Our Stories: Creating safe spaces for growth

Our Stories: Creating safe spaces for growth


Ms Kerene Er, 47, brims with motherly pride as she reflects on her son, Randall’s journey.

Stories-Kerene and Randall Tan
Ms Kerene Er (left) and her son, Randall (right)

Randall, 18, began attending a child-care centre when he was three years old. His teachers informed Kerene that he might have autism and suggested withdrawing him from the centre. This started a long journey in-and-out of different child-care centres before his enrolment in the Early Intervention Programme for Infants & Children (EIPIC) and being diagnosed with Global Developmental Delay (GDD). Unfazed by the diagnosis, Kerene focused on supporting Randall the best she could. Finding that Randall needed more support, Kerene found a private child-care centre that specialised in nurturing children with special needs and expended a significant amount of resources placing him in the centre.

I would like Randall to grow up happy, so I always try my best to provide a conducive and happy environment for him. He may not be able to communicate well but he certainly understands what is being spoken around or about him.

Ms Kerene Er
Mother of Randall

Building diverse foundations

To support his development, Kerene prepared Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) visual cards to communicate with him. She also sent him for speech therapy and occupational therapy, purchasing different tools and aids recommended by his therapists. At home, Kerene diligently practised the techniques Randall learnt in these classes to reinforce his learning.

Eager for Randall to try new things, Kerene sent him for bocce sessions and horse-riding therapy with a local group that organised sessions for persons with disabilities. Unfortunately, Randall was not able to continue with horse-riding as there were limitations on the weight the horses could carry.

Randall (left) and his dad (right)

Noticing how Randall enjoyed being in water, Kerene enrolled him in swimming lessons. While he is still learning to swim independently, Kerene is encouraged with how Randall follows his coach’s instructions on breathing techniques such as blowing bubbles underwater. He has also done swimmingly learning how to float and move in the water.

With (school) bells on

Randall was enrolled in MINDS Towner Gardens School (TGS) when he was eight years old and achieved one of his first successes 1-2 months after starting school.

With the support of his teachers and Allied Health Professionals, Randall learned to use the bathroom and did not need to rely on diapers as he did before. With time, he also learned to carry out other Activities of Daily Living (ADL) such as putting on his clothes, removing his shoes, and returning them to the shoe rack. From Housecraft lessons in school, he learned to wipe the table when he notices that it is wet and return his plate to the sink after his meals.

Kerene expresses, “The teachers, psychologist and therapists in TGS were very helpful and passionate towards the students. The teachers also actively communicated with me on Randall’s progress and assisted and guided me on ways to help him improve in the relevant areas. They still do so today.”

Kerene also saw improvements in the manner Randall managed his emotions. To address Randall’s temper tantrums, Randall’s teachers and AHPs worked with Kerene to implement strategies like step-by-step guides and designated areas for Randall to calm down in when he felt upset. With time and effort, Randall has mellowed and learned to calm himself down.

Randall has also made significant strides in understanding others and expressing himself. Using simple words with hand gestures, he is able to communicate with Kerene and his family, conveying “thank you” and “sorry.” Kerene explains, “When we gesture “Wait”, he is able to follow the instruction. When he does something inappropriate and we explain why the behaviour is bad, he will say “Bad” and indicates it with a thumbs-down.”

Stories-Kerene and Randall Tan - Family Cruise
Enjoying family time on a cruise: Ms Kerene Er with Randall and her husband

In the public eye

While Kerene notes that the public has grown to be more understanding of Persons with Intellectual Disability (PWIDs), she has had her share of unpleasant experiences with members of public during Randall’s growing-up years. She recalls how years ago, an elderly lady “scolded them for a good 30 minutes” at a hawker centre after Randall impulsively pinched her as she was walking by. In a separate incident, a woman told Kerene “not to bring him out anymore” when Randall had a meltdown outside a supermarket. She sadly adds that Randall enjoys watching other children kick a ball or play badminton, but notes how they are afraid to play with him.

Despite these experiences, Kerene remains positive and believes that the key thing is to concentrate on her child, resolve the situation, and turn away from the way others perceive her child. She is also mindful about protecting Randall from negative or hurtful remarks that might affect his self-esteem.

“I would like Randall to grow up happy, so I always try my best to provide a conducive and happy environment for him. He may not be able to communicate well but he certainly understands what is being spoken around or about him,” she said.

While each caregiver’s journey is unique, they face similar struggles as they raise their loved ones with special needs and navigate public perception of relatively “invisible” disabilities such as intellectual disability and autism. We encourage a deeper understanding of intellectual and developmental disabilities in the wider community, and empathy for the Persons with Intellectual Disability (PWIDs) and their caregivers.

MINDS provides a holistic environment and inclusive environment for intellectual and developmental disabilities and is committed to supporting caregivers in their journey of nurturing PWIDs to live fulfilling and meaningful lives. Find out more about MINDS’ caregiver support programmes here.

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NOTICE OF THE 59TH ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING OF MINDS: NOTICE is hereby given that the 59th Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (MINDS) will be held by way of electronic means as follows: Date: Saturday , 18 September 2020 Time: 9:30am (Registration starts at 8:30am) Venue: Online via ZOOM MINDS members will be receiving an email on the notice of AGM and are strongly encouraged to register your attendance to facilitate the verification process on the day of the AGM. For enquiries regardingthe AGM, members may email to agm@minds.org.sg or call 849607358