I migrated with special needs son to Australia; he graduated from university at 17

This is just a piece of paper, but a paper that is full of sweat, tears and stories.

Just not too long ago, in 2011, Sean was labeled with multiple learning disabilities. Even though he was selected to be in the gifted education program (GEP) in Singapore, we were told we have to withdraw him from the program because they didn't want him after spending a year there. Instead, they wanted me to put him into a school for special needs children.

Sean did not want to go to the special needs school, because he felt that he did not belong there. The psychologist we hired told us that the place was not suitable for him. MOE and the school were not happy we did not heed their advice, some are not happy that I refused to put him on ritalin. So the only solution they gave me was to exclude Sean in all school activities if I were to send him to school.

They would put him in the principal's office. The school, out of the goodwill of the principal, will assign a Math teacher to him.

What about other subjects? And what if you just allow him to take PE and recess with his peers? I asked. It was a straight no.

I couldn't send my son to school to sit in the principal's office all day long, he would never understand why he was not allowed to mingle with his friends. So I took him home.

I had no solution, but I was determined to find one. I will educate him myself, I thought.

The psychologist told me that homeschooling Sean will endanger me, I had no clue what that meant when she first told me that, but I did not have an alternative. So I brought him together with the rest of the 4 kids to Australia, determined to find a solution for each kid.

The older two kids were attending university but Sean and the other two younger ones had no school to go to, since they were not residents, no public school could take them, the private schools were full.

Out of the container that I rented, I taught Jo and Sean daily for two hours. He was 10, and we moved quickly from Year 4 work to Year 12 work. All within six months. He was attentive and a quick learner. He even won some medals for his SAT exams for being a top scorer. Jo moved from Year 8 to Year 12 in that time period too.

Jo became the youngest the university matriculated at 13, outdone only by Sean. By 11, he enrolled in UQ, and became the youngest they matriculated in history. The condition for him to attend university at this age was that I must accompany him for every class.

I gladly did. Every class, every day, every moment. 30 to 40 hours a week, plus having to bring up 3 other teenagers and a younger son, and all by myself.

Half way through the degree, he started to fail everything. He told me he really did not like that he had no age peers. So we stopped university and got him enrolled in high school.

In high school, he felt out of place, he found kids noisy and boisterous. After 18 months in high school, we decided to dual enroll him, both in the university and high school.

When it got too noisy in school, he would hide in the toilet, sometimes for the whole day. It became so bad, the tutor wanted me to bring to see a psychologist. The psychologist, to my surprise, told me that Sean is way ahead of his peers socially. All these years, I was told he is autistic, in that he is socially poor, and all these years, I was told to send him to therapies so he could catch up and learn social skills. Five years of doing all these later, I was told he is the opposite. His problem is that he cannot endure the childish behaviour of his age peers.

Sean turned 16, he could attend classes in the university alone finally. After sitting in for 2 years full-time and 2 years part-time, I finally bought some time for myself (except that Youngest One started university on the same terms, and so I have to sit his classes).

Sean started to skip many many classes. In the end, we found out that he was sleeping in the library. It is also then we found out that he has a sleeping disorder, narcolepsy. The university made some provisions for him, so that his exams are never in difficult hours of the day.

That was just last year. And with that, he finally graduated with his degree, and is into his second semester on his masters program.

What a journey. This piece of paper is probably the most hard earned one for me this lifetime. It is also the most precious.

Sean is now 18, he is officially an adult (in Australia), and looking back, I will never do it any other way. I think, journeying this with him has made me a much better person than otherwise. I am thankful for all that we had to go through, and I am thankful he was put into my life. I learned so much.

Well done, Sunshine Boy.

*Even though Sean started university the earliest, he did not graduate the youngest at 17 because of his multiple anxiety problems. Jo graduated at 16 and the Youngest One will graduate at 16 as well. It really does not matter. We took the time to adjust and ensure each child is comfortable in the education path. Education is about finding our kids' potential and bringing that to the fullest. Isn't it? Time and age should not determine what we do with them.

This post first appeared on the FaceBook wall of Ms Pamela Liu. You may wish to share your perspectives and afterthoughts with her on the page itself.


My child would be homeschooled (a private tutor’s perspective)

The Australian Education System-From A Singaporean Mum's Point of View

Love is patient and kind... not demanding and nagging.