Faith

In awe of God and autism: A new book offers help

Shereen Ng // January 3, 2019, 11:34 pm

Autism_book_story

Photo by MI PHAM on Unsplash

Sheer curiosity led Jasmine Goh to sign up as a volunteer in the special needs ministry of her church.

A sure Kingdom call – undiscernible at first – was what kept her serving week after week.

The fruit of that nine-year experience is her book, My Unique Child: A Practical Guide to Raising a Child With Autism, launched in the third quarter of 2018.

“Growing up, I wanted to be a writer,” Goh, now 28, says. “I daydreamed about publishing my own novels one day.”

Landing a job in design publication upon her graduation from the National University of Singapore was “a dream come true”.

Meanwhile, in the background, God was dreaming up a much grander story for her – non-fiction perhaps, but inspired nonetheless.

Stepping forward

It was in 2010 that Goh responded to a call for volunteers for the special needs ministry that her church, St Andrew’s Cathedral, was starting.

“Back then, I had zero experience working with special needs children.

“All I knew about them was what I was learning from a Psycholinguistics module that I was taking in university then.”

All-inclusive: A day out with the Shalomkids is filled with all sorts of adventure.

Serving in the ministry, called Shalomkids, opened her eyes to the challenges of even a simple family day out. The children could act up at any time and their caregivers had to manage them, as well as the reaction of onlookers.

Why should families with special needs children be denied childhood’s simple joys?

Before long, she realised that caregivers were mostly learning the ropes as they went along, having neither the time nor the energy to read through the available helps – a collection of material largely filled with technical jargon.

She would look around at the regular Singapore family with young children playing ‘catching’, having a picnic, shopping at the toy store and ask herself: Why should families with special needs children be denied these simple joys?

She yearned to provide practical handles to help them. Somehow, she also knew that through it all, God was steadily moving her heart for the community and showing her how much He loved them.

The write stuff

The thought of writing an easy-to-read book that was grounded in sound research struck in 2014.

For two years, she combed the library for books on autism, read research papers and interviewed experts. The Linguistics grad also spoke to caregivers, family members, school teachers and principals before the first draft of her book was ready in 2016.

Sharing that a common remark made of her was, “You’re so young!” she says: “My biggest challenge – both professionally and personally – was to have others take me seriously.

Never too young: For Jasmine Goh, My Unique Child represents the triumph of a Spirit-filled journey.

“As a 24-year-old when I first started writing the book, many people thought I was on a school project.”

It was especially difficult to get the parents to take her seriously. “For one, I have never been a mother,” she says.

Secondly, they’ve come across many students who have offered “help”, only to disappear after the completion of their school project or module.

But Goh’s book dream was never more vivid. Although she sometimes questioned herself and God if she was doing the right thing – and even took time off from writing – pressing on and pulling through was continually giving her deeper insights into the character of God.  

Unanswered questions

“Why did You create autism?” was one obvious question she asked Him.

To this day, she has not found the reason. However, she has had the privilege of journeying with others who have had equal, if not greater, difficulty with the non-answers.

“Why me? Why my son? Why did You allow autism to exist?”

In the course of her research Goh met a young mother who shared that she had once barraged God with: “Why me? Why my son? Why did You allow autism to exist?”

Her son, Asher*, was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) as a toddler. She took him to multiple healing services and gospel rallies, only to return home disappointed each time.

Christ my Cornerstone: Asher reaches developmental milestones at his own pace, in God’s perfect timing.

He couldn’t hit the typical developmental milestones. At age eight, he couldn’t even hold a pen, let alone write.

But she kept her faith, and soon, he began drawing his interpretations of Bible stories.

Goh shares: “She said: ‘You know, I used to be so angry at God. I wanted Him to heal my son my way and in my time.

“ ‘Fast forward many years from those intensive years, he is still autistic but he has come a long way.

“ ‘Through it all, God’s strength has been made perfect through our weakness. If he had been miraculously delivered of autism, at the snap of a finger at a healing rally, it would have been a fleeting moment of triumph for us.

“ ‘Our ability to still trust God shows that the fellowship of the Holy Spirit is stronger than any disability.

“ ‘He has been quite a source of inspiration for many Christians. People take a look at us and they say that they can see that God’s name has been glorified.

“ ‘We are still surviving and still happy in spite of all the things they have seen us go through.’ ”

Asher’s first WordArt book was published in 2016 when he was 12. His second, WordArt2, was released this year.

Goh adds: “While the boy hasn’t been healed the way we’d imagine, he is a living testimony. God’s wisdom is really beyond ours.”

“God’s wisdom is really beyond ours.”

Tomorrow’s road

Upon reflection, Goh’s assessment is that it’s not been “a perfect journey” for her. “Instead, it’s a continuous walk to building my identity in Christ.”

She testifies that working with children with special needs and their families has been as much about her growth as it has been about theirs.

“The biggest lesson for me is to trust in the work of the Holy Spirit.

“With special needs children, you often wonder if they’re really listening to you. You could have planned the best visual presentation and included the most exciting games.

“Yet, as you are teaching, some of the children are walking about, while others are staring blankly into space.

“You can’t give them a test and see if they’ve actually understood the Bible stories.

“In the work that we do, we can only trust that somehow, the Holy Spirit is reaching them.”

Her dream now is that every church in Singapore would be the inclusive community that Jesus exemplified in his ministry on earth.

Having left her full-time job to go freelance, she accepts opportunities to speak on autism and also runs mini-workshops in cell groups “to help us start thinking about how the church can be more welcoming towards these individuals and their families”.

“In the work that we do, we can only trust that somehow, the Holy Spirit is reaching them.”

“When I find myself comparing (my life) with others, like my peers who are bringing in a stable income or fellow writers who are getting so many speaking invitations, I hold fast to John 21:21.”

In it, Peter asks Jesus: “What about him, Lord?”

“And that’s a question so familiar to us. We look around instead of looking up. We look back instead of forward.

“But Jesus clearly instructs Peter to follow Him, regardless of what He is doing in the lives of others.

“I have learnt that our God works in ways far beyond our imagination.”

*Asher’s surname has been withheld for reasons of privacy.

My Unique Child: A Practical Guide to Raising a Child With Autism, $28, is available at www.ouruniquestories.com/the-book.

About the author

Shereen Ng

Shereen has a heart for people stories. She's a freelance writer, who also doubles up as a pastoral carer in a nursing home. She considers it a gift to be able to listen to real life stories, and a greater one to be able to share them.