At first glance, this is a regular family of 5. But for Mr Ethan Chan and Ms Jasmine Chen, parenthood had been initially especially “challenging” as their 3 children, aged 8 to 11, who all have special needs.

Their eldest boy is Elijah, 11, who’s diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders (ASD, a condition which affects communication and behavior), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyspraxia (a condition which affects movements and coordination) and sensory processing disorder.

Their second child is Elisha, 10, who’s diagnosed with ASD, mild dyspraxia and moderate sensory processing disorder. Both the boys like playing with Lego and computer games.

Their youngest child is Elyza, 8, who’s diagnosed with sensory processing disorder and anxiety. She likes playing mobile games.

“When
I first had Elijah, I was frustrated mainly because I didn’t know what to do or
how to help him,” Ms Chen said.

By
the time she had Elyza, the couple were able to detect signs of developmental
disorders earlier, and knew “what to expect and do”.

When the
children were much younger, Ms Chen said she had to be very careful as she helped
them through their daily routines.

“There’s a specific order in the way they wear their clothes and each child has their own versions,” the 38-year-old mother said. “Whether it is the pants or shirt to be worn first, I have to memorize the specific order. If not, the day would go wrong and they would shout at me.”

The
3 children are all enrolled in mainstream schools. Elijah has a shadow teacher assigned to him in case
he needs help staying focused in class or socializing with his classmates.

A Channel NewsAsia report stated that the number of students with special needs in mainstream
schools has increased from 13,000 in 2013 to 20,000 in 2018, or around 4.5 per
cent of the total student population.

Besides attending formal classes, the children also go for speech, occupational and educational therapist sessions weekly.

To pay for these therapies, Ms Chen works part-time as a research executive. Her husband has to juggle 3 jobs.

The
family also moved from their 5-room HDB flat to a 3-room one.

“It
was for better management of our finances and to give them the best therapy we could
afford,” Ms Chen said.

They also had the bedroom walls in the new flat knocked down so that they could keep an eye on all the children easily.

The couple
also decided to go without a helper.

“Why we do that? It’s because I want them to learn life skills,” Ms Chen said, adding that she wants her children to be able to prepare their own meals, wash their own clothes and grow up to be independent and responsible.

Despite the challenges, Ms Chen said parenthood is still a rewarding journey that brings her joy and fulfilment.

“What’s
most rewarding is seeing them grow and learn,” the mother said. “Their constant
crave for knowledge is something I treasure seeing in them.”