Media Feature: The Cathedral Podcast
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Produced and hosted by Jenni Ho-Huan, with support from St Andrew’s Cathedral, The Cathedral Podcast helps Christian believers to relate Christian truths to their daily life.
On Episode 12 of The Cathedral Podcast, the guests were founders of social enterprise Soul Food, Mr Gerald Png and Mrs Anne Png, and author of My Unique Child, Ms Jasmine Goh.
This is Jenni. This time, I am having a conversation with three friends, Gerald and Anne Png from Family Inclusion Network and also founders of Soul Food, as well as Jasmine Goh, who is a freelance writer and author of ‘My Unique Child’. Jasmine, why don't we start with you? Tell us why you wrote this book ‘My Unique Child’.
[Jasmine] Well when I was volunteering with the autism ministry in St. Andrew's Cathedral, I started looking around for more resources on special needs and specifically on autism. And what I found was that although there were many resources from overseas, especially from America, from Europe, there were very little that I could find in Singapore. Very little with a local context for local families and Asian families.
We raise our children differently from the West. I felt very strongly that we needed something for the local families and that was one of the main reasons for this book.
[Jenni] Right, tell us briefly what we can find in the book.
[Jasmine] So this book is designed to be very practical. It's organised according to age groups, from children when they first got that diagnosis to adolescence and then to adulthood, so we cover the practical issues that parents will come across in these different stages of life.
And at the end of the day however, I strongly believe that our hope, whether special needs or not, our hope is found only in Christ. And this book, although a large chunk of it contains a lot of practical tips and wisdom, the end point is still our hope in God and that's how I ended the book.
[Jenni] Lovely. Wow, so this sounds like a great book for parents and people who are related, caregivers and Sunday School teachers and all that. And honestly, I think it's something that should be widely read because you know God has called us to really love children. He's put them in our midst as a sign of the kingdom and there's just so much about children we need to really come to appreciate and understand.
So I'm going to jump over now to Anne, because you co-edited another book which is called ‘Call Me By Name’. Now that's a very interesting title. Sounds like an appeal, the title ‘Call Me By Name’. Tell me what's the core message of that.
[Anne] First, ‘Call Me By Name’ is really a collection of 23 real stories of persons with special needs, their families and also those who have found their calling in a social service sector. It is our hope that these heartfelt stories of their journey, often filled with huge unsurmountable challenges, and how they overcome through faith rooted in knowing their identity in God, we inspire and encourage those who are struggling in own journey. And through these voices, we also see and hear the heart of God for those with special needs, the disabled, and even those who are socially excluded. So may we, as you would call appeal, as one body of Christ be deeply moved and put love into action.
[Jenni] …yet you have some very unique challenges simply because they are neuro atypical and I think most people don't understand how challenging it is for some of these kids to do what seems to us like very straightforward tasks.
Jasmine, you want to share some of your experiences with these kids? Just to have our listeners understand that it's not like these kids are trying to be difficult or they're, you know, rebellious or whatever, it's a genuine difficulty they have with some of these things that many of us take for granted.
[Jasmine] I would maybe talk more about their ability to understand what is not said sometimes.
[Jenni] Oh that's interesting.
[Jasmine] In a lot of our conversation, in communication, there is a lot of nonverbal cues that we give out which we can catch on very quickly. And most of us take this for granted. We just assume that anybody who sees these nonverbal cues will automatically understand and interpret them correctly and accurately to respond in an appropriate manner.
[Jenni] Right, social cues.
[Jasmine] Yes, but for, especially for autism, many of these individuals, they have that difficulty in capturing and interpreting them correctly so it results in a situation where we don't understand why they don't understand, and they don't understand why we don't understand them as well.
[Jenni] So there's this mutual frustration. That needs a lot of patience then.
[Jasmine] Yes. And if we really think about it, actually all it requires is for us to just slow down and try to think about what is it that they do not understand or what is it that they had maybe missed in our nonverbal communication methods. Because you know, a flick of a hand, a sideways glance, all say something. But this may be missed for these individuals.
So if we just slow down, you know, on our part we take that time to really just think about, ‘Was it something that I didn't say that created this miscommunication?’ I think that is my main message to many people, to really just think about the way we communicate. Sometimes it's not about them but because we ourselves use so many of these nonverbal cues, that we are not even aware of, that we take for granted people will understand.
[Jenni] So will it help then if when we engaging or interacting with them that we actually become more mindful and become more intentional about what we're saying? Pay attention to what we are saying?
[Jenni] And actually that's so needful in our society because, you know, honestly there's so much miscommunication going on all the time in the world because we are in such a hurry. Even just between us there can be miscommunication. It’s like they are training us to be better communicators!
[Jasmine] Yeah, in Singapore, we are all rushing from place to place. We are all talking so quickly. Sometimes it makes communication very difficult.
[Anne] Yes I would say for us, I would say that perhaps, humbly, the success working with our team, they're all special in their own ways, all differently abled, but I think we have built over the years, trust, relationship. And time is super important like Gerald said, give them time. Jasmine said the same thing, give them time. Allow them, even allow them time to respond to you. Because very often, we find that even a casual ‘Hello’, we won’t wait for them to respond in most times and we just move on.
[Anne] I would borrow Gerald's title in my book, chapter 19, it says to find the stars in them. Because if we identify, in fact we identify the strengths of each one of them. If their strength is in front of house, then they’d be trained front of house. If they are better off cooking or they prefer to be in a more quiet environment rather than being too vulnerable, open to too many people out there, we respect that too.
But having said that, we would challenge them. Once in a while, we would bring them out.
[Jenni] And that's the whole discipleship journey. You're here but you can grow a little bit at a time. And Jasmine?
[Jasmine] Well, I think I would draw on Gerald’s point about learning from them. I think my own personal journey has really been just a lot of learning. I came into the special needs community, you know, with zero knowledge. I was just an undergrad in university when I first started volunteering. And I think in these past 10 years, I've just learned so much. And I would say that is God's love for me, to be able to see this side of society and in a way, to use what he has given to me, my gifts and talents, to serve this community in such a manner - in writing, in collecting stories, in doing interviews. In my job as a writer, that's what I do.
And I would say I'm just privileged that God would use these gifts and talents to serve this special needs community.
[Jenni] Thank you for saying that. You know, as Christians, we believe that every life is precious and we always say that children are a blessing. And when we say that, we mean every single child.
And it's up to us to mine that blessing, so I really appreciate what you're sharing, Jasmine, to have that very open heart and to really feel that this is God's love for me, giving me an opportunity to be a part of this community and finding a way to use my gifts to build up this community.
Our Unique Stories was founded by Jasmine to tell the stories of those with special needs, disabilities, and mental illnesses. Do you have a story to share or know someone who does? Talk to us.