Parents of special needs children are not regular parents, they are superhumans. As part of SG Lifestyle’s Father’s Day editorial feature, we speak with 59 year old Melvyn Goh and his 25 year old daughter, Christine Goh, who was diagnosed with Intellectual Development Disorder (IDD) when she was three years old, to learn about the journey he and his wife, Mun Wah, took to nurture and care for their only child, encouraging her to do the things that doctors said she would never be able to. Because of their care, love and resilience, Christine, who has never donned a school uniform in her life, is now thriving in her job as an Assistant Pre-School Teacher at Sparkletots.
SGLS: How old was Christine when you first found out that she was a special needs child? How did you both feel after she was diagnosed with IDD?
Melvyn: We discovered Christine’s condition while we were living in Tokyo, where I was posted. Christine was around three years old then. We first realised she was missing her milestones as she had delays in speech and walking.
We had to place boxes around her feet to guide her to move from box to box as part of her learning-to-walk process. In terms of language, Christine was still unable to string simple sentences together at the age of three. So we sent her for an evaluation, first in Tokyo and subsequently, in Singapore.
When she was first diagnosed with IDD, both Mun Wah, my wife, and I were in denial. The pain was yet to come, and we scoured the net for every available information for the cause, cure, and treatment.
My French employers at the time were incredibly supportive. When they learnt that either New York, London or Sydney could have potential treatment and intervention therapy options for Christine, they offered to let me take a month off and visit all the three cities and let them know which city works best for Christine, and they would try to get me a job there. Mun and I eventually made the decision to return to Singapore to explore options.
SGLS: You were working overseas for decades. Hence both Christine and your wife uprooted and relocated with you. Were there any feelings of apprehension on your part in how Christine would adjust to a new country?
Melvyn: We moved to Shanghai, China in 2005 as a family. It was my third overseas posting, after Hong Kong and Tokyo. So moving countries as a family was not new to Christine as she was four months ago when we moved to Hong Kong. We were unsure how advanced special needs education was in Shanghai, or if education was even available at all. It turned out to be the best 10 years of our daughter’s development.
For one, it was a ratio of four educators to one child. Christine had a special education teacher, speech therapist, occupational therapist, and teaching assistant to support her development and help her acquire both education as well as life skills. The biggest breakthrough was when they trained her to commute by public transport and to take the office lifts to get to places.
Mun and I shed tears of joy the day Christine was able to change trains at People’s Square (人民广场), one of the busiest interchange stations in Shanghai, with 19 exits and 700,000 passengers daily, to get to her final destination. This ability to commute and maneuver her way within the complex metro system is one of the biggest milestones for independent living for our daughter. We will always be grateful to the educators in Shanghai for this breakthrough.
I also need to add that Mun was my rock, and there was no way I could have done this without her. She was always there, 24/7 during our daughter’s development. Her dedication and support gave me the space to focus on my career.
SGLS: Did your wife and you have to make sacrifices to cater to Christine’s daily care and needs?
Melvyn: Honestly, I am not sure we felt those were sacrifices. We are all programmed to love our children unconditionally. So, it is not about giving up something we love and attending to something we did not. Till today, Mun and I never felt that we missed out on anything in life.
There are always two sides of a coin. We know that Christine will be around during our old age to fuss over. I see some of my friends struggling to find their purpose in life after they leave their corporate jobs and their children leave the nest. For us, our most important role is to make sure that our daughter is able to make a living and be independent when we are gone.
SGLS (to Christine): You are now an assistant pre-school teacher at Sparkletots. Which part of your job do you enjoy most?
Christine: I love children and I like to look after them. Sometimes I am asked to bring them to the bathroom, help them and also clean the cots at work. The part I love most about my job is when the children call me “Teacher Christine”. However, this is not my first job. Before Sparkletots, I worked at Soul Food (part of ) and also at PCS Kindergarten, for four years. My bosses at Soul Food trained me to do table setting and serve as front of house. I love all my jobs because my dad and mum taught me to see the good in every situation and do my best in everything I do.
SGLS: Given your journey in fatherhood, championing for Christine’s well-being, care, and education, what are your words of wisdom for fathers of children with special needs?
Melvyn: Love them. Love them. Love them.
Bonus Q (for Christine): Is there a special message for your dad this Father’s Day?
Christine: You are the best father in the world. Thank you for being my dad. I will buy you your favourite pineapple and jackfruit on Father’s Day with my salary. I love you very much.
Interview by: Angela May Tan, Column Editor and Writer, SG Lifestyle.
Need last minute Father’s Day gift ideas? Check out the Ultimate Guide to Celebrating Father’s Day.