At the peak of the pandemic, son was diagnosed with autism

“In 2020, as the pandemic was in full swing, my then two-year-old son decided to stop eating regular meals. The only thing he’d eat was waffles from a particular local bakery. 

We went on a journey to figure out exactly what was wrong. Week after week, we saw multiple doctors to recount more puzzling experiences. Finally, we received a diagnosis - he is autistic. 

At the beginning, it was overwhelming. I didn’t know much about what autism was, and neither did many others around me. Well-meaning relatives tried to reassure me that “my son would recover” or that “he looked fine”. 

My colleagues admitted they didn’t know much about the disorder as well, but they took a different approach - they asked about how I was feeling, and listened as I ranted endlessly about my worries. 

I brought the news to my manager, anxious about the possible disruptions this new reality could bring to my work. She reassured me with the hybrid work arrangements I have flexibility to work from home when I need to. She also constantly checked in on me about how I was feeling.

I think the main difficulty for me back then was coming to terms that he would be viewed differently by society and that there would always be adjustments and challenges for him as he grows up. 

But now, when I look at my son, I see a blessing. At the age of four, he is so structured, picks up sequences and patterns faster than his 11-year-old sister and is much sharper than my husband and I. He’s got an amazing gift for visual and auditory memory and is able to regurgitate facts about marine life (his #1 passion) in a heartbeat. 

These days, when he pops into my frame in video meetings, my colleagues eagerly chime in to ask about sea creatures. I take a backseat as my son excitedly educates a virtual room of grown adults. 

I think it’s very hard for us to feel at home at work, or that we can be transparent with the people around us because of the traditional mindset of a workplace - that we have to always be professional. I’m extremely lucky that I have such a strong supportive work ecosystem because I don’t feel the pressure to have to put on a strong front all the time.”

- Serene Chew, Corporate Real Estate Strategy & Administration team