Liza Foong and her daughter Vanessa Wang were rushing to meet us on the day of the interview when 18-year-old Vanessa fell down along the way. After apologising for being late, Liza sat down and regaled us with her colourful and gleeful account of raising a child with autism. Throughout the interview, Liza was positive, cheerful and confident, incessantly showering Vanessa, who constantly bemoaned her injured knee, with love and concern.
“It is not until you become a mother that your judgment slowly turns to compassion and understanding.”
Erma Bombeck, American humorist and writer
A woman of multiple talents, Liza Foong is a music producer and Managing Director at New Strings Ministry, and also holds a degree in early childhood education. Liza is also the courageous,warm, and patient single mother of a son and daughter Vanessa, after late husband passed on in November 2011 during a sports game.
“While she [Vanessa] was growing up, I found that her development stages were all very different from her elder brother. Her development stages were slower than the norm. For example, she would crawl three months later than a normal kid,” she says.
And when everyone was expecting Vanessa to talk when she turned one, she just kept silent and liked hiding herself in a room, engrossed in watching the television. Her quirky behaviour was worrying.
Liza contemplated Vanessa’s condition for a long time, and kept it in her heart. It was only until she was four years old, after a phone call from her nursery teacher on her first day of school, that Liza gradually accepted the fact that Vanessa is a special needs child.
“As parents, it is very hard for us to acknowledge that you have a special needs kid. I truly broke down and cried,” she echoes.
She courageously accepted the truth and brought Vanessa to the psychologist to be diagnosed.
“We don’t label the child [as] ‘autistic’. So we have our own term, they are special needs children or she is a child of autism,” she explains.
She stresses, “Sometimes, when you are not in that situation, it is very difficult to understand. Only people in the same boat will understand the hardship. Because we face her every day, it is not like we are facing her for only a few hours.”
Challenges and Concerns
One of the biggest challenges Liza faced was Vanessa’s tantrums. According to Liza, a child with autism is very temperamental and wanting in communication skills. “When they need something, they would just cry or grab your hands and demand you to get the things for them. This is the way they express themselves,” says Liza.
When Vanessa was younger, she would cry, sometimes for hours, but she wouldn’t tell you why she cried, Liza recalls. To handle her temperament, Liza had to shift her attention to other things to calm her down.
Our love is selfless…There is neither motive nor reason for loving our children.
Liza Foong, Music Producer and Managing Director at New Strings Ministry
Vanessa would also display a lot of undesirable behaviours such as humming, crying and screaming at the top of her voice, which is getting lesser as she grows up. Liza has to be patient and constantly remind her, “Vanessa, please stop, thank you”, until she realises she cannot do it again.
Liza asserts, “The whole family has to accommodate the needs of this group of children. If you are not patient enough, not loving enough, then it will be hard.”
Besides that, she has to teach Vanessa basic survival skills such as cooking and washing. Vanessa is currently attending school at Grace Orchard School and is on an attachment with Personalized Love at SG Enabling School, making artisan handicrafts. This year is her last year in school, and Liza is pondering about her future. “I have to continue to think what is next for her,” she says.
Another concern for Liza is Vanessa’s personal safety. “As she is a girl, there are a lot of things to be concerned about. I told her if she is on the bus, she can’t let anyone touch her,” she says.
“I am scared because I am a mother.”
A Joyful and Precious Learning Process
Liza’s positivity offers us a lot of food for thought. She does not view raising Vanessa as a process of pain and sacrifice; rather, she treats it as a joyful and precious learning experience.
Through her daughter, she has become a better person who is able to empathise with families in the same situation.
“Frankly speaking, I don’t really sacrifice for her. If you treat her as family, you won’t feel like you need to sacrifice for her. We are a family and we work things out together. Well, I am not better than her in any way. I feel that [there] is more [love] and understanding,” says Liza matter-of-factly.
Liza emphasises there is no pain bringing up Vanessa. Instead, she has taught Liza to be more patient, loving, compassionate, and accommodating. Most importantly, it has made her a stronger woman. Through her daughter, she has become a better person who is able to empathise with families in the same situation.
“Well, she is still the life wire at home and has her very own beautiful ways of enlightening you and making you laugh,” she says, her face beaming with delight.
Her greatest joy, she says with a laugh, is witnessing her daughter’s growth and seeing Vanessa grow into someone who is true to herself and not moulded by expectations.
‘Giving them our unconditional love’ is the greatness of a mother, Liza believes. “Our love is selfless. You won’t ask for repayment. And it is not a trade; there is no way to calculate, it is not by mathematical calculation. There is neither motive nor reason for loving our children,” she says.
“It is always a joy having her. I don’t feel it is a burden.”
Accept Them With a Smile
Liza encourages parents of kids with autism to come together to support their children, and stay positive, hopeful and not give up as it is not the end of the world.
Liza has a candid piece of advice for individuals who are wary of autism:“不要帶異樣的眼光看他們。(Do not have a prejudiced viewpoint against them.) Nobody wants their kids to be like that. Don’t mock, or be so puzzled or make a fuss over this. Smile and accept them.”
At the end of the interview, we asked Vanessa what she wanted to say to Liza on Mother’s Day. She said affectionately to her mother, “Mummy, I love you,” and kissed her on the cheek.