientate and mentally move around to ‘see’ from different viewpoints and angles in order to figure out what that symbol is.

To illustrate, take for example a simple math question – subtract 20 from 100. The majority of children can easily tackle this question, but not so straightforward to a dyslexic. High frequency or common sight words such as ‘from’, ‘by’, ‘the’, ‘if’, etc often caused confusion for dyslexics as they cannot picture the meaning of these words. A child may be able to recognise and pronounce the word ‘from’, but if he does not know the meaning, he would not know how to begin solving the math problem.

After much drilling and repetition to no avail to help the child understand the question, the child is then told by a well-meaning parent or tutor that whenever he sees such questions, he just needs to minus the smaller number with the bigger number. In so doing, the child is taught rote learning, rather than have real understanding or true mastery of the subject.

To resolve the confusion with the word ‘from’, the child needs to master the word in all its three parts ie what the word means (a picture representing the concept/idea of the meaning), what it looks like (the spelling of the word) and how it sounds (the pronunciation of the word). Once the child masters the word ‘from’, which means ‘starting with, beginning at’, the child can now think with the words in the question. So subtract 20 from 100 means he has to start with, begin at (ie from) 100, and then take away 20. Visually, he would be able to put 100 down on paper, followed by the minus sign and 20 below 100 and then do his workings to get to the answer.

There are 219 high frequency words that typically trigger disorientation for a dyslexic. These non-picture words make up about 75% of words on a page. By mastering these trigger words, the source of confusion will be eliminated and they will not trigger disorientation. Therefore, when we remove the reason why a problem exists, the problem ceases to exist!

Examples of word mastery done by a dyslexic 6-year-old using clay (Photo courtesy of Christina Tan)
In addition to her role as a Davis Facilitator and founder of the Dyslexia Group, Christina is also one of CaringSG’s CAREconnect champions who support fellow special needs caregivers. She has this to say to caregivers of children with dyslexia: “Dyslexia is a learning difference, not lack of intelligence. To receive a dyslexia diagnosis, the person’s IQ needs to be at least in the normal range. Ron himself was initially tested to have low IQ and was labelled as ‘uneducatably mentally retarded’ at the age of 12, but was later discovered to have an extremely high IQ of 137. People do not outgrow dyslexia, so do not wait to get help for your children. The earlier you identify the issues, the sooner your child can receive help. With the right intervention, a dyslexic can overcome their challenges and excel in life. No matter which stage of the journey you are at now, if you are looking for guidance or support, please do not hesitate to reach out to me.”

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From One Special Dad To Another

From One Special Dad To Another

I’m a special dad. For 14 years, I’ve walked through the journey you’re experiencing now. 

The thing is that no one really tells you what to do, and old school men like me don’t really ask because we feel we have the responsibility of being the provider of the family come what may. 

You may be starting to accept your child’s diagnosis, or searching for elusive answers with Google. But nothing can help you as much as being with other special dads, knowing you’re not the only one trying to make sense of the turbulence ahead. 

As one special dad to another, this is what I think you should prepare for. 

1. Planning Finances 

Having a special needs child can mean redesigning our whole life for therapy schedules, doctor visits, tests and other related appointments. 

Besides the financial strain due to these extra costs, some special dads (or our wives) have to give up career progression or quit altogether to accompany our child to appointments. 

Suddenly we have a double whammy — higher expenses and lower household income. 

In my earlier years, I had held fast to some simple accounting principles of ensuring I invested and diversified the money I earned. I left the purchase of cars, clothing and holidays to a later date because I had an extended family that impressed upon me on what I needed to do when I grew up.        

Today we have the internet, financial consultants, and even government portals such as MoneySense to advise the best for our needs at different stages of our lives. I would encourage you to reach out and use these avenues so that we can educate ourselves enough to be able to help our families. 

2. Managing wife’s expectations

There will be days where your relationship with your wife may become strained due to the stress of caring for your special needs child. 

Not everything has to be an equal game. Everyone has strengths at different points of time. 

Look at things objectively. If your wife is in a better position to put bread on the table, could you step up and be a hands-on father to your special needs child? This is what I decided to do five years ago when my son grew bigger and needed a more present father.

Our marriage is still a “work in progress”. We deal with challenges and each other’s sensitivities the best we can. There are so many permutations to getting it to work and there is no “best” or “logical process” to make it work. Every day presents new challenges and opportunities. 

I’ve learned that no matter how angry, sad, disappointed or let down I feel, I don’t need to take it to heart, and I try my best to be empathic. Even this may not work all the time, so I then take it as life’s journey. We can still choose to see how we can make things work better and learn from the experience. 

This makes for a happier “me”, and a happier “me” can then back down, smile and not let the situation escalate further unnecessarily.

3. Do I have to solve everything?

We men have an innate habit of going into problem-solving mode. But special needs isn’t something you can cure away. 

That said, there are some things that you can solve, such as planning ahead, creating a safe space for your family to walk this journey together, and spending time on self-care for yourself.

For everything else that is out of your hands, learn how to adjust and outsource to experts. For example, Centre For Fathering runs programmes for fathers on parenting and adventure camps to promote bonding with your child.

4. Be prepared to start from ground zero

As we learn from scratch how to become a father when our first child is born, we also start from ground zero when we first realise we are special needs dads.

Centre For Fathering has a growing community of special needs dads who have walked in your shoes and know what it’s like. 

Find your tribe and take it step by step.

Anand 3

5. Making the best of what we have

When life throws us lemons, make lemonade. 

Being a special dad ironically came with blessing to me. I discovered I have so many untapped skills as a father and that our special child brings out in us. 

In my years of being a father, I feel I was accorded the privilege of being a father to a special needs child simply because my son has made me a more resilient, patient, emotionally connected father. This is something I wasn’t always (and to a large degree) felt capable of doing.

Anand 4

About Anand Lal and the Centre For Fathering’s Special Dads Group:

Anand Lal is a special dad to a fourteen-year old son with intellectual disabilities and apraxia. He quit his full-time job five years ago to spend more time with his son, such as taking him on adventure trips and indulging in swimming, his favourite activity. Anand has also upgraded his skills to become an Inclusive and Neuro Diverse Water Safety and Swimming Coach, and actively volunteers at the Centre For Fathering’s Special Dads Group.

Anand is also a CaringSG CAREconnect champion and is the Head of CAREbuddy.

All photos courtesy of Anand Lal.

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Bringing Hope at MIJ Hub

Bringing Hope at MIJ Hub

Featured photo: Mohammad Ali Dawood and Faraliza Zainal at MIJ Hub’s 3D printing station (Photo courtesy of MIJ Hub)

Located on the third and fourth storeys of a commercial building at 168 Changi Road, MIJ (My Inspiring Journey) Hub Ltd is a cumulation of sacrifice and hard work by Faraliza Zainal and her husband, Mohammad Ali Dawood.

 

From left: Mohammad Ali Dawood, Faraliza Zainal, and their son, Ashraf (Photo courtesy of MIJ Hub)

It began when their son, Ashraf, was diagnosed with a rare disease, tuberous sclerosis, when he was just 18 months, and suffered from epilectic attacks as he grew older till today. When he was three, he was diagnosed with autism and sensory processing disorder, which means the brain has trouble receiving and responding to information that comes in through the senses, and at one time, he wouldn’t stop eating until he vomited as he couldn’t feel that he was full.

He struggled with meltdowns and was bullied in Primary 3. One day, some classmates threw a bucket of water over him, which gave him so much trauma he had to crawl back into class by the back door. His parents then decided to transfer him to a private school, followed by Pathlight School where he took his PSLE.

Although he was able to move on to vocational training, he was more keen to do more studies that relate to faith.

In 2010, Faraliza took a leap of faith to quit her job and become a special needs educator, taking up short courses on behaviour management, alternative therapy, and movement therapy to help her son, Ashraf, continue his education. She and her husband even sold their private property to raise funds to start a school for him and other special needs kids.

While looking for a classroom, she and her husband encountered numerous rejections until Sultan Mosque agreed to let MIJ have a space, where they started MIJ Hub with 15 students. Today, MIJ Hub now serves almost 300 individuals with special needs across three centres.

With MIJ Hub and the launch of Ashraf’s Cafe in 2018 and MoAsh in 2020, Ashraf has bloomed into a young man who has not only found the balance he needed in his education, but also thrives in a job with an environment that is inclusive of his needs.

Special needs employees at Ashraf’s Cafe serve customers a variety of local and western food, cakes, pastries and drinks
How does MIJ Hub create a welcoming space for students?

Taking one example, the MIJ Hub at Changi Road has been purposefully furnished to cater to students with special needs from various backgrounds.

On the same level as the preschool and student care, MIJ Hub has carved out space for a cosy library, and an even bigger space for a gym fitted with a rock-climbing wall, trampoline and various gym equipment.

MIJ Hub’s gym is kitted with a rock wall
Padding ensures children play safely, with natural lighting coming in from the windows
An MIJ student and parent participating in a bonding workshop conducted by Faraliza at the MIJ’s gym (Photo courtesy of MIJ Hub)

On a weekly basis since 2016, Evolve MMA has volunteered to conduct fun fit programs for MIJ’s students. MIJ also runs paid art therapy and expressive classes for adult students conducted by Acting Up as part of the adult programs.

Faraliza also meets her teachers on a monthly basis to discuss each and every single student, to understand their challenges and brainstorm how to help the student as a team. 

At the top level, MIJ Hub runs adult classes, with stations for different skill sets neatly spaced out for practice and also for MIJ’s employees with special needs to complete their tasks.

Step by step recipes are provided for students to follow when making corporate gifts
An MIJ student making a corporate gift following the step-by-step recipe (Photo courtesy of MIJ Hub)
Top International Holding donated a 3D printer for MIJ Hub students to create their own 3D prints
Students learn basic housekeeping skills, along with other employability skills

MIJ Hub has branched out into complementary service offerings, such as:


INSPO by Ashraf’s Cafe: This brand provides individual and corporate customers with products and services which are created by employees with special needs who require moderate to low needs and are unable to fit in the open employment market.

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Faraliza showcases a popular product from Inspo - unpitted organic dates (kurma)

Work Readiness Adult Programme (WRAP): WRAP prepares students with learning differences for job readiness and jobs that they are capable of doing.

fara (4)
Standing, from left: Mohammad Ali Dawood with Mayor Fahmi Aliman at MIJ Hub’s showcase of its Work Readiness Adult Program (WRAP). Photo courtesy of MIJ Hub.
  • Bridging Program: This program provides an appropriate bridge to meet the various needs of young learners with learning differences, to ease their transition into the primary level.

Faraliza’s hope for the future is for MIJ Hub to attain ECDA licensing, so that caregivers are able to obtain subsidies for their children’s monthly fees. Currently, MIJ Hub charges fees which are below their operating costs, and depends heavily on donations to fund the balance.

To support fellow special needs caregivers with emotional support, Faraliza has signed up with CaringSG to be trained as a volunteer CAREbuddy. She encourages fellow caregivers like her to take good care of ourselves; physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, in order to take care of others.  With positive well-being, we can continue to feel a sense of purpose and lead a fulfilling and meaningful life.

About MIJ Hub

MIJ Hub is a non-profit organisation that provides school readiness, student care, intervention and enrichment programs plus employment opportunities for individuals with learning differences or special care (e.g. Autism, ADHD, Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome and Developmental Delay) ranging from 4 to 30 years old. The school now serves almost 300 individuals via 6 different Special Education programs provided at 3 centres located across Singapore – Changi Road, Jurong, and Woodlands.

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The Auditor Who Became a Professional Kaypoh (busybody)

The Auditor Who Became a Professional Kaypoh (busybody)

“Do you know what my nickname is?” said Edward Chan, a special dad to two autistic girls.

“I’m known as ‘Kaypoh’ (busybody),” he proudly shared over coffee with CaringSG.

Quitting his job to save his daughter

Edward was once an internal auditor, flying to various countries for auditing stints that often stretched for at least a month. But this meant that he had little time to look after his two daughters (Yan Ling, 13, and Yan Yun, 10, this year) who are both studying in Pathlight.

Several years ago, when Yan Ling was in Primary Two, she really missed her dad especially during his long overseas trips. She was also struggling with academics and felt so stuck that one day, she just decided to sleep during her entire Semestral Assessment 1 (aka mid-year examinations), hoping this would draw her dad’s attention towards her.

It worked, and Edward quit his job to take on a local role which he thought would allow him to spend more time with her. However her progress was not consistent and his new job required him to burn weekends to clear projects. 

Taking advice from the psychologist and social worker that the parent who is closer to Yan Ling should spend more time with her, Edward decided to trade his full time job to become a Private Hire Driver so he had more flexibility.

During her Primary Three school holidays until today, he invested his newfound time to build up a routine and work closely with Yan Ling on improving the gaps she struggled with. She has progressed through her Foundation years and is taking PSLE this year.

Edward also finds time to volunteer with CASPER, organising talks for special needs families and participating in initiatives with other caregiver support groups, including joining CaringSG’s CAREconnect volunteer team, earning him the nickname of ‘Kaypoh’, or someone who is a busybody.

Finding that he isn’t alone

Although it seems like Edward has always been actively volunteering, it wasn’t always this way.

When Yan Ling was first diagnosed with autism, he went through a period of denial.

“Denial will be there, it’s just how long only. Don’t blame yourself, and be frank with your family. Family support is very important,” he advised caregivers who have just learnt their dependent has special needs. He and Beverly started their special needs journey without any support group at first, relying on his mother to help send Yan Ling to EIPIC intervention during her preschool years.

In 2013, a parent whom he knew asked him if he was attending a CASPER forum. Although he had heard about CASPER, he did not apply to join until this parent mentioned the forum.

“CASPER was set up in 2011 by special needs parents who were the first few batches to attend KKH’s Signpost course. They got the support of KKH’s Department of Child Development to start this support group, provide a venue, and speakers for talks for special needs parents,” Edward said.

When he and Beverly registered and attended the forum, they realised they were not alone.

Edward greatly appreciated that the CASPER talks he attended also came with a parent Care and Share session, which he said helped him a lot especially hearing from other special needs parents how they lived their lives as caregivers.

In 2013, he was invited to join the core team, who wanted to bring more topics other than school readiness to special needs parents. Besides inviting several speakers outside KKH, CASPER connected with SG Enable in 2015. This partnership helped CASPER to link up with The Law Society of Singapore, which gave a pro bono talk on wills for caregivers.

CASPER continues to organise forums and share resources via its secret Facebook group. 

About CASPER

CASPER, a secret Facebook group, was created as a safe haven for all special needs caregivers to share information and thoughts. It works with the KKH Department of Child Development and other partners to run talks and activities for special needs children and their caregivers. 

About CAREconnect

Edward, who volunteers with CASPER, has also joined CaringSG as a CAREconnect lead. 

With his help, special needs caregivers can participate in our CAREconnect program jointly organised by CaringSG’s caregiver and professional volunteers, which include: 

  • CAREconnect webinars, forums and respite events build your caregiving knowledge, skills and personal resilience. 
  • CAREconnect family activities help you bond with your child and other special needs families. 
  • CAREconnect social and inclusive activities connect you with other caregivers and your neighbourhood.

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I wish…if I could turn back the clock…

I wish...if I could turn back the clock...

“I wish…if I could turn back the clock, I would be more accepting of my son’s condition, and not push him and myself the way I did, with so much therapy and extreme desperation on my part, to see him improve….”

“I wish…if I could turn back the clock, one of the things I would like to do is to spend more quality time coaching and involving my son with real life daily activities rather than rushing around to fill him up with various therapy and classes.”

“I wish…if I could turn back the clock, I would start talking to more parents and be open to more options and activities for my children. Rather than keeping to myself.”

“I wish…if I could turn back the clock, I would give my son more hugs, more love, more understanding. I would make him feel that he is unconditionally accepted and that he is a blessing.”

“I wish…if I could turn back the clock, I would stop working and be with my boy.”

“I wish…if I could turn back the clock, I’d be more relaxed with my son, bringing him out to play a lot more than being cooped up at home feeling overwhelmed. I would teach him life skills instead of trying to meet academic demands, journey with other SN mums more, and pray more.  Jia you everyone!”

“I wish…if I could turn back the clock ,I would spend a lot more time teaching my daughter life skills that can lead to self care independence, like bathing, washing clothes, folding clothes, general cleaning (if her abilities can match up) rather than on academic programs like reading and writing skills which she still could not. Regardless what program your child is in, having a joyful time interacting purposefully with your child is what matters + caregiver’s self care. (My daughter has moderate-severe autism, non-verbal with a bit of hypotonicity)”

“I wish…if I could turn back the clock, I would let her start taking up household responsibilities at a much younger age at 5 years old. Let her wash her plastic cups, plates etc. I let her do her laundry using a washing machine at age 10. Believe your child can start early even though it may be messy a bit. They can do it. Just slow and not perfect.”

“I wish…if I could turn back the clock, I wish I had started earlier with XX but instead he was given so much entitlement and we were putting him into many classes, performances to occupy and engage him. In some ways it may be good but some ways may not be. It would be better if I could slow down and understand, support and coach him on a daily basis to help him achieve the necessary skills. We have lost some years but there is no looking back. This pandemic clearly helped us realise many areas to improve.”

If you could turn back the clock, what advice would you give your younger self?

Special thanks to Hope for the Journey (HOJ) for the sharing. Featured photo from pxhere.

Previous post: Why did Dr Lim Hong Huay decide to start CaringSG? Read more here.

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I Believe

With my kids and special needs families at purple parade in 2018

“This is going to be really tough. What makes you think you all can pull this (CaringSG and project 3i) through?” The icy question from a social service sector veteran pierced my soul as I searched deep in my heart for an answer……one that I will not be ashamed to give to my maker one day.

I believe in Him who called me……who has and will make all things beautiful in His time and for His name.

I believe in my fellow caregivers……who faithfully journeys with me and many others for years, even when it was in the unearthly hours when I was at my lowest.

I believe in my fellow colleagues and allies, who like me, have entered the disability sector with a heart of passion, and despite our myriad battle scars, have stayed on and kept going on, come what may.

CaringSG will realise our vision of “One Life. One Family. One community.” because we value every caregiver and child’s life as a unique whole irrespective of our differences. We believe in supporting every family to be healthy and happy throughout life course. We believe in a united special needs community in an inclusive Singapore.

Let’s join hands and hold each other up in this caregiving journey. The birthing is difficult. We will overcome. The building is arduous. We will conquer. The harvest is plentiful. We will labour joyfully. Through blood, sweat and tears, CaringSG will arise triumphantly. Not from pride in numbers but humility in service.

10 years on, 20 years on, I know I will look back and say, “ I am so thankful I believed.”

This post was written by Dr Lim Hong Huay, CaringSG Board Chair and Project 3i Lead, on why she founded CaringSG.

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