Mum quits job to teach special needs daughter to be independent


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While many mothers received flowers, gifts, dinner treat or a handwritten card from their children on Mother’s Day this year, the best Mother’s Day present for Cassey Chia will, hopefully, come in a few years’ time.


Cassey 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 Cassey 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, says Cassey, 49.


“I can take care of her now, but then what happens when I’m gone?”


First steps at two-and-a-half years old

Gwendoline 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 two-and-a-half 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,” says Cassey.


She tried various therapies in Singapore but there was little improvement.


Five-figure sum for therapy

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 Glenn Doman, its founder.


In 2002, when her daughter was four-and-a-half years old, Cassey, her husband and Gwendoline 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.


Cassey had given up her job as a commodity trader. Her husband, 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.


Lifelong commitment

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,” says Cassey, 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.


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 Gwendoline.


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.


Gwendoline 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, Cassey recently went for an outing with a friend.

Gwendoline is taking steps towards independence. Using her communication cards, she confidently spelled out three words to her mother: “I love you.”

Sign up for Runninghour
Registration is open for Runninghour’s second mass running event on July 10, where participants can enter the “Blind Run” category and run with a blindfold and a guide, to whom they are connected by a tether.

They will also get to run alongside visually, physically and intellectually challenged participants. There will also be a mass dance fitness session.

To register, visit their website.

A version of this story first appeared in The Straits Times.

(Photo: Ong Wee Jin/ST)

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