Some mothers are special. Chosen ones, I call them. I write here about the wisdom of one such mother, Ivy, who is blessed with a daughter who has special needs, Caitlin – who is now 16. Caitlin has Developmental Dyspraxia with confounding sensory challenges and she has made great gains in her speech, learning and ability to cope in this overwhelming world.
I have known Caitlin since she was two, when I was her speech therapist. When I first met Caitlin, she was most happy to be under the table, away from us, opening and closing a ziplock bag with her favourite pieces of puzzles inside.
Through the years, I have learnt much from both Caitlin and Ivy. There is something about their relationship that is so easy, so nice to watch; it isn’t complex and there is no observable weight in the energy they carry around each other. They simply enjoy each other and respect one another, seamlessly attending to what they both individually need.
We managed to steal some time together recently enough, and I was able to ask Ivy some specific questions about her beliefs which I hope will speak to other mothers who are making the same journey.
Ivy cites her first motto in raising Caitlin is as treating her completely “typical”.
This means that Ivy showers her daughter with love; she takes her to places, plans trips and adventures, and provides opportunities to experience new things – she doesn’t let Caitlin’s challenges restrict what she might consider exposing her daughter too.
Caitlin has travelled to India and absolutely loves Indian food; she has soaked in onsens in Japan; the teenager has gone bird watching in Kota Bahru, Kelantan; and camping in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, among many other adventures.
Raising her as typically as she can means that Ivy gives Caitlin chores and the young girl is expected to participate in household duties including looking after her room, helping to prepare meals and washing up after. When she is with others, she is expected to enjoy being part of the community and Ivy often guides her to do what others are doing.
How blessed I was once when under Ivy’s watchful eye, Caitlin prepared a delicious Keralan chicken stew with coconut milk and spices for us all to enjoy!
Ivy watches and observes her daughter’s desires with care and also provides what she can within her means to nurture Caitlin’s natural interests, including swimming, playing the piano and hiking. Caitlin can read and do maths. She enjoys nature and people.
Ivy remembers Caitlin’s needs and sensory preferences, and rather than aspire to fix her, she works on understanding her and promoting flexibility. Ivy’s advice to others is to leverage on the strengths of others and accept loving care when it is offered.
“Never be haughty or foolish about this,” she says. Both mother and daughter are blessed to have people who are willing to watch over Caitlin when Ivy (who holds a full-time job) is working. There are also those who accompany her on hikes and holidays. Every person, family and friend, who opens their welcoming embrace towards them, Ivy accepts lovingly.
These relationships rub off both ways. Ivy never pushes Caitlin but creates environments for opportunities. Watch Caitlin and you will see how she naturally can sit and join a group of teens or adults and even when she isn’t saying much, she is listening. Others encourage inclusion by letting her chore-share and take part in whatever is happening.
Caitlin has a pleasant demeanour and has learnt to be aware of what is expected of her. Watch Ivy and you won’t see an anxious mother molly-coddling her daughter who has special needs. Ivy mixes with young and old with ease, and pays attention to others – she gives of herself and her spirit in a way that inspires, and what a brilliant model this is to Caitlin.
Caitlin enjoys the conversations around her, laughs at the occasional banter and is happy to be part of all the interaction.
Ivy’s other strength is the way in which she works hand in hand with Caitlin’s therapists and teachers alike. She views them as nurturing partners and seeks to understand and collaborate in what her daughter needs. She doesn’t look at them as service providers and hence does not belittle the efforts when challenges are met, or things are hard going.
This is a remarkable way of establishing mutual collaboration. Together, they can sieve through what works and what doesn’t, and ultimately assist Caitlin’s progress.
The one thing I love is watching Ivy genuinely celebrate Caitlin. It isn’t the birthdays that I speak of, but other milestones such as becoming a teenager. It was a special moment to help Caitlin epilate her legs, get her ears pierced and help her feel doted on and beautiful for her school concert. “Beauty is sometimes painful Caitlin,” Ivy says, to which Caitlin cocks her head to the side and winks sheepishly at her mum.
How blessed Caitlin is because she has a special mother. A mother who doesn’t forget that inside Caitlin is simply a girl who needs to be exactly that.
Pamela Thomas Joseph, a speech therapist by profession, believes that all things begin at home, and are then made stronger by what one surrounds themselves with. What would that be to you? A good book, the voice of a friend, chicken curry and roti jala? The choices are endless.