Anita and Anna — Mother-Daughter Advocates for Inclusiveness
Every parent wants to see their child thrive. Given the space and opportunity, young Persons with Intellectual Disability (PWIDs) certainly can — they are limited only by the expectations of others, says Mdm Anita Low. Her daughter, Anna, is a confident and independent 18-year-old who joined the ‘Our Lives, Our Voices’ (OLOV) Self-Advocacy programme in 2020. The joint enterprise between MINDS and Down Syndrome Association (Singapore) empowers expression and choice. It develops individuals with special needs, like Anna, into advocates for inclusiveness in society.
Mdm Low, 60, shares her parenting journey with us.
What would you like people to know about young PWIDs?
Like neurotypical people, PWIDs have dreams to which they aspire; they also want to have their say. They are capable of learning, albeit at a slower pace, as they need more time to process information. I strongly believe that all PWIDs have gifts of their own.
Anna studied at mainstream schools with good results, and is currently studying Logistics at ITE College East.
What is your parenting style?
I feel it is very important that children have their own space. Every child can be independent. I saw this in Anna as I let go, and watched her grow into a fine lady.
When I had Anna, my thoughts were to give her exposure and tough love so as to help her reach her full potential. I don’t pamper my children (Anna has 2 older brothers, aged 28 and 31). I prepared them from a very young age to be independent—I did not want their lives to crumble in case I suddenly passed on. I taught them to be practical and prudent, and about cause-and-effect. I also had fun with them dancing and singing.
Anna was bullied in preschool and in primary school. It came in different forms. She kept it from me as she did not want me to worry, and indeed, when I found out, I was hurt when I put myself in her shoes. I gave her the option of changing schools but she chose to continue and take her PSLE. So I spoke to those involved and she forgave them. These are teachable moments and she learnt to be independent and to fend for herself.
Has she also had to deal with stereotyping and public misconceptions outside school?
Once, when Anna was 8, I brought her to the National Gallery. I encouraged her to read the plaque next to a painting but while she was reading aloud, a lady suddenly squeezed between us, watching in great surprise. I smiled and told her, yes she can read. The lady replied, “But she’s a Down!”. We just continued to admire the other paintings.
How has caring for Anna shaped you as a mother?
Anna’s condition taught me humility and patience. While she learnt like a sponge in the first 6 years, I worried about her keeping up as she grew older. When she entered a mainstream primary school, I noticed I wasn’t as patient and open as before. I forgot she was born with special needs.
Over the years, Anna has been discovering her own identity. If I pointed out what I perceived to be her flaws, it upset her. But Anna is very mature and receptive, and would reflect on the learning points, which inspired me to do the same. We are all works in progress, learning together on this journey of life.
I am the youngest girl in a family of 8. My mom passed us her strong Catholic faith. I take things as they come. I don’t believe in self-pity or expect help from others. When my husband was posted overseas for work, I became both mum and dad to my kids, who were then 13, 11 and 1, for 15 years.
How involved are you with the PWID community?
I organise a choir, The Very Special Choir, which comprises children, youth and young adults with different needs. This parent-led group enables PWIDs to make friends, integrate into small groups and eventually step out into the world.
You don’t have to stick to convention — expose PWIDs to different challenges and watch them shine with just a spark.
What are the main changes you have seen in Anna since she joined OLOV?
She’s more open to sharing and is happier, with more friends.
It’s a good platform for her and her peers to be engaged, guided, and equipped with the right information. They assimilate into a community that serves as a support network, which is reassuring for us caregivers.
PWIDs are often hesitant to voice out challenges they face. OLOV allows them to share and address their experiences. Anna, like any Singaporean, has her fears and joys; her own views and opinions. She is very comfortable sharing with her friends and facilitators in OLOV every week.
Anna hopes to have her own flat one day and I hope that her dream comes true. I trust these children will have a bright future ahead of them.
Any advice for other parents of PWIDs?
Some parents become over-protective, not just because of their love for their children but also because they have encountered negativity in society. But allow PWIDs to make decisions. If it is not a wise one, advise them about the consequences and guide them towards a better choice. Give them space to explore and think, instead of blindly following instructions all the time. Also, bring them out, teach them how to take public transport, expose them to the outside world. When they are ready, encourage them to run errands on their own, while keeping a close eye on them.
What would you like to tell other readers about engaging with the PWID community?
I hope the public will be able to see them in a positive light and accept and welcome them when they seek employment. They should be allowed the dignity to travel, work and contribute to Singapore. Smile and encourage them in whatever they are doing!
We celebrate all our strong mothers and mother-figures. The seen and unseen work you put into raising Persons with Intellectual Disability (PWIDs) not only changes their lives, but touches and inspires the lives of others.
At MINDS, we recognise the importance of supporting mothers and caregivers as individuals and in their caregiving responsibilities. To learn more about the support and programmes available to caregivers, click here.
The ‘Our Lives, Our Voices’ (OLOV) Self-Advocacy Programme is organised through a partnership between MINDS and Down Syndrome Association (Singapore). The programme guides persons with special needs through introspective journeys to discover their strengths, weaknesses, passions and interests, and to speak up for themselves and the causes they believe in. Find out more about OLOV here.