A Mother’s Story: Raising a Child With Special Needs
Published on: July 05, 2020
Raising a son who is on the autism spectrum made Theeta readjust the expectations she had planned for her child. She reflects on her experience and shares what one of the most challenging aspects has been.
Text and photo by Theeta ‘Uang’ Hotrakitya
Sometimes people ask me what it’s like being a mother of a child with special needs. Well, I don’t know what it’s like not to be one! In lots of ways, I think it can be the same as what I imagine having a neurotypical child is like. You make decisions about how to raise your children, what morals you would like them to have, which education system or school you would like them to be part of, what your hopes for their future are, and so on.
But then in perhaps more ways, it is quite different. You may slowly recognize your child doesn’t meet the same developmental milestones as their peers, doesn’t enjoy school, or maybe is socially isolated. Maybe there isn’t a school that will accept your child or if they do, it comes with a lot of conditions such as having a teaching assistant at all times which in Thailand means it is going to be a cost for you to bear. Maybe your child doesn’t have a peer group and doesn’t get invited to birthday parties…the list goes on.
As a parent, it can be a grieving process as you readjust the expectations we are programmed to have for our children’s futures; school, university, job, a relationship, children of their own. Instead, we focus on different goals and set new expectations that are just as celebratory as the ones we thought we had to follow just less recognized by other parents.
I was lucky that my mum (a pediatrician) recognized my son was not developing typically and at two and a half years old he was diagnosed with autism. As a first time mum, I didn’t know he was different and as I was not living in Thailand at the time, I didn’t have my mum to hand. I didn’t really feel anything when we were given the diagnosis, it was like a ‘huh’ moment as I knew so little about it and the doctor gave such limited information. I went home and bought every book available. I am also lucky to be bilingual as then there was almost no information in Thai. Today it is better but still limited. I think being a stay at home parent is hard for anyone. I decided to move back to Thailand where I had a support network and I would easily find every available therapy. Schooling was and 12 years later, remains one of the most challenging parts.
He went to an international school first but was asked to leave as they were not ready to be an inclusive school yet. Then he went to a special needs school which we didn’t think was appropriate and since then he has been at a private Thai school in which he must have a shadow teacher with him at all times. It is far from ideal nor inclusive but he is happy there and has a group of kind peers.
He will turn 13 this year which means it is the last year he can be at his current school. We visited all types of schools including Buddhist schools, homeschooling co-ops, alternative schools, ones with inclusion programs or learning support departments and the reality is if you don’t have a budget of one million-plus baht per year, it is really hard.
He is on waiting lists at two schools that rarely have places. We know if we send him to a public school they won’t have the capacity to help him attain his potential. So even though we are in a more privileged position than many, the options are still very limited. It is also true that not many schools have high standards for neurodiverse learners and as the pressures of IGCSE or IB come along, what options are there for those who need an alternative pathway?
Whilst schooling is very much on our minds right now, we are reminded every day of our son’s unique learning style, interests (lifts, maps, and color coding) and the wonderful people who have become our second family in supporting him. When society presents a lot of isolation for those with learning differences, you have to build your own community. There are fantastic groups such as The Rainbow Room and LEAP who support parents like us.
Friends often ask us how they can help and we believe the best way is by working with us to build an inclusive society. Equip your own children with knowledge about diversity, have play dates with children who learn differently, and remove the stigma and discomfort around it. Children accept others naturally by integrating from an early age. We are preparing our children for the real world, one that is full of differences.
About the Author
Theeta is an ex-diplomat, patisserie chef, mum to an autistic son, and business owner of Theera Healthy Bake Room and Steps with Theera, both inclusive businesses offering training and employment for people with learning differences, and selling yummy food and desserts. We do great kids cupcakes with gluten-free/vegan options available!
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