I was approaching my sixth month of pregnancy when I found out I was going to have a child with Down Syndrome. I was asked then to make a life-defining decision. I was scared, not knowing what to expect, but it had never crossed my mind not to have this child.
Hadbaa is now 8, and she has been a joy to us all. She’s a sweet, caring, helpful child who is loved and pampered by the entire family. She’s the youngest of my three children. My eldest son is 26, and my daughter is 21.
Hadbaa’s grown up with hearing issues due to a narrow ear canal, which has affected her speech development. Till today, she can say only a few words and phrases but she expresses her affection in different ways. Just recently, she came into the kitchen while I was baking and kept repeating, “Hadbaa help.” I didn’t understand at first. Then I realized that she just wanted to give me a helping hand, to bake and clean up. It was the first time she had spoken those words. All children accomplish milestones in their own way, in their own time, and every step brings me immense joy.
Since she was born, we knew that we would have to work a little harder to help her physical and cognitive development. That is why I have always tried my best to expose her to as many activities as possible, to build her confidence and strength.
When she was just 1, I enrolled her at the Rainbow Centre, a school for infants, children and youth with intellectual disabilities. I also tried applying for a spot at various childcare centres but I was rejected time and again. I was told they didn’t have any teachers to care for children with special needs. But giving up was not an option for me. When she was 4, we finally secured a place at My First Skool. She was one of the oldest children there and the only child with a disability, but she had no problems fitting in. The beautiful thing with children is, there are simply no barriers.
We also learnt about the Special Olympics Young Athletes Program through the Rainbow Centre. She joined when she was 3 and hasn’t stopped since. Every week, we do simple physical activities like jumping, throwing, catching and running through obstacles with other children, both with and without intellectual disabilities, and it has helped so much in the development of her fitness, coordination, confidence, motor and social skills.
Through the program, I have also made friends with other parents and found a support system. We share advice and resources with one another, and I know I’m not alone.
Hadbaa used to be so shy, but these days, I don’t have to hold her hand. She confidently waves and smiles at everyone she meets, and volunteers for activities. She’s very active. Whenever we visit sports stores, she runs straight to the treadmill and doesn’t need any help on it. When she started school recently at MINDS (Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore), her teachers were surprised that she could run up and down the stairs quite fearlessly without any help.
She loves to dance and we have been doing Zumba together. We’ve also been doing Tabata workouts at home as a family during the Covid-19 pandemic. Her latest craze is table tennis, which we started playing as a family recently. We are hoping she can train with the Special Olympics Singapore table tennis team when she’s older, and maybe one day, represent the country.
While there are organisations like Special Olympics in Singapore that help children with special needs, we have a long way to go as a society to be more accepting and inclusive. I remember an incident when we were in an elevator with a young couple with a child. Hadbaa was only 3. The child pointed at Hadbaa and said, “Why does she look like that? What’s wrong with her?” I was shocked when the parents turned away from us quite rudely, and told the child not to look at Hadbaa. I stared at them in silence, not knowing what to say.
Hadbaa’s siblings were indignant and furious, but I told them not to retaliate. Although it hurt terribly, I didn’t want to show how upset I was. It would affect Hadbaa. These days, we ignore all these stares and whispers. I refuse to let the judgment of others affect how we live our lives.
To every parent with a special child, my message does not hide them. You may encounter people who do not understand, but we mustn’t let that stop our children from exploring the world. We must let the world know our children too, and appreciate how beautiful they truly are. My hope is for Hadbaa to grow up strong, independent and confident. I want her to be able to stand on her own two feet and have the courage to pursue her dreams, no matter what others say.
Let’s take a step towards a more inclusive world by helping Hadbaa and our other young kids here. To find out more about how to be part of the #WalkForInclusion campaign, please download our summary guide here. We thank you for your generosity and look forward to your participation!