Mother of kids with special needs turns adversity into an opportunity to help others

Through her trials and tribulations as a caregiver, she’s now rallying the community to support others in the same plight

Struggling to balance her professional aspirations and caring for her children, Dr Lim Hong Huay made the hard decision to put her career aside after her son was born. PHOTOS: COURTESY OF LIM HONG HUAY

In many ways, Dr Lim Hong Huay, 50, a former developmental and behavioural paediatrician, is a poster child for caregivers of those with special needs.

Not only is she a steering committee member for Singapore’s Enabling Masterplan 2030, she is also the founder of CaringSG, a non-profit initiative to support caregivers of persons with special needs, and a co-leader of the Singapore (SG) Together Alliance for Action (AfA) for Caregivers of Persons with Disabilities.

Launched in March last year, the SG Together AfA was formed by the National Council of Social Service, SG Enable and community partners to co-create solutions on pressing issues faced by caregivers of persons with disabilities.

Dr Lim (third from left) led the development of Project 3i – an initiative to support caregivers through community training, peer mentorship and partnerships with healthcare providers. PHOTO: COURTESY OF LIM HONG HUAY

But more than a string of leadership titles, perhaps her greatest claim as a passionate champion of caregiving advocacy is personal.

As a mother of two children with special needs, she knows the pain, sacrifice, and emotional turmoil of caregiving. Of her three children, the eldest, her 19-year-old daughter, and the youngest, a 12-year-old boy, have autism.

In 2003, when Dr Lim’s first child was born, resources and services for children with autism were inadequate.

“There was a limited choice of services available,” says Dr Lim. “The lack of understanding of the different female Asperger’s Syndrome profiles led to delayed diagnosis and the lack of support in the earlier part of her life.”

A slew of private services followed to help her child keep up: speech therapy, occupational therapy, psychological intervention, executive functioning training, exercise therapy, physiotherapy, and educational therapy for math and literacy.

All these had to take place, she explains, because there were “hardly any inclusive pre-schools”, both in the public and private sector.

There was also the agonising choice that parents of children with disabilities often face: balancing professional aspirations and caring for their child. Dr Lim chose the part-time route at first, but eventually put her career aside after her son was born.

Giving up her career was a deliberate decision motivated by a mother’s love. But it was also painful.

“I just couldn’t juggle so many balls anymore. I had to let go. Emotionally and mentally, having no job is really, really, really tough for me.”

She reveals that her marriage started straining after their daughter began displaying symptoms of autism. “We had different expectations and had different parenting approaches.”

The marriage would be further tested after the birth of their son, who was also diagnosed with autism at the age of seven.

“I kept asking God, ‘Isn’t one enough? Why two?’ The grief was too much to bear. And it keeps coming back,” she says.

The couple eventually worked it out five years ago when Dr Lim shuttered her practice at the KK Women’s & Children’s Hospital. She also shares that services and awareness of autism were “much better” when planning for her son’s needs.

“We consciously made time every week to talk, and to understand and learn from each other. We accepted that we are different. We handle grief in our own way, and we each move at a different pace.”

Another pivotal point in Dr Lim’s caregiving experience came five years ago, when she joined informal caregiver support groups. She found solace in solidarity. 

Rising to the call for help

Her determination and personal caregiving experience compelled her to step up during the pandemic.

For parents of children with special needs – who often carry an extra heavy load managing life in the best of times – the pandemic intensified the burden. Some caregivers were in danger of inflicting self-harm or hurting their children.

Dr Lim (second row, second from left) shares that the AfA supports caregivers in a “systematic, synergistic and sustainable way”. PHOTO: COURTESY OF LIM HONG HUAY

Because she is a doctor, leaders of her caregiver support groups sought her help. “If I, as a professional, can’t even muster the courage to face these issues, how do I expect the caregiver to do so?”

Dr Lim is now focusing her efforts through the AfA for Caregivers of Persons with Disabilities, which brings together partners to develop solutions related to the self-care and mutual support of caregivers.

The AfA currently supports two key projects – Project 3i and Community Circles – which aim to connect caregivers with others in the community, and provide them with practical and emotional support.

“One by one, I used all the resources I had, and called on all the necessary people I knew. Seeing the caregivers I’ve helped slowly improve and become such different people, I, myself, am changed.”


Building Singapore Together

Launched in June 2019, the Singapore Together movement provides opportunities for Singaporeans to participate in and support citizen-led initiatives.

Partnerships are at the heart of the movement, with opportunities for Singaporeans to co-create solutions for a more inclusive and sustainable Singapore.

  • Want to be part of creating a better future for Singapore? Head to to explore opportunities and get involved.

This is the second of a three-part series in partnership with the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth

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