Smiling Again

Facing the Onset of Aging

Chan Chi Pang, a 36-year-old man with Down Syndrome and moderate intellectual disability, used to be a high flyer in sports in his twenties. Apart from representing Hong Kong in dance performances in different countries, Chi Pang also won numerous prizes in dragon boat racing competitions. Unfortunately, due to the onset of aging a few years ago, he has started suffering from a series of chronic diseases such as gout, and underwent quite a few surgeries. As a result, his mobility was greatly undermined and he could no longer dance and join dragon boat racing events like before. At the same time, Chi Pang faced some unpleasant experiences in his new workplaces which left a scar in his heart. In the past, he often had a broad smile on his face; but now as he ages, that smile has been replaced by an expression of anxiety and despair, which is deeply saddening.

Chi Pang’s mum was very worried about Chi Pang’s depression, and she tried everything to help him overcome this adversity. It transpires that the wish of every parent is to let their children live a happy life. However, life is not always smooth sailing. Even though Chi Pang’s mum had tried every method she could think of including helping him find a new job and letting him take psychotropic medications, there was still no improvement in his depression. Even worse, Chi Pang’s uncontrollable emotional reactions caused her even more distress. Whenever he is in an unfamiliar environment or surrounded by a crowd, Chi Pang would almost always feel anxious and frightened. Unlike us, it is difficult for people with Down Syndrome to express their thoughts and feelings verbally. As a result, they could only resort to some behaviors which are regarded as unpleasant and disturbing in our eyes, such as shouting and clenching their fists. To add to her burden, she also had to take care of Chi Pang’s brother, who also has intellectual disability. She felt totally helpless, and the pressure was becoming too much for her.

 

First Encounter

They say that “the sun will shine again after the storm”. At this moment, a woman named Mei Ling walked into the life of Chi Pang’s family and gave Chi Pang a helping hand. Mei Ling is currently a housewife who has retired a few years ago and is passionate about doing voluntary work. Mei Ling started to become a volunteer at HKSDA three years ago. During this period, she has offered help with different interest classes such as swimming class and Taichi class. Last summer, Mei Ling was invited by the social workers of HKDSA to become Chi Pang’s mentor and join the dancing chair class together. Initially, Mei Ling made a lot of effort in building a close relationship with Chi Pang, but progress was slow as Chi Pang was not too familiar with Mei Ling and therefore very passive.

 

Unforgettable Memory

With the aim of getting a better understanding of Chi Pang and strengthening their relationship, Mei Ling invited Chi Pang to participate in different activities organized by the center with her. Joining the Stargazing Camp was quite an unforgettable experience for both of them and a milestone for their relationship. On the first day, when all the participants were gathered at the center before getting on the coach, Chi Pang was struggling and refused to go. His great anxiety could be due to his fear of the crowd of strangers who will be spending the night at the campsite with him. With encouragement from social workers, Chi Pang’s mother and Mei Ling, Chi Pang was finally willing to get on the bus. After they had sat down in the bus, they discovered that Chi Pang still had not calmed down and he was trembling, shouting and holding his fists firmly. At that moment, Mei Ling held his hands patiently and that made him feel warm at heart. Although Chi Pang still could not calm down entirely and was still anxious, he knew that Mei Ling was there for him. Besides, Mei Ling also treated him to some candies so he gradually felt better.

After they got off the coach, the sea of unfamiliar faces puzzled Chi Pang and again he could not help struggling and trembling. Seeing this, Mei Ling brought him to a quiet place to let him calm down. Mei Ling just sat down with Chi Pang patiently and chatted with him for hours. Although Chi Pang did not join many group activities during the camp and just sat quietly most of the time, Mei Ling started to gain his trust as he knew that whenever Mei Ling was there, everything would be alright.

Smiling Again

Since the camp, Chi Pang and Mei Ling have built up a trustful relationship. They started joining the chair dancing class which Chi Pang enjoys so much. Also, Mei Ling often brought Chi Pang to different places such as to Hong Kong Park and Disneyland, where they had a lot of happy memories together. Once, Chi Pang played tricks on Mei Ling when he was driving a racing car in Disneyland. These joyful and memorable experiences were imprinted in Chi Pang’s heart and he always carried a big smile whenever he went back home after meeting Mei Ling. He also took the initiative to share these happy memories with his mum. Watching his son smile again, Chi Pang‘s mum felt relieved, as her son was no longer tortured by his negative emotions and pain. She was grateful for Mei Ling’s help as Mei Ling has brought the gift of joy and happiness back to Chi Pang’s life.

 

Epilogue

Mei Ling shared her great sense of delight and satisfaction in making friends with people with Down Syndrome when she discovered how pure and sincere they are. Some of Mei Ling’s words which impressed me a lot was, “If we can step into their shoes and treat them with a sincere heart, they will also treat us

well.” It is true that some people with Down Syndrome, like Chi Pang, can have unstable emotional reactions at times. However, they are no different from us with our range of emotions. The only difference between them and us is that they are not very good at expressing their thoughts and feelings. Mei Ling’s experience demonstrates that we can definitely establish a harmonious and trustful relationship with people with Down Sydrome if we are persistent and hold onto the spirit of “Don’t give up!”. I would also like to pay a tribute to Chi Pang’s mum for all her incredible efforts in taking care of Chi Pang and other family members.