Features, Highlights

Grappling with autism and faith

The boys enjoying a run with their father as our family gets ready for our annual participation in the Standard Chartered Marathon Kids’ Dash to raise funds for local autism charities. Our family fundraiser movement, which was set up in 2011, has raised over $42,000 for these charities. We are blessed beyond measure to run alongside our boys in the marathon of autism and life.

Life never works out the way one expects it to. When you grow up, you realise that relationships aren’t easy, responsibilities are never-ending, married life isn’t a honeymoon forever and motherhood is never as easy as celebrity-mom interviews promise.

Both my boys, now aged 7 and 9 years old, were diagnosed with autism as toddlers. D, my firstborn, now enjoys a typical mainstream primary school life. E, my younger son, has lower-functioning autism. He doesn’t speak, needs help for activities of daily living and attends a special education school.

People respond differently when they realise both my sons have autism, ranging from sympathy (feeling that I’m unlucky) to indifference (unsure of what to say). Many share advice (sometimes unsolicited) or feel-good posts about autistic prodigies. Some feel that because I am a doctor, I’m well-equipped to help my boys.

They couldn’t be more wrong. It was a steep learning curve and I spent nights researching autism and attended many training events by professionals. I focused on helping D (diagnosed earlier), who improved markedly even before he started early intervention. E, however, progressed very slowly. Many, on meeting D now, say that they wouldn’t have suspected he was autistic and even congratulate me for having “done a good job”.

I could never shake that phrase off. Why is it good that D seems “normal”? What does that make E, who’s still obviously autistic? Was it really my good work? I applied everything I learnt to E as well and till today, I’m still waiting for him to progress. Why?

No two people with autism are alike. They all have challenges with social interaction, communication and flexibility, but these manifest differently in each individual. I wanted E to progress like D had, so that life would return to some form of predictability. I wanted to take the driver’s seat, and know the exact turn of the road ahead, to “do a good job” to help both my boys. God was reminding me that much as I wanted a good job to be done, that role was His. His ways are higher, and I was to trust Him to work everything for my good.

As I grappled with motherhood and autism, I was overwhelmed by helplessness and hopelessness. In E’s case, I had no control over his progress – Will he call me “mommy”? Will he become independent? What will happen after I die? Am I doing enough for him? There was nobody from whom I could seek assurance about the future and I turned back to God, questioning Him repeatedly.

At the end of each wrestling session, God always reminded me that His plans are to give me a hope and a future. Because of autism, God’s power will be displayed in my boys for His glory. By God’s grace and the influence of my husband’s positive spirit, I looked away from these worries to fix my gaze on Jesus and His love. Today, my outlook has changed. I can say with confidence that my hope in God is not fraught with uncertainty because He is on this journey with us.

As my husband and I journey on this path less travelled, we’ve experienced first-hand what it means to be rejected and judged. Yet we know God did not give us two autistic boys for us to wallow in self-pity and bitterness. We are called to share that autism is not an abyss of hopelessness, to raise awareness both in and outside the church, and to share the hope we have in Christ even when life takes an unexpected turn.

Dominique Phang –

shares her experience as mother to two boys with autism. She is a member of Sengkang Methodist Church.


Photos courtesy of Dominique Phang