I DON’T personally know the woman who has been made an Internet sensation by someone posting an unflattering video of her berating a city council officer who clamped her car that was parked in an OKU parking lot but I sure know how it feels to be “irate”.
While the cyber world watches that video and condemns her, no one really knows the war she’s been through or constantly goes through as a caregiver for an OKU (assuming it’s true).
By the way, I’ve been there.
As the father of a 23-year-old special needs person, or OKU as they are unceremoniously called here, I know for a fact that the daily stress level of a caregiver is beyond most people’s comprehension. Hence, a video footage shows only the consequence of her meltdown and not the reason.
While I’m not making excuses for her behaviour at the time, I can tell you that it doesn’t take much to tip a caregiver (especially the primary caregiver who probably has the disabled person 24/7, 365) off the edge and go berserk.
As a matter of fact, I had to restrain myself the other day as I took my strapping young special needs son to watch the Inhumans movie (a fitting title, coincidentally) which he wanted to watch at the IMAX cinema. Just as the movie was starting, my son decided he wanted to go and eat pizza instead. I spent the next 10 minutes negotiating with him to continue to watch the movie and then have dinner afterwards. He went into an angry fit and flung his backpack and sweater across the cinema. He then threatened to rip his clothes up, starting with his pants.
By then, the audience was watching this spectacle rather than the movie.
Next, my son stood up and berated me at the top of his voice. At that point, the art of negotiation was no longer an option.
I could tackle him (as I sometimes do) to the ground (in a delicately hard but gentle manner) and hold him down for a few minutes till his meltdown tapers off. But I decided against that and took him out of the cinema as he was totally belligerent and obnoxious at that point.
On the way out, he bashed the auto door and unhinged it. I spent the next 10 minutes fixing it before the management sent me a bill.
On the way downstairs, he threw his bag to the ground again. By the time we made our way three floors down the mall to the pizza place, he wanted to go back to the cinema.
That, my fellow human beings, is a sample of the kind of war that many caregivers fight on a daily basis.
Then there was the time where we as a family decided to go bowling (a sport my son likes). But when we got to the lane (after paying and collecting the shoes, etc), he flipped and decided bowling was not the flavour of the moment.
Being the calm person/father I am, I suggested we play a few rounds before moving on. Within seconds of hearing this suggestion, he was hurling 8lb bowling balls in every direction except on our paid lane.
To prevent serious injury to his six-year-old sister, my wife and other bowlers, I tackled him to the ground and held him there. A wave of “woooooooooh” echoed through the 24-lane bowling alley as the other bowlers gasped at this “irate” monster of a father brawling with his defenceless son! Imagine what monster I would be called if some clever soul videoed the tackle (as they do) and posted it on social media.
Let us imagine for a moment that you are the father, mother or even an adult child of a disabled person and you are financially strapped, and that every moment you have to work earns money and every moment you stay the caregiver, you earn nothing.
Do remember that disability covers not just autism but everything from cerebral palsy, down syndrome, muscular dystrophy, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and dementia to a host of other conditions that debilitate not just the sufferer but in many instances the caregivers and their ability to earn too.
In this instance, would “blowing” your cinema tickets or bowling fee because your special needs person goes ballistic impact on you? Let’s now imagine the stress it levies on relationships.
I know many marriages and relationships in such situations fall apart. Family and friends, while they care, can only do so much. Imagine the stress level it places on stepparents of special needs people.
It is not a wonder that many caregivers contemplate suicide as, for the longest time, respite care and supported living centres are relatively unheard of or were a taboo subject.
Even if they are available, most have deplorable conditions or are out of the financial reach to many families.
As Asians, it has been unthinkable for parents to contemplate placing their grown-up child in supported living centres because it is “not the right thing to do” while family and friends are quick to judge such “uncaring” parents.
“How can you even contemplate dumping your child?” many would be quick to judge.
We forget that this is 2017 and most caring countries would place emphasis on providing the much-needed support systems that enable both the disabled and the caregivers a better shot in a life worth living.
No one “dumps” his or her loved ones. They provide a better place for them to have a sense of belonging and where family can visit and, in some countries, stay on holiday at the centre with their special needs person.
Imagine the situation when your “child” is now 60 and you, the parent, are pushing 85. Who would be the one suffering – the judge or the judged?
So perhaps, when a video like this appears on social media, let’s give the person the benefit of the doubt because we have no idea where or what’s she’s been through.
Videos capture humanity at their best and also at their worst. Yet we take little time to understand why they do what they do in these videos. Unless we’ve been there.
By the way, kudos to the
city council officer who was non-judgmental and gracious throughout the entire situation (not an easy feat when someone threateningly wields a steering lock at you). He should be made an exemplary officer for others to follow.
He did a better job being in the hot seat than the hundreds of netizens judging and condemning the woman from the comfort and safety of their illuminated digital screens without knowing what was inside her heart. Perhaps my fellow netizens might see a different perspective by watching this video: https://youtu.be/Wl2_knlv_xw
I’d like to take this opportunity to challenge the authorities to look at supported living centres and respite care centres in other countries and see how they can be done more professionally here with a little help from property developers, perhaps.
Just as property developers incorporate preschools, international schools and colleges to attract house buyers, perhaps they could look at a CSR-cum-marketing unique selling point where townships incorporate supported living centres too.
Do remember that at some point, someone in our families will need that support. Wouldn’t it be great if we all thought about this humanely? It could very well be you needing this centre as you age.…