As promised, the interview with Lai Yit Loong and Catherine Lai, parents to a special needs TCK. All answers are from Catherine unless otherwise noted.
Where did you grow up?
I was born and raised in Singapore. Loong was born in Malaysia and went to Singapore for education when he was 15 years. We met each other in Singapore.
How old was Benjy when you began to notice something was different?
Benjy was about 8 months old when I noticed that he was not meeting the milestone of babies that age. I sent him to the doctor regularly to follow up on his progress and we all thought he was a late bloomer. I enrolled him at Tiger Tots when he was 2 years old. About 6 months later, his class teacher suggested that Benjy might be autistic and told me to look into it. Benjy was diagnosed as ASD at about 2 years and 10 months.
How did you react to the diagnosis?
From the suspicion that he was autistic to the final diagnosis, I was just very anxious and I was scared. I was sad too because he was our only son, the son that everyone in our family (especially my in-laws) was waiting for. It was difficult to accept but I knew that God has a plan for us and there is no reason why I should question Him. Loong and I accepted this very well and we were more interested to know how we can help our son. Sometimes I do feel sorry that my husband could not have a regular son that could rough it out with him, but I am sure Loong does not feel that way.
(Loong’s input) He has made me a better father. I have become more sensitive to and aware of Benjy’s developent, attentive to his needs, and become more involved in his life. Benjy has also bonded the family closer together. He has become the center of our universe and focus of everything we do. I have learnt to do many things which I have not attempted before, such as changing his diapers and cooking his meals. He has also inspired me so much that I wrote a book last year just for him.
You have three other children. How did they react to the news?
In the beginning, my girls could not understand what Autism was. They were very curious about their little brother and they tried so hard to help him achieve the different milestones. To teach him to crawl, they would literally be on the tummy, wiggling around to demonstrate to Benjy how to crawl. They love their little brother very much and they are extra gentle, caring and patient towards him. They allow him to get away with many things.
Did you ever think that you should move back “home”? Why?
I did not want to move back to Singapore because my husband’s job is in Taiwan. I was afraid that moving back might affect his employment. I believed that God has given us a special child and He will provide a way for us to be able to help Benjy. I pray a lot and make use of all the resources that God has put around us. Loong and I were prepared to move back to Singapore should we fail to find resources to help Benjy.
What has been the hardest part with raising a special needs child in a foreign country?
It was easier to handle when Benjy was a baby because he did not display behaivour that tells him apart. As he gets older, it becomes more obvious and Benjy sometimes will behave odd in public and it can be a little embarrassing because people stare, judge and sometimes become excessively ‘helpful’. Taiwanese are outspoken. They like to come forward and tell you what to do. There are also people who come and openly criticize us because they think we spoil our son. In the beginning I try to explain his condition but I got tired of it and realized that I did not have to justify my son or my action. It is more and more challenging to bring Benjy out without causing a scene.
Do you have any advise for others who are raising special needs TCKs? Please share.
The earlier we can accept their special condition, the better it is for parent and child. Your spouse and you must agree to accept, move on and work together to help your child. Read as much as you can about it. Be open about it, the more I talk about him to my friends, it actually made me feel better. I mostly find my strength from God and in the bible. Attending a good bible study class (like BSF) helps me whenever I feel depressed. Whenever I am depressed, I seek God.
If you are more interested in reading more about the publishing side of “I Am Special”, check out this interview I did with Yit Loong here.
I’m so thankful they were willing to come and share what they have learned as a parent to TCKs, and to a special needs TCK.
- “I Am Special” Book Review (raisingtcks.com)