Last week, Faith's class on the Early Intervention Programme for Infants and Young Children (EIPIC) graduated. She had been in the program since she was two, and was the youngest kid in the school when she first joined the pioneer batch for the program. Now it was time to move up to the regular Special Education programme.
This was the first graduation ceremony we've ever attended for any one of our kids.
It was with mixed feelings that we watched the whole affair. Sure, we were proud of her, but we also knew she was not graduating in the strictest sense of the word. We doubt if we would ever see her graduate in the way regular kids do, and the ceremony was a sober reminder of this.
In many ways, children who attend our "many helping hands" (and "no central government hand") special school system just barely get by. When you reach 18, as a special needs person, you leave the system, and you're on your own.
My mom once asked the father of one of the older kids, "So what is your son going to do now that he is 18 and no longer able to attend Special School?"
"Stay home, lor," said the father, with a shrug.
It is not for that A1 in the exams we look for, but little signs of victory, like learning to suck a straw (which is key to developing speech), dragging the maid by the finger to lead her to the toilet at 4am in the morning (the first signs of toilet training) and asking for her water by pointing (joint attention).
Mommy brought Faith backstage to get her into her robes and mortar board. Faith was in a giggly mood, which is how she deals with the sensory overload of the event.
"She cannot help herself, ok? Remember that, " I said to a slightly annoyed Mommy, as she struggled to dress Faith.
The mortar board did not fit her, it was too big and they only had one size.
Even the velcro did not help. The hat kept falling off her head. In the end, Mommy had to press down on Faith's head to keep the hat in place, holding it all the way till it was her turn to get her present from the school principal. The mortar board still fell off in the end, and we just laughed it off.
Still, the ceremony was an important symbol for most of the parents there. It brought some sense of closure for their special children, a milestone of sorts. And we were here to celebrate that.
There was a party after the ceremony, and while they were playing games in the auditorium, I waited with Faith near her favourite place in the whole school, the Hydrotherapy Pool, where she gets to swim once a week.
I looked at the water with Faith, then found myself whispering, almost to myself, "You know, Papa is very proud of you today."
Faith looked at me with a big grin on her face, and then burst out laughing, sending a few pieces of the char siew pau she was eating in my direction.
(A small Flickr set of the day)