It’s been an eventful summer so far. First a lovely Spanish holiday with lovely company – including an unexpected new friend and a spontaneous trip up a hillside town. Then choir tour – ridden with drama beyond the imagination of Lifetime TV movies (none to do with me, fortunately).

Now, back home, quality time with a very special and loveable group of children – where I learn something new, see something to laugh and coo about, every single day.

The more I spend time with them the more I feel disappointed that autism, Down syndrome and other various developmental disabilities are so grossly misunderstood and stigmatised in this part of the world. Honestly – it is among these children that you find the most affectionate and sincere of human beings.

Knowing how many Asian parents hold tight to their dreams of breeding generations of doctors and lawyers and accountants, how must their reaction be like when an autistic child comes into the family? There are some sad stories that the teachers tell me. Some parents just don’t ever learn to accept it, and hence some children never get the love or the assistance they properly need. Some get beatings for being “naughty”. Some don’t get attention – parents shove them off to “special school” for as long as they can and live in denial.

Obviously it’s easy for me to sit on my high horse and pass moralistic judgments because I’m not actually subject to the reality of living with it. It’s easy being a self-righteous little volunteer because I don’t do any of the dirty work. I don’t have to worry about when the child grows up and has nobody to take care of him or her. I don’t have to cry with disappointment over the money you saved for your children’s college education going to purchasing adult nappies and special education fees and medical fees. All I do is spend 6 hours with them everyday and laugh at the adorable moments, and superficially muse to myself – oh these kids are so cute, how can anybody not love them? Easy, right?

So who am I to say anything, really?

I’ve done a little observation though, of the parents who come and drop their children off or pick their children up after school. Some look grimly matter-of-fact – “Get your bag, let’s go home”. Some are smiling and affectionate – a little rub on the shoulder, a kiss on the cheek, a little laugh at the child’s antics. It’s quite heartwarming to observe the latter. I was thinking about how these parents remain so happy – maybe the little moments give them joy? Maybe, to other parents, it’s when their kid gets their first 100 percent at school, or acts in their first play, but to this parent, it’s when their generally unresponsive kid suddenly gives them a hug, or breaks into giggles, or learns to say “mama” and “papa”?

Honestly at this stage, after two weeks, I’ve learned some, but there is lots more to go, because I’ve only sat in for the younger children’s classes. Next week when I visit the older classes (14 year olds and above) it shall be interesting. But at this stage, what I’m almost certain of is that this is something I want to pursue after I graduate – something to do with autistic children. Maybe involve myself somehow in the area of music therapy?

Speaking of which, next Wednesday I’ve gotten the green light from the school director to organise a little interactive music session for the kids. My mother’s found 12 glasses I can fill with different levels of water and make a teeny xylophone. Yi En and I will learn songs, and hopefully perform something they all enjoy. Fingers crossed, hopefully my master plan will materialise and play out well 🙂

I suppose there are still fleeting moments where I silently and jealously compare myself to all my friends who are busily and glamorously securing their futures. I wonder if I’ve done myself right by being careless with my priorities and eventually treading another path. And yes I love what I’m doing, and by all standards it sounds noble and all that, but I have to come to terms with the slightly uncomfortable acknowledgement that the reason I’m doing work with these children is in part to do with the fact that I had no internship – if I did, I would most likely have chosen to go for that instead.

Aren’t we all a little bit selfish?

But maybe it’s true, after all, that there is no such thing as a coincidence – because for once

in my life I feel I have found something I really want to do. I love these kids, and with today being the first weekday I haven’t seen them at all, I miss them.

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