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The Path Less Travelled

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Right now, as much as I want to be an explorer, a lover, an athlete, a scholar, above it all, I just want to be human. Everyone has their own definition of what it means to be human. To me, being human is learning to explore humanity in its own right. I want to learn to love the perfections and imperfections of humanity. I want to meet people, all kinds of people. I want to empathize and live their lives. Hearing about the experiences that parents have with their children with autism, the simple joy, the struggles of their daily lives, have always made me intrigued by how the tiniest activity to us such as maintaining eye contact with the people we interact with, is potentially a milestone for a child with autism. It hurts me to listen to parents talk about how they are unable to spring a hug on their child because it’s not part of the routine, and it might upset them. It breaks my heart to learn how they worry about their child’s future, not in the same way as how your parents or mine do. Our parents worry if we would fall into the wrong company, they hope that we would be successful in life, they wish for us to be happy. These parents with autistic children, worry about how their children deal with things we take for granted like interacting with people in the future; they’d be proud if their child is able to live one day without throwing a tantrum, and could care less if they top the class in school or not; they worry about their child living independently, being able to look after themselves, and not if they earn only $500 a month.  They can live with the rude stares and gossips that people direct at them when their child acts out in public, because they know that they love their child like no other, and do not wish for them to be different.

This was part of what I wrote during the time when I got news of my internship in Pathlight (you can read it here), and I’m glad that at the end of 5 months, this conviction has not wavered a single bit.

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Today, marks the end of my 5 month internship at Pathlight School. It’s pretty much a bittersweet feeling towards the end, knowing that you really deserve this break after slogging it out, with trainings and games every 1, 3, 5, 6 after school, and tuitions every 2, 4 ,6, yet at the same time, there is this sense of emptiness within me, when the reality of never setting foot in the school again hits me. The thought of going back to NUS, and not boarding the 7:09am bus 45 to Pathlight every weekday next year, the thought of not writing down checklists and schedules for anyone else, not needing to follow your kid around to the toilet and to get food, not needing to hold on to a clipboard from 7.40 to 2.30pm, not doing up visuals any more, there is no longer need for me to reach school earlier to do traffic duty, nor the need to follow the exact same schedule every day of the week for 5 months. Most of all, there is no longer anyone whom I need to repeat my instructions to at least 50x a day, force to do jumping jacks, and use the ASD lingo of any verb + -ing. As much as they were once dreadful, and at points of time, annoying and exasperating, these are the missing parts of my life right now. My mind is filled with so much conflicting thoughts currently that I can’t seem them to piece them cohesively, yet I don’t want to write this post up any later because I want this void to be filled with good memories.

The Journey

The journey hasn’t been all sunshine and unicorns. It’s not like what most people think, what I am referring to is the sense of fulfillment that you think I would feel at the end of everyday, even though the students can be difficult to manage and all. No. That’s not true at all. It is difficult to find positives in your day, much less to feel fulfillment when you barely have time for yourself everyday. You reach home earliest at 10pm, and you rush to get your dinner in before retiring to bed, and waking up at 540am again in the morning, day in and day out. It might be possible for others to feel fulfilled at the end of the day, knowing that they have impacted the students in one way or another, but not me. I find it so, so tiring, and at times, even dreadful.

Can you imagine, going to school doing the same things everyday. Attempting to teach 17 year old students how to tell time for 2 hours straight, for weeks, and they don’t get it. Students who repeat themselves 30+ times, no matter whether you respond to them or ignore them (yes, I counted). You, trying your best to get them to listen to you, but to no avail. Students who misbehave and your teacher shoots you a death stare when it’s not even within your control. Coming up with more than 100 different versions of the SAME exam paper manually, where you have to shuffle the questions and options, through copy and pasting, and deleting, then waiting for all of them to print and staple them together.

During this internship, it was my first time feeling so helpless for the first time of my life, being unable to get my point through, or not being able to get my students to listen to me. Every other day I’m just so drained with work, gym, training and tuitions. Yet, I know that I am not in any position to complain because this was what I chose. I am not even worthy enough to complain because I am only in this for a mere 5 months. Think about the parents who have to go through this all their lives, and doing even more than it’s required of me. I’ve heard about parents who take the effort to bring their children from one end of Singapore to another, just to encourage good behavior; parents who quit their high flying jobs just to make sure that their child gets the best care, and many, many more. I know all of our parents have sacrificed some parts of their lives just for the sake of giving the best to us, I know that the worry of a parent would never end no matter how old we are, but at least, when we are older, our parents could have it a little easier, as we ease into adulthood. Yet, for the parents we’ve met, they are worried of their child’s future, not whether they would get into the wrong company or making mistakes in life, they have to care about independent living, or the most basic stuff such as trying get them to use words to communicate their needs. Some parents even have to accompany their children to school, and sit at the foyer for the whole duration to make sure that their child stays in school. So, who am I to complain about being tired or frustrated with dealing with the students?

What keeps me going everyday, despite the challenges I face, is seeing how I grow and get better with communicating with my students, celebrating little successes along the way, and not just going for the big win all the time. I remember sharing about what Dr. Lam said about communication being a 2 way thing: the reason why the students are unable to get me, may be simply because I am inexperienced in reading their behaviors and getting my point through. As time passes, you begin to understand the different profiles of your students, their ways of communication, and what is the best way to get them to understand you.

Let me share with you about a small success I celebrated. I had this student in Housekeeping, who constantly have to spray his chemicals more than once on to his cloth, and never listened to any of our commands in class. He is a non-verbal student, and hence, it was initially difficult for me to comprehend his actions and behaviors. I was assigned to him, and have been told to simply supervise him, and that it would be almost impossible for me to change his habits because of his various fixations. When you tell me things like “almost impossible”, all it screams to me is, “Challenge Accepted”. So I got down to trying my best to learn about his profile, and tried all the ways I know to get him to deviate from his fixation of excessive spraying. On good days it worked, but on most days, I just failed embarrassingly. I just nagged at him 2 hours everyday, and shoving visuals into his face, and after getting sneezed in the face by him, and his saliva dripping on my hands, he finally obeyed every single command I gave him one day, and it stayed that way until his assessment. I am glad to say that he got his certification at the Housekeeping worksite, and I thank him for teaching me to celebrate little successes along the way, and finally being able to score a big win. I think that’s probably what we should do in our lives; not discounting our own efforts and keep persisting and believing.

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And also, he has been trying to tell me about this character, Rosita from Sesame Street whom I have no idea about for the past 4 months, and one day when I finally found out what he was talking about, when he constantly says “Orange nose’ and “ribbon”, I felt so damn happy. This picture is how we communicate and laugh together from then on. 

I can never stay angry for more than 5 minutes because these students are just so, innocent. Their innocence are simply unrivaled. Can you imagine meeting someone who would shoot you a “OMG OH NO I AM VERY SORRY” look when they purposely do something wrong? I’m sure you will never find people who are as honest and as pure as them, and that’s what makes my heart melt all the time. And just simply sitting around to observe them, just puts a smile on my face, knowing how far they have come in life.

Besides, through this internship, I’ve experienced so much for myself, that is not gained through interacting with my students. I got so many opportunities to talk to people of different walks of life, to go to places that I’ve never been to before, and seen things that I would never have if I were in school. Through this internship, it was the first time I’ve been to some museum, to Gardens by the bay, and even a free trip to USS and to bowl and eat McDonald’s for free. It may not be that big of a deal to the others, but I find these really experiential, such as the free McDonald’s meal because since when would you have to queue for 1.5 hours just to get a meal for your students and order anything you want there? To me, it was really quite fun! Hahaha, cheap thrill but yeah. It was also my first time working a paper cutter, a label maker, doing a recording for the students’ listening component for exams, and watching a 3D printer do its thing. HOW COOL?! And it was also my first time working at a classroom, which is made to simulate a hotel room. Amazing. Just amazing. Lastly, as much as it was dreadful, having to wake up earlier than usual, I even had the chance to do traffic duty, which can get really entertaining at times.

Let’s take a walk down memory lane of all my Firsts with me through all the pictures!

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Me on my very first traffic duty! HAHAHA!

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My first outing with the school on National Day

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Second Outing with the school but my virgin trip to Gardens by the Bay!

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Last outing with the school to USS on the last week of school! And here’s us regretting our decision of taking the Mummy ride, which turned out to be better than we remembered!

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I still cannot get used to the fact that I’m being called Ms Clara, or introducing myself as Ms Clara. But Starbucks coffee, with an extra shot is only $2+ here. I love the foyer cafe. LOVE. 

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And of course, I’m even more surprised to be on the receiving end of Teachers’ day gifts because I’m definitely am no teacher and will never be one. Still amazingly touched and honored. But it’s still strange. 

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And I’ve never been treated as a rubbish bin before. I remembered this conversation very vividly.
“Throw away”
“I’m a rubbish bin is it?”
“Yes” *empties eraser dust and pencil sharpenings on to my hand*

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I’ve never seen such a HUGE roll of bubble wrap in my life before as well. 

Looking back, this internship experience, short it may be, has definitely let me experience more things that I could ever have in a typical school term. Learning how to communicate effectively with students with ASD, experiencing so many things for the first time, and lastly, through this internship, I learnt to appreciate everyone around me more. Despite how challenging everyday can be, I witnessed how everyone I know just shower me with so much care and love every day. I know I don’t show enough appreciation for them as I should, it’s simply because I really don’t know how to return the favor. Every day I’m just so thankful and touched to have my family around to give me the much needed care I need, and have my boy around with me as my pillar of support.

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My maid and parents always make sure that there is something for me to eat after every training and tuition, even though they have been slacking recently in terms of providing me with food, I’m still thankful of the support they have been giving me throughout this period of time. It’s not like they haven’t been showering me with enough love all the time, but it’s my first time in 3 years being living at home for such a long time, and even though sometimes I can get really easily annoyed due to the lack of alone time, my parents are always understanding when I get pissed off or show them black face when they try to engage in a conversation with me. I feel horrible about it but some times, it’s just get really tiring, and I just want to be alone. I’m really glad that I have them as my support and I’m always appreciative of their efforts to take care of me, and I just really love them. The only reason for wanting to get out to work earlier, is so that I can finally provide for them and just giving them what they deserve for loving me so unconditionally. 

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I am, of course, really thankful and appreciative to have my boy with me during this period of time. He’s constantly trying his best to make things better for me everyday, and tolerating my nonsense, and mood swings. I dare say he’s the one who gets the worst end of my angst, but I’m just thankful to have him still with me, despite all the bad things I do to him. Hahaha! See the 76 missed calls? I fell asleep while preparing for my tuition one night, and he called me till 4 plus, until I finally woke up, HAHAHAHHA! Benny, I know It hasn’t been easy for us recently, with all the disagreements and with both of us trying very hard to spend as much time as possible with each other, with both of our commitments and crazily packed schedules. It was indeed a trying time for us, but I just want to tell you that, after all we have been through, it just makes me more certain that you are the one who I want to live with all my life. Thank you for tolerating my nonsense, thank you for always trying to be the more mature partner, thank you for always trying to put a smile on myself no matter how difficult I can get, thank you for never failing to fetch me home from training every time just so I don’t go home any later and can get as much rest as possible. Thank you for just being you. I can never thank you enough, just thank you for being the one I look forward to seeing, on good and bad days.

The last group of people I would like to thank, are the fellow interns that I have met during this 5 months, who made the experience much more bearable and memorable. Even though we may not be doing the same things together, the only thing I look forward to everyday is to 2pm, when we can just sit down together and share about our day. Listening to your experiences and reactions never fail to crack me up. Thank you guys for always being so tolerant towards my nonsense, and just being the best company I can have. It’s amazing how us 3, who sat together randomly during the induction program, turned out to be assigned to the same track, with an uncanny stroke of luck, especially with someone stealing Tricia’s spot at the secondary school, and she had to come over to Track V instead.

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Everyone meet Tricia, she eats atas food everyday. Even though this girl is the youngest amongst us, she is so crappy that we can click so well together. I’m so glad that she came over to the same track because without her, we would not have a common target to laugh at all the time. HAHAHA! This cutie pie drew me a birthday card too! She is seriously damn adorable and is seriously going to kill me for this!

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This was taken at the end of term 3, when we were still so strong in numbers. After the September holidays, we were only down to 3 interns. 

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2 new interns from TP joined us at the start of Term 4, and that was the best thing that has happened to us because we got so much closer together. I miss the times when we just lepak in Com lab 4 and me, sleeping in front of my favorite computer. Thank you for being such amazing company to me, and thank you for the birthday surprise which I really, really appreciated.

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Even though this looks like a primary school kid’s work of art, it took a lot of time and effort for me to do it okay? Cause I suck at art. And I would only stay up late after training to do this up for you guys. Hahaha! 

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I am truly glad that we managed to get so much closer to each other throughout the internship. I have often seen friends who got really close to their fellow interns and colleagues during their internship stint, but have never thought that it would happen to me because from my past experiences in my part time jobs, my colleagues and I were never this close, and it was always a little awkward when we hang out together. I am sincerely thankful that this happened to us, and it’s amazing how we all are just able to hit off so well at work, and entertain each other so much off work. Thank you guys for being part of this experience, and you all are part of the reason why there’s a void in my heart right now. Let’s meet up again really soon to just catch up and to get fat together alright?

Oh, before I forget,

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To my trusty clipboard, I’m sorry you broke suddenly in the middle of class when we were 15 minutes away to the end of internship. I’m really very sad. You’ve served me well, just so you know.

The journey has ended, but the memories would always be etched in my heart.

I’m glad that I’ve achieved and felt whatever I’ve set out to feel when I came to the decision to accept this internship. This experience is definitely something, which I would look back and smile upon 30 years down the road. This is undeniably one of the defining things that has happened to me in my university life, and it’s something that I would hold it in a special place in my heart. From the bottom of my heart, thank you all who have been part of this experience.

The end feels understandably surreal, but I’m excited to embark on the next chapter of my life as well. “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.”, and now, it’s time to start living.

    

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  1. November 15, 2014    

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