Singapore single mum raises visually-impaired daughter to do the impossible

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"We should not limit our child's ability due to their disability. Let go of their hands and let them try."

18-year-old Singaporean Adelyn Koh was born with a rare disorder of the eye, called Peters anomaly, that left her visually impaired. She can make out only lights and shadows.

The ‘disability’ however, did not stop this gifted teen from pursuing her dreams. Today she is an ITE College East student, and a well-known singer in Singapore, who has performed in the President’s Star charity show. She was also invited by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) in 2018 to perform at the Istana for the President, PM Lee and PMO staff. 

We talk to Adelyn’s mother, Mary, the pillar of unwavering support in her life, about the challenges of raising a child with disabilities. Mary is a single mum, and Adelyn is the oldest of her three children.

Peters anomaly

With family PHOTO: Adelyn Koh

Singapore girl suffers from Peters anomaly

Adelyn suffers from a congenital eye condition, called Peters anomaly. Please tell us more about this condition? What are the treatment options in Singapore?

“At the time of Adelyn’s diagnosis (2001), it was the second diagnosed case in Singapore. Peters Anomaly can be treated with corneal transplant. To date, Adelyn has done about 10 transplants, however they were unsuccessful either due to infection or rejection.”

When did she realise her love for music? At what age did she start singing?

“Adelyn started to learn to play the piano at the age of 3. She started to play the keyboard and sing when she was in primary school.

Peters anomaly

Adelyn’s first album PHOTO: Adelyn Koh

Her love for singing grew in secondary school when she diverted her attention from the unpleasant social experiences she had and looked forward to practice sessions with the school choir.”

What were the challenges Adelyn had to face in Singapore, growing up with a disability? How did she cope in school? Could you share about her education journey? Now that she’s in ITE, how has ITE helped to support Adelyn in school?

“Personally, I feel the biggest challenge for any parent is to accept his/her child’s disability and assisting the child in his/her learning journey. Singapore has very limited resources for visually impaired children below the age of six.

As Adelyn was growing up, there was no early childhood programme available for children with visual impairment. It was very challenging for me as the parent and I had no one to ask or learn from, especially because information isn’t as readily available as it is now with the Internet.

But I wanted Adelyn to experience life like any other child, so I exposed her to activities such as cycling, roller blading, swimming and horse riding.

Peters anomaly

Making of “Fire in the Rain”

Now that she is in school, the ITE management has been very supportive in her learning journey. The school has provided help in the form of devices and software to facilitate her learning.

As she is unable to complete a full course due to her visual impairment, the school management tailored the courses for her, taking into consideration her interests and abilities.

The lecturers in school spend extra time coaching and guiding her in school work, and arranged extra sessions for her to learn how to use the new software. The lecturers also helped to coordinate with LASELLE to prepare her for the next phase of education.”

Have Adelyn’s peers ever viewed her differently?

Adelyn had unpleasant experiences during her secondary school days. However, she is enjoying her time at ITE now.

She managed to make new friends and grow more independent. Her peers in the college are also more mature and will initiate to help her at times.

Do tell us about the support she has received from friends and society?

“Adelyn sold her original CD in 2012 to fund her own eye operation, which costed $80,000. She composed the songs when she was 9 years old. When the CD was launched, it appeared in the news and we received a lot of support from the public.

Adelyn likes to interact with people and share about her passion in music. She also busks when she is free. Last year, she was discovered by a non-profit organisation “Music for People”. The founder, Dr Chung, gave Adelyn a scholarship to sponsor her vocal training for a year.”

Please share more about Adelyn’s musical achievements? 

“In 2010, Adelyn was invited to perform in President’s Star charity show. She played the piano and sang a Chinese song on the show. Due to her chatty and cheerful nature, she was invited to be the co-host in the President’s Star charity show for another 3 years in a row (2011-2013). She also sang at a Chingay event.

She was also invited to sing at various events such as charity dinners, Esplanade music library and Welcome to My world by VSA.

Peters anomaly

Making of “Fire in the Rain”

Adelyn was also invited by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) last year to perform at the Istana for the President, PM Lee and PMO staff. She was the lead singer for the opening song for Community Chest Charity TV show 2018, and the latest music video for NCSS’ See The True Me campaign – “Fire in the Rain”.

She was also featured in over ten documentaries produced by various institutes and media to share about her music learning path. She now busks whenever she has the time to share her passion in music.”

What are Adelyn’s dreams and aspirations?

“Adelyn aspires to be a voice actress, in particular, voice acting for animations. She has her own YouTube channel where she showcases her voice-over covers.

She hopes to have the opportunity to do voice acting for Disney movies. She is also on the look-out for opportunities to sing in musicals. Adelyn also writes her own songs and is hoping to cut an album of her own.”

Peters anomaly

PHOTO: ADELYN KOH

What challenges do you foresee in the road ahead?

“The aspiration Adelyn has (i.e. voice acting and singing in musicals) is not common in Singapore. There are limited opportunities and platforms, so this might prove challenging to pursue her dreams.”

What is Adelyn’s advice for children and youth who are living with a disability? What is your advice to all parents who are faced with similar challenges?

“Adelyn’s advice is, ‘Do not give up. Dare to dream big and go for it!’

I just want to say that we should not limit our child’s ability due to their disability. Let go of their hands and let them try. You will be surprised by their capabilities. Be proud of them and always encourage them. Nothing is impossible. Move on!”

Thank you, Mary, for agreeing to share Adelyn’s very inspiring story with us.  

When we believe in our children, and in their dreams, we give them wings. Watch them fly.

Also READ: Hear me out – What it means to be Deaf in our society

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Written by

Jaya