089: How I Handled A Devastating Piece of News?

A Terrible News

If you receive a devastating piece of news from the school, what would you have done?

Several weeks ago, on the day that my sixteen-year-old son, Cairn, was supposed to attend his school graduation ceremony, he was abruptly removed from the list of graduates! Instead of receiving his certificate in robes like the other graduating students on the stage, Cairn was told to sit among the audience to applaud the achievement of others.

Out of concern for Cairn’s feelings, his class teacher kept a close watch on him and assured me that he was unaffected. I was told Cairn cheered enthusiastically for his friends who went up the stage.

“Class of 2020” (William WK Tan’s Photography)

When Cairn arrived home from school, all I got from him was a sealed envelope containing a letter that said his application for admission to a senior high school for students with special needs was unsuccessful.

The rejection letter carried big implications. Cairn would remain in his current high school, and make another attempt for admission to the senior high school the next year. But if he were to be rejected again, his special school education would end the next year in the current school as eighteen is the cut-off age. That is tantamount to an off-the-cliff ending to his adult education.

“Off the Cliff” (WordPress Photography)

The biggest headache at hand was we were clueless about the reasons for rejection. By all measures, Cairn had always been held as an exemplary student in his junior high school. We were under the impression from both schools that Cairn would certainly be accepted because he had met all the stipulated requirements. Without knowing the reason, we would not know what could be done to improve his chances in the next shot.

I felt indignant for my son as unpleasant memories surfaced. All the these years, Cairn had put in so much effort in everything he did. But not all his efforts paid off. For instance, last year, Cairn won his first swimming competition, but was bizarrely disqualified. The ridiculous reason was he swam a lot faster than the timing submitted before the race. In the spirit of participation, we cast aside our disappointment and did not pursue the matter further. But this time, the issue is more than dealing with disappointment, Cairn couldn’t graduate despite his good performance at school!

“Touching The Wall First!” (William WK Tan’s Photography)

I lamented to my wife, “Just when we thought that everything is moving smoothly for him at last, this has to happen!”

My wife was visibly upset as she spoke, “They gave us hope, then took it away! ”

I told her with resolve, “I’ll settle this.”

“An angry fist” (William WK Tan’s Photography)

Take Thoughtful Actions

I thought hard about the content of my appeal letter to the school principal of the new school. After I drafted the letter, I showed to my wife and fourteen-year-old son, Conan.

My wife seemed pleased that I had backed up my appeal with strong arguments and proof. Conan, however, remarked, “Dad, shouldn’t you preface with some niceties? After all, you want to work with the new principal.”

I took his advice and edited the letter accordingly.

Dear Principal,

Sorry to take up your precious time. I need to consult you regarding school admission criteria. I am also writing to appeal for my son, Cairn Tan on the following grounds:

Cairn has met the two key criteria for school admission: the WPLN ( Work Place Literacy and Numeracy) Assessment and the independent traveling requirement.

Moreover, Cairn was graded “excellent” in Housekeeping. In addition, Cairn has actual retail work experience. On a daily basis, he has been operating his snack vending machine for nearly a year since December 2019. The operation includes the checking and replenishment of stock; and changing the prices and items. Cairn can do all that independently.

“Tending To A Vending Machine” (William WK Tan’s Photography)

Cairn also knows how to key in data of inventories and keep account of daily sales in excel spreadsheets. In addition, he is also responsible for proper packing of goods ordered from our e-commerce website, for delivery to respective customers.

“Packaging his merchandise” (William WK Tan’s Photography)

Recently, we even discovered that Cairn can memorize the value of pi up to 20 places, and do square roots and indices of two and three-digit numbers mentally! That shows the boy has much more potential than we imagined!

“Solve square roots of 4 digit-figures mentally” (William WK Tan’s Photography)

To prepare Cairn for the transition, we have also trained Cairn to travel independently to and from your school. See attached pictures.

“Taking a bus ride myself” (William WK Tan’s Photography)

During the admission interview, we were told for certain that Cairn will be offered a place in your school because he meets the admission requirements. The only purpose of the interview was to find out which vocation is most suited for him.

Even his current school was under the impression that Cairn will be moving on. That was why they had him participate in the graduation ceremony rehearsal. But only today, we were told that he had been taken off the list of graduates and denied his spot at the graduation ceremony. Despite working hard to qualify for your vocational programme, Cairn will be retained for another year!

As a parent yourself, can you imagine the big disappointment to our family to receive the rejection letter? As the reason for rejection is not stated, I have no choice but to seek help directly from you.

“Help me!” (WordPress Photography)

I believe that as a respected school leader, you will help us in this matter. We have been looking forward to Cairn starting a new chapter at your school. And we are very supportive of school efforts and are most willing to work with you. Please call me to arrange a meeting ASAP.

William WK Tan

Shortly after, the principal replied with warm and encouraging words, expressing delight to receive updated information about Cairn’s ability to travel independently. A week later, the good news came. Cairn’s appeal was successful!

Immediately, I wrote another heartfelt letter to Cairn’s current school’s principal. A few days later, Cairn’s class teacher called me up cheerily to inform me of the school principal’s decision to arrange a make-up graduation ceremony for Cairn! I felt so thankful to the school leaders and teachers in both schools.

All things ended well at last.

“I have graduated!” (William WK Tan’s Photography)

Parents, what’s your takeaway from this story? If anything, I hope you pick up the following steps about how to be an effective advocate for your child:

Be An Effective Advocate For Your Child

Step 1: Do not get emotional. Think about the real issue you want to solve.

Step 2: Know your child’s rights and strengths.

Step 3: Organise your thoughts with supporting evidence.

Step 4: Seek support from stakeholders.

Step 5: Show appreciation and a strong intention to work together.

Children with special needs are often incapable of speaking up for themselves. They need their parents to be their voice. Therefore, we need to learn how to speak up on their behalf, rationally and passionately. Don’t you agree?

“Be An Effective Voice!” (WordPress Photography)

William WK Tan

28 December 2020

087: How You Can Unleash Your Child’s Potential?

It’s hard to identify our preconceptions, let alone breaking them because most parents believe that they are always acting in the best interest of their children. On hindsight, however, we would probably admit that there were occasions when we could have made better decisions.

Using a personal story, here are four steps to breaking preconceptions that could unleash the potential of your children:

(1) Uncover your preconceptions

(2) Re-discover what your child can do

(3) Start a new learning journey

(4) Walk the journey together

Uncover Your Preconceptions

“Could I have held back my son’s development?” This startling realisation dawned on me after my sixteen-year-old autistic son, Cairn, demonstrated his Maths prowess at school recently by doing square roots of 3-4-digit figures mentally two weeks ago (See 85: “How Far Can This Child Go”). In retrospect, I had stopped teaching Cairn Maths in the last three years.

“Cairn tries to solve square root mentally” (Photography by Ms. Lim WT)

The realisation made me uncover two preconceptions— beliefs that had hindered me from pursuing my son’s abilities in certain areas further.

Preconception One:

Cairn should focus on developing independent-living skills and enhance his employability, even if it means disregarding his strengths and interest.

“Cairn packs the inventory for his e-store.” (Photography by William WK Tan)

Preconception Two:

Cairn should learn only English since he is already facing daunting obstacles in language acquisition due to his poor receptive and expressive communication ability.

“Cairn’s recent English homework.” (Photography by William WK Tan)

Do not get me wrong. Of course it is good to develop independent-living and enhance employability. And it is also prudent not to impose the burden of learning an additional language on the child when he is already struggling with learning one. The bigger question is, even as we work on these priorities, are we compromising on their strengths and interests?

Re-Discover What Your Child Can Do

I deliberated on the things Cairn can learn by utilising his strength in Maths—coding, computer literacy skills, memory and thinking techniques, and high school Maths topics such as algebraic equations and calculus. The more I thought about it, the more possibilities I could see. I felt a renewed sense of excitement, a feeling that’s often lost in parents when their children get older.

Out of curiosity, I tested Cairn’s memory using the value of PI. Cairn memorised up to 10 decimal places (3. 1415926535 ) effortlessly and could recall every digit correctly even after 2 weeks. His memory astounded me!

“Cairn writes the value of Pi” (Photography by William WK Tan)

Then I thought to myself, “Does Cairn know how to read and write any Chinese word?”

I turned to Cairn and asked, “Do you know the numbers from one to ten in Chinese?”

Without hesitation, Cairn recited and wrote the Chinese character of each numeral. Those were the characters I taught him more than ten years ago!

Start A New Learning Journey

“Would you be willing to do something for your brother for just fifteen minutes every day?”

That’s the question I asked Conan, Cairn’s fourteen-year-old younger brother, after I showed him the Chinese words that Cairn could remember. Conan started giving Cairn 15 minute-lesson from the next day.

“Conan guided Cairn to write Chinese Characters.”(Photography by William WK Tan)

“Now you copy the word, “thousand” which is “qiān” (千) in Chinese three more times,” Conan was telling Cairn to learn from copying the words that he didn’t know.

“Next, do you know the Chinese word for ten thousand?” Conan asked.

Cairn replied, “wàn“(万)!”

He had actually stolen a quick glance at the book and copied the character.

“You ah!”, Conan laughed and moved on to teaching Cairn more words. Towards the end of the session, Conan was praising and hugging his brother, who was also beaming a wide smile.

Conan told me his observations, “Cairn can read and write many words like “dà” (大-big) xiǎo” (小-small), shàng (上-up), xià (下-down) even before I taught him.”

“Words that Cairn recently learnt.” (Photography by William WK Tan)

Walk The Journey Together

“I really appreciate that you are spending time with your brother like this. It takes commitment to do it daily. Thank you!” I told him.

I also told Conan my observations of his lesson, “I like how you motivate your brother with praises and encouragement. You didn’t reprimand him when he copied the word. You just moved on. That kept his motivation going!”

Conan looked pleased.

“There is, however, no need to keep testing him with questions. It can become stressful. Read to him more. You can tailor the lesson in any way to match his liking.”

Conan remarked with a chuckle, “He obviously likes to copy.”

“Cairn enjoys writing Chinese Characters” (Photography by William WK Tan)

Two weeks had lapsed since we embarked on this new endeavour. It has become a routine for Cairn to take the Chinese textbook and his Writing practise book to the sofa after dinner, where Conan would start working with him.

I have no idea how long Conan can sustain his efforts. One month; three months or a year? But I hope it would be long enough for Conan to realise that he benefits as much, if not, more than Cairn from walking this journey together with his brother.

“Rainbow” (WordPress Free Picture)

I hope our endeavour offers you some useful insights to how you can unleash the potential of your children.

William W K Tan

086: Should I Bring A Baby With Disabilities To This World?

To Keep The Child Or Not?

If someone is struggling with the painful decision of keeping a baby who is likely to be born with disabilities, what would you say to her?

Two days ago, a pregnant woman sought advice in a parenting group in the social media. She wrote about her dilemma,

“I am at the 13th week of my second pregnancy. A recent Down Syndrome test revealed an absence of nasal bone in the foetus, which caused alarm. I just did a further blood screening test, which will reveal the result in two week’s time. I am worried sick. What if the baby is inflicted with Down Syndrome? If the risk is high, should I keep the baby? Should I bring the poor child to suffer in this world.”

I was mulling over her words till the wee hours of morning. I felt compelled to share with her my thoughts, hoping that it would help the poor mother in her decision-making. Here’s my heartfelt sharing with her, which, to my surprise, garnered a lot of positive reaction from other parents.

Cherish The Opportunity To Make A Deliberate Decision

“I have a child with special needs. And I have not met any parent who deliberately CHOSE to be parenting a child with special needs. So, you have a precious opportunity to make a deliberate decision now.

I can tell you unequivocally that raising a child with special needs is a rewarding gift of love, humility and empathy. Raising my son has taught me what unconditional love and absolute patience mean. The journey so far might have been fraught with difficult moments, but I believe I have emerged a better person.

Weekend runs with my children (Photography by William WK Tan)

You can do even better. But that is only if you and your husband are willing to accept, love and support not only the child, but also each other unconditionally.

The Onus Is Solely On Parents

My son brings me much joy with his innocent smiles and every small step of progress he made. Life itself is a gift, disabilities not withstanding. It is not a suffering to any child if they are adequately loved and cared for. I am of the opinion that the argument children with disabilities will surely lead a life of hardship is flawed.

The real question is whether you and your husband are willing to accept that the child is not the problem. The real issue is whether parents are prepared to:

(1) accept the child fully;

(2) take up their responsibilities;

(3) learn about their child; and

(4) allocate time and resources wisely

Consider your family’s circumstances and the things you need to do to receive the child. If the more you know, the less scared you become, then you are ready to go on the journey.

A Journey (Photography by William WK Tan)

Let’s pray for the best and be prepared for the worst. Hopefully, it is a mistake. Meanwhile, please do serious research by watching video documentaries on raising children with Down Syndrome and read up everything you can find. If possible, visit some happy kids at the Down Syndrome Association. Better still, speak to parents of these kids.

In the end, after u have done all your research and had heart-to-heart discussion with your spouse, whatever decision you arrive is not for others to judge. You would know in your heart if you have made the right decision.”

From the heart (Photography by William WK Tan)

I hope my words have helped someone out there.

William W K Tan

24 October 2020, Saturday