In a world where differences are often met with doubt or scepticism, 21-year-old Vanette Lim stands tall as a shining example of the extraordinary potential that individuals with intellectual disabilities possess. After her diagnosis with a mild intellectual disability at a young age, Vanette’s journey has been marked with resilience and determination.
Ever since clinching gold and a new personal best at the recently concluded Special Olympics in Berlin, Vanette has shattered misconceptions of people with disabilities and emerged as a true inspiration. However, the APSN Delta Senior School student who works part-time at Ben & Jerry’s says the road to this point was not an easy one, with many challenges and setbacks. She credits her mum’s unwavering support for keeping her motivated.
“My mum has been my pillar of strength, always believing in my abilities and encouraging me to reach for my dreams,” says Vanette, who was diagnosed with a mild intellectual disability when she was four years old. “She has stood by my side and given me so much love and support. Her belief in me has given me the confidence to overcome obstacles and pursue my passions.”
“Helping Vanette navigate her disability has taught me countless lessons about love, resilience and the power of acceptance,” says Tay Khar Yen, 48, mother of Vanette. “I have discovered strengths within myself that I didn’t know I had, such as patience, determination and belief in her potential.”
The admin and HR executive adds, “Through Vanette’s journey, I have learned to celebrate every milestone, no matter how small, and appreciate the unique abilities and qualities that make her who she is.”
Here, the mother-daughter duo shares their experiences navigating Vanette’s intellectual disabilities, overcoming misconceptions, and the life lessons picked up along the way.
A juggling act
As a student at APSN Delta Senior School, Vanette is part of a workplace experiential program at Ben & Jerry’s, where she works as an ice cream scooper. Her responsibilities include preparing the cake mould, making flavour recommendations, and serving customers.
While Vanette’s foray into the F&B industry has been mostly a joyful and fulfilling experience, she acknowledges the challenges that come with the territory – such as dealing with demanding customers and the need for multi-tasking and effective communication with her team. To overcome these obstacles, Vanette says she seeks advice from her colleagues and supervisors, as well as leans on her family for support.
“The F&B industry is not without its difficulties, but I focus on staying organised and learning from those around me. My family’s guidance and encouragement help me face any challenge with a determined spirit,” Vanette shares.
“Most people are not aware that I have special needs as I’m highly functional and look just like everyone else,” Vanette says. “Sometimes, at work, I might be slower in processing the customer’s order and this might irritate them. I am not asking for preferential treatment from others but a little more patience would be great.”
Having experienced firsthand the mistaken beliefs that people hold towards people with intellectual disabilities, Vanette says a common misconception about people with intellectual disabilities is that they are unfit to join the workforce.
“Some people think that a person with a learning disability cannot progress side-by-side with others who do not share the same condition,” she says. “However, I think that people with and without intellectual disabilities can learn and work together. People with intellectual disabilities have very unique talents and abilities. With the right support and opportunities, we can make meaningful contributions too.”
Madam Tay agrees, saying that finding the right support system is crucial in helping a child with special needs. “When Vanette was in Primary Four, she was no longer able to keep up with the curriculum at mainstream primary schools so we decided to move her to a special school so she could enjoy learning,” she shares. “We also sought the guidance of professionals and therapists who helped us understand her strengths and areas where she needed additional assistance.”
Special Olympics – A platform for empowerment
For Vanette, few events in her life have been as transformative as the Special Olympics. It provided her with a platform to showcase her skills in swimming and badminton while nurturing her leadership potential as an Athlete Leader.
“As an athlete leader, I help to advocate for the rights and inclusion of people like me,” she shares. “I also undergo public speaking and leadership workshops.”
Watching her daughter succeed in the sports arena fills Madam Tay’s heart with immense pride and joy. “Her recent accomplishments at the latest Special Olympics World Games in Berlin show that she is someone with exceptional talent and determination,” Madam Tay says. “I look at Vanette and am so in awe of all the things she has achieved, and how she has defied the odds to be where she is today. Her life is filled with so many challenges, but I’m so glad she persevered through them all and is working hard to fulfil her dreams.
“Special Olympics is more than just sports; it’s a place where I’ve grown as a person. It has given me the confidence to speak out, advocate and embrace leadership roles,” Vanette adds.
Vanette’s success story is a testament to the power of nurturing and familial support. Reflecting on her only child’s future, Madam Tay says, “My dream for her is to live a life filled with happiness, purpose and the knowledge that she is cherished just as she is.”
This article was originally published in Singapore Women’s Weekly.