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‘It was hard whenever we saw a family’: Single father of four finds help from caregiver programme

SINGAPORE – Mr Yusman Kamis hit the lowest point of his life when he separated from his wife of 25 years in 2022, leaving him to care for their seven-year-old autistic son Farrel Alfatih Yusman and two adult daughters, who were struggling to accept the divorce.

The father, who also has a 26-year-old son, a software engineer who has moved closer to his workplace, said: “On top of the frequent meltdowns, the first few months were especially sad as Farrel would try to hug and kiss women we saw outside because he thought they were his mother.

“It was hard whenever we went out and saw a family.”

This eventually stopped, but exhaustion continued to mount as the 55-year-old safety officer cooked for the family to save on food expenses.

He also does the household chores, which include bathing his younger son every day.

“Thankfully, my employer allows me to work part-time for about half of my former salary, which means that I can look after Farrel’s needs when he comes back from school,” Mr Yusman said.

But his worries were compounded when one of his daughters started struggling mentally during the divorce proceedings. The two girls, aged 23 and 24, are undergraduates.

“There were many times when the pressure and stress really drove me to the edge,” Mr Yusman said, adding that he would have suicidal thoughts.

Overwhelmed, he looked on the Internet for ways to manage his stress and came across CaringSG, a support network for caregivers of children with special needs and disabilities.

He is among 26 caregivers of people with disabilities and special needs – such as global developmental delay – who were befriended through the network. CaringSG is a caregiver-led charity which began in July 2021.

Mr Yusman was paired with Mr Lim Chin Teong through CaringSG’s Carebuddy peer support initiative.

Mr Lim, a 41-year-old father of one, is keen to help tide other men over the kind of distress he experienced himself when his son was diagnosed with autism at age two. The boy is now seven years old.

The IT auditor said: “I had an idea of what it would be like to have a son, playing football or having long conversations over a beer when he was older, but life doesn’t always turn out the way you think it would.

“I remember the nights after learning about my son’s autism… just spiralling into despair.”

Mr Lim and his wife, who works in a bank, used to fork out thousands of dollars a month for daily therapy sessions for their son.

“But after the first few years, my wife and I realised that it was better to let him be who he is and enjoy learning at his own pace. This makes the journey a happier one for all of us.”

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They have since reduced the number of therapy sessions and introduced the boy to other activities, such as in-line skating.

Meeting other parents on chat groups who have had similar experiences made the couple feel less alone. Mr Lim said: “We could talk about our concerns, ask questions and even share our child’s milestones. Having this support really helped us.”

When he was asked in one of the chat groups if he would like to help other fathers like him through the Carebuddy programme, he responded.

“It’s not really a guy thing to ask for someone to speak to or for a buddy, so I can imagine how difficult it must be to seek help.”

Meeting Mr Yusman came as a surprise to Mr Lim, whose first thought was that he should be learning from the single father of four, who is over a decade older than him.

Said Mr Lim: “But I realised that I could be a non-judgmental listening ear, which was something that he needed.

“We would meet near his place and just share our thoughts on special needs, what works best for our kids, and our thoughts and plans for when they hit different stages in life.”

Even though the six months of formal support ended in September 2022, the pair still stay in touch, updating each other.

Said Mr Yusman: “Chin Teong has been a good buddy because he shares how he deals with stress and directed me to avenues of help.”

Such support has come in handy in the past four months as Farrel has been in and out of hospital and polyclinic due to high fever and stomach problems.

Mr Yusman added: “He would whine and cry almost every day because of the pain, which makes me tear up too. But the doctors take longer to diagnose his sickness because he is non-verbal.”

While support from charity Care Corner, community self-help group Mendaki and other organisations has helped to ease his family’s cost-of-living worries, Mr Yusman has deferred his studies at the Institute of Adult Learning in order to cope.

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Still, witnessing Farrel’s milestones, which include learning to eat on his own last year, spurs him on, he added.

Mr Yusman, who has worked in the construction industry for over 30 years, said: “I have no regrets and I’m grateful to God for giving me Farrel, who has taught me so much.

“People tend to be more aggressive in my line of work, but because of him, I’ve learnt to be more patient and loving.”

Members of the public can sign up for Carebuddy at caring.sg/carebuddy

Helplines

Mental well-being

Institute of Mental Health’s Mental Health Helpline: 6389-2222 (24 hours)
Samaritans of Singapore: 1800-221-4444 (24 hours) /1-767 (24 hours)
Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800-283-7019
Silver Ribbon Singapore: 6386-1928
Tinkle Friend: 1800-274-4788 
Community Health Assessment Team 6493-6500/1 

Counselling

TOUCHline (Counselling): 1800-377-2252
TOUCH Care Line (for seniors, caregivers): 6804-6555
Care Corner Counselling Centre: 6353-1180

Online resources

mindline.sg

stayprepared.sg/mymentalhealth

eC2.sg

www.tinklefriend.sg

www.chat.mentalhealth.sg

carey.carecorner.org.sg

www.impart.sg

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