When people tell me, how unfortunate it is to have a child with an intellectual disability, I turn to them and reply, “No, it is a blessing.”
My name is Madam May Fazura, and I am a mother of a family of five.
I teach at a private school, and I volunteer with Special Olympics Brunei. My youngest son Ulfee is 23 years old. He has autism and was born with an IQ of 42, impaired vision and hearing, as well as delays in his speech development.
I do not think of Ulfee or any of my other four children as lesser than the other. When I leave this world one day, I will split whatever I have equally among them.
Of course, when I first learnt during my pregnancy that Ulfee was special, I was upset and angry with myself. But once Ulfee was born and I held him in my arms, I was determined to turn my thinking around. I learnt how to better interact with him with support from my family members and friends. When Ulfee threw tantrums, I used to walk away or gave him what he wanted, to keep him quiet. But over time, I learnt to understand him, and he learnt how to accept “no” for an answer.
When Ulfee was enrolled in a public school, he used to be sent home by his teachers whenever there were sports activities. This is because Ulfee walks with a limp, so running is a challenge. It was devastating to a child, who had to be told from a young age that he was excluded because he was different.
In 2006, a close friend of mine, who was in charge of Special Olympics Brunei Darussalam, invited us to join Special Olympics and encouraged us to be open to new opportunities. Ulfee started off with field sports, participating in activities such as discus throwing and long jump.
During his first Special Olympics games, Ulfee participated in softball and won his first medals – two silver and a gold. I remember running up to him and holding him in my arms. I was so proud of him!
Ulfee wasn’t happy though. He wanted to win a bronze as well, so he can “collect all the colors”. I realized then that Ulfee aspires and dreams, like all of us do.
When Ulfee is not on the field, he works at Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf twice a week. This arrangement was made by the educational center he goes to. He only makes cold drinks, but he absolutely loves working there because he feels independent.
Ulfee used to be so timid. If I were to go out of his sight in a public place, he would start to panic. But I’ve been training him over the years to be more flexible. Working has exposed him to all kinds of people, and he seems to thrive in that environment. He has made a lot of friends at work, especially with the customers, because he’s so friendly.
Sometimes I worry, and I ask his supervisor to check on him. But he always tells me, “You have nothing to worry about! Ulfee is a joy to have around.” I slowly realized that I just have to let go. I don’t visit him when he’s on shift anymore, because I want him to continue to be independent, to know that he can rely on himself.
Every year, during the Special Olympics National Games, I organize forums where I invite guest speakers from all over Asia to share their experiences and expertise. It is so important for us, as caregivers, to understand how to deal with our children growing up, because they do not stay children forever.
Ulfee asks me questions like “Mom, when am I going to get married?”, and I don’t know the answers! In my eyes, my son is still a little boy, but in reality, I can’t keep him under my shelter forever.
In 2006, after much encouragement from other parents, I started a family support group under Special Olympics so that we can all provide support to one another on this journey.
Because of Special Olympics, I found a family outside my own. My son found a place to thrive, through being allowed to participate in sports. Nobody told him he wasn’t fit to join, or that he couldn’t win. He was and still is unstoppable, and free.
I always remind my family that we are blessed to have Ulfee. He is God’s gift to us, and we are lucky to have him around.