This is a story about a close knitted family of three who depends on one another for strength and hope in spite of the many obstacles life had thrown in their path. In their journey as parents of a child with special needs, they were empowered and found a renewed purpose in supporting other parents who found themselves in the same predicament.
Mr Tan is unable to work because of his poor health hence his wife is the sole breadwinner in the family. There was also no support available for them from their extended families. Despite the difficulties, both Mr and Mrs Tan are dedicated and loving parents, who are determined to provide the best for their child, Ocean. Ocean has been attending the Fei Yue Early Intervention Programme for Infants and Children (EIPIC) since early 2018.
When Ocean was 18 months old, his parents were concerned about his development as he was still unable to speak. He threw tantrums and hitting himself whenever he was unable to express and request for his needs and wants. Ocean’s parents shared that they found it difficult to understand what he was trying to communicate to them. When the doctor at the polyclinic shared the possibility of Ocean having some speech delay, his parents were prompted to seek further advice from a paediatrician in NUH’s Child Development Unit. In November 2017, Ocean was diagnosed with Global Developmental Delay and was thus referred to Fei Yue EIPIC.
Initially, when Ocean’s mother first observed him in his class where there were four other children, she expressed her reservations about how effective intervention would be, as she saw the extensive needs the other children required. She was also worried about the possibility of him picking new habits leading to the worsening of his condition. Hence, she entertained the thought of relying on both her husband and herself to provide the intervention Ocean needed. In addition to that, she had concerns about the possible social stigma Ocean would carry if he were to attend an Early Intervention Centre, and wondered if he could adapt to a new environment. However, her husband convinced her to give early intervention a try and expressed confidence in the abilities and
professionalism of the teachers and therapists here. When asked about the reason for his openness to EIPIC, Ocean’s father said, “There must be a reason why the doctors in NUH had recommended Fei Yue EIPIC. Trust the teachers and therapists. They are the ones who can best help Ocean improve.”
When Ocean first started intervention in Fei Yue, he cried throughout the session and found it difficult to understand verbal instructions to participate in routines. His teachers shared that the only word he could verbalise was “No”. It was also challenging to get him to try new things due to his emerging self-confidence. In school, Ocean tended to observe his peers when introduced to a new word such as “Hello” and listened to them verbalising the word before he attempted to say it. When he realised his pronunciation was not accurate, Ocean said “Hi” instead. This inspired his teacher, Teacher Esther, to realise that it was important to help him build his confidence so that he would be able to pick up new skills to participate in routines independently and use words to communicate more effectively with the others around him. In order to help him learn new words, Ocean’s teacher and therapists began introducing words with specific letter sounds and provide opportunities across all routines both at home and in school to practise using them. In addition to that, it was pivotal to pair exposure with words of affirmation and praise whenever he tries to say a new word.
After three months, Ocean’s parents began to see significant progress in his speech. His mother’s initial fears were unfounded and Ocean exceeded what was expected of him and started to use words such as “I want” to make requests and label objects he sees. By the end of the year, he had started using two words phrases to comment, request and was also able to understand verbal instructions given to him to be independent in his daily living both in school and at home. There was also a reduction in tantrums as parents could understand Ocean better and were able to meet his needs without having to guess what he wanted.
One essential factor which contributed to the success of Ocean’s intervention was the regular communication and collaboration between the EIPIC team and his parents. Teacher Esther took the initiative to approach his parents to provide updates about his progress, as well as to find out more
about his performance at home after his class sessions. This also empowered Ocean’s parents to apply the same strategies at home and he was soon observed to converse with others, tell jokes as well as play alongside his peers.
With this empowerment, life has changed for Mr Tan and his wife. Even though they still worry about Ocean, they now know they are not alone in this journey because they are assured of a strong team in Fei Yue EIPIC who will do their best and provide quality intervention to support their clients. It has also inspired them to share this hope and confidence with new parents who may be experiencing the same concerns and fears, thus helping to ease their burdens