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A Letter to My Special Child

Updated: Feb 2



To my special child:


I remember the first time Pa and I had an inkling that you were special. 


It began with playdates: I noticed how you tried to play with other children, but would often end up playing alone. When you started school, our phones would be ringing off the hook. Teachers would constantly tell us of your behaviour in class: rolling on the ground, peeling paint off walls, not listening to their instructions. We were surprised, because what they described was unlike the bright and cheery child we raised. 


It took us a while to fully understand what you were going through, but with the help of a psychologist, we learnt that you had special needs, specifically high-functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Hearing that made us feel somewhat comforted — in that we could better understand what you were going through. At the same time, we were worried that we weren’t ready to give you the support you needed. Nonetheless, we knew there would be a long journey ahead of us: one filled with much change, many challenges, but far greater joys and even more love.


The Quiet Dilemma 


“The hardest thing about being a parent is recalibration. The better you are at it, the better you will be.” — Hanya Yanagihara, A Little Life

In our years of raising you, you have graced us with many surprises. You’d learned your alphabets by the time you turned one and knew plenty of big words. As a toddler, you amazed us with your ability to memorise and recall chunks of information verbatim. You were our little Einstein! We imagined you would have no difficulty excelling.


But as the years passed, each new chapter of your life came to be punctuated by worries and uncertainties. Being unsure of whether or not certain milestones would materialise for you, moments of celebration in ‘typical’ families turned into moments of grief and disappointment for us. Ambiguous loss became a familiar friend — not one we wanted to have, but one we got anyway. “What about my child?” became a question we found ourselves plagued with at every turn.


During your primary school days, it was particularly devastating watching you struggle to catch up with your peers. On top of academics, you encountered torment that no child should ever have to face: bullying. My heart shattered every time you came home to tell me how your peers made fun of you, how no one would sit with you at lunch, and how you didn’t want to go back to school. 


At the time, you relied on me to be your cheerleader, to encourage you to keep your head up and guide you to see the world positively so you could confidently face your battles in school. 


I knew I had to be strong for you — by day, I was the toughest coach who would always be in your corner and see you through every fight. But in the whispers of the night, helplessness crept in — I couldn’t understand why this was happening to you. I desperately wished for your peers to have seen you the way our family did; to embrace you in all your lovely individuality and appreciate what you uniquely had to offer. This was compounded by the limited success we met in trying to teach you to manage social situations: these were enigmas to you, and understanding them felt like trying to cross an impenetrable wall. 


In the early days of learning about your diagnosis, I would often grapple with a sense of loss and self-blame. Pa and I had big hopes of you achieving great things academically; as you know, your grandfather was also one who highly valued academic success. Knowing you’d probably never be able to fulfil these expectations, we felt grief in having to bury the dreams we had. But we knew our hopes for you had to shift.


A New Beginning 


Thankfully, things took a delightful turn. Although we couldn’t enrol you into a special needs school, we were grateful and relieved when you made many new friends and found comfort in a mainstream secondary school near our place. Seeing the bright smile on your face after school felt like experiencing sunlight after enduring years of relentless rain. 


 As we came to an increasing understanding of your triggers, your little idiosyncrasies, and everything that made you tick, we felt a renewed sense of appreciation for who you were made to be. You are perfect in our eyes — we would never hope for you to be any different. Aligning our expectations to your personhood lessened the weight of the disappointment and frustration we used to face, and with those hard years behind us, we began to settle into our own comfortable rhythm.


As I watched you grow into your own skin, I too learnt how to live my life adjacent to yours. Gone were the days where I would anxiously wait for you in your school canteen. Instead, I found a new sense of peace in taking care of myself, and remembering who I was beyond my role as a mother. I will always be grateful to have an amazing social support system — simply going out for coffee and a manicure with my girlfriends reinvigorated me and allowed me to forget about these troubles, even if for a little while.


But it wasn’t just me who needed support — Pa did too, though it was easy to forget this sometimes: he was rarely willing to surface his own struggles. But they were always there, never lurking too far from us. 


We were on this journey together, and when things ever got too challenging, I know that I cherished his steady presence just as much as he did mine; we came to appreciate the value in caring for our marriage together. While we had our own unique challenges in coming to terms with your diagnosis, it brought us to the same meeting point, and we took much pride in being able to come together to support you.


Hopes and Joys


“The point of a child is not what you hope he will accomplish in your name but the pleasure he will bring you, whatever form it comes in, even if it is a form that is barely recognisable as pleasure at all — and, more important, the pleasure you will be privileged to bring him.” — Hanya Yanagihara, A Little Life

My dear, thank you for making me your first and closest friend till this day. I love our little talks where you excitedly share your encounters each day and I can’t help but feel a burst of pride hearing how independent you’ve become. 


In all honesty, my deepest concern evolved around the thought that you might struggle to navigate life without my presence. Who would be there to uplift you in moments of despair? Who would lend a listening ear to your daily adventures? 


I was very worried about the future — a future where you would be alone and helpless. 


Do you recall that unforgettable day when you earned your first award? I remember it so vividly. It was National Day, your favourite celebration, and there was a National Day quiz. You were the only child to recall every detail about our country and the whole school erupted in cheers and applause as you went onto stage to claim your well-deserved prize. Perhaps insignificant in the eyes of others, but to your Pa and me, it encapsulated everything we had hoped for you. 


Beyond the mere acquisition of an award, that day symbolised your newfound confidence that you could achieve something. It reassured me that you could be successful and find happiness, even in my absence. 


What I also admire about you is that you didn't rest on your laurels; instead, you constantly amaze us with your talent and passion in the arts, coupled with your benevolent desire to contribute to society. 


I hope you know how proud I am of you and who you’ve become. You have come so far in surmounting the challenges that life has brought upon you, and I am so blessed to be a part of your life’s journey. 


A Final Message


I want to tell you that what makes you special isn’t what the world has defined you to be. You are special because you are fearfully and wonderfully made, and you are unique because of your individual strengths and interests. It has been a privilege and a joy watching you grow up, and I want you to know that we’ll be here for you no matter what. No matter where you go or what you do, your family loves you just the way you are, and we wouldn’t want you any other way.


Love,

Ma and Pa






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