“She spilled water all over my laptop just a day before submissions, but I could not get angry at her. I was mad at myself for not managing my time well,” Aida laughed as she recalled a story of one of her sisters.
Nur Aida Sa’ad, 28, grew up with two special needs sisters. This, of course, has placed Aida and her family in many unexpected situations.
Unlike any other ‘normal’ family, theirs is one of a kind. Her family has had to deal with broken mirrors, random outbursts late at night or early in the morning, and Aida even had her computer hurled onto the floor once.
“Every day is a different day. We can’t pinpoint the triggers and causes. So you learn how to roll with the punches,” said Aida, also better known as Yellow Mushmellow on Instagram.
Growing Up With Two Special Needs Sisters
Aida’s whole life has been a test of guessing what her sisters love or hate. Figuring out what makes them happy and what triggers their emotions. There was never an exact “formula” as to how they should handle certain meltdowns.
“My mom has been doing this for over 20 years now but she’s still experimenting everyday, learning and making things up as we go along,” explained Aida.
Last year, Aida got her first taste of being a ‘mom’ as her parents left her to take care of her two sisters for a whole month. She worked on a series of comics that depicted the mayhem that ensued when their parents left for a religious pilgrimage to Mecca.
“My parents were away for 34 days. If you watch movies, for most people, this probably means a month of misadventure and mayhem, of screaming and dancing, of breaking things, breaking rules, and all hell breaking loose. It was exactly the same for us,” Aida shared.
Before her parents left for their pilgrimage, they devised a pre-emptive gameplan to distract her sisters so they wouldn’t kick up a fuss knowing that the parents will be away for a whole month.
While the parents were in Mecca, Aida shared several short stories on her website and Instagram to document the adventures and mischiefs they got up to.
She brought her sisters out for cafe dates, trips to the museums, and stayed out late. Instead of cooping them up at home, Aida ensured that her sisters were exposed and not limited to any experiences due to their conditions.
“The comics were funny but my emotions were real and very raw. I’d write down notes on my phone to remember how I felt in the moment. I remember feeling all sorts of sad and stressed that month,” she added.
Being the eldest meant that she had to shoulder a lot of responsibilities. Knowing that her parents were away, she had to step up and play the parental figure.
“I think I’m more than happy to be a less-than-proper mom,” she jokingly added.
She also shared that since young, she would often question her parents, “Why are my sisters like that?”
Aida’s parents gave her the gift of perspective from a very young age. Despite her sisters’ conditions, her parents taught her a lot about love and acceptance. While most kids would whine over the lack of attention from our parents growing up, Aida turned her situation around and celebrated her sisters’ differences instead.
Discovering Her Love For The Arts
Over the past weekend, I met with Aida at her first art installation at The Artground. Called ‘Hullabaloo’ – it is an explosion of colours, patterns and shapes, which beckon children’s exploration and discovery.
Aida drew inspiration from the expressive and colourful drawings done by her youngest sister, Aisha, who has autism. Hullabaloo was born out of her fascination towards Aisha’s silly and sometimes unconventional points of view.
“Aisha went on a rainbow rampage for a year and her obsession with everything rainbow got slightly out of hand. Her collection of rainbow things even included My Little Pony Rainbow Dash figurines that she arranged in her rainbow corner like a shrine. My mom calls it the rainbow warpath,” Aida laughed.
Art, for most of Aida’s life, was just a hobby. It wasn’t until her ‘A’ Level Exams that she realised her love for creating little doodles was something worth exploring – not just in University, but also as a profession.
When The Artground approached her to create a play space, she wanted to use her sister’s rainbows as a starting point, and they provided her with a space and audience to showcase Aisha’s brilliance.
“People with autism have a unique point of view. Hullabaloo is a safe space to have fun, play and learn about different perspectives,” she added.
After 4 years of working as a freelance artist, Aida has gained a strong following on Instagram as many relate easily to her work which reflect fun and interesting points of view from everyday observations and a glimpse into the everyday chaos that comes with caring for two special needs sisters.
Most of her projects start out as silly ideas or just mindless hobbies that she does for no reason other than that she really wanted to do them.
She also found that drawing forces her to process the events that has happened at home and publishing it forces her to make light out of her situation. Despite feeling all sorts of emotions at home, she channels it into her drawings and comics instead.
A Celebration For People With Special Needs
Over 5 months, Aida worked on bringing Aisha’s rainbows from page to stage. She compiled all of Aisha’s previous drawings and drew inspiration from them. The space at The Artground was designed to resemble Aisha’s world she has created in her drawings.
“My family was heavily involved in the process of building Hullabaloo,” she added, “we even roped in Aisha and her group of friends who are on the spectrum in the process.”
Aisha would meet her friends weekly to engage in art projects, with plenty of tactile experiences including woven patchwork blankets with sensory materials for toddlers.
The exhibition eventually became a celebration for kids with special needs.
On the day of the launch, The Artground invited Roly Poly Family SG to hold a dance party for just Aisha and her friends. They also flew in Oddysea by Sensorium Theatre which is an immersive, multi-sensory theatre production designed specifically for children with disabilities.
There was also this little exhibition box within the installation that housed a display of Aisha’s drawings from over the years – a demonstration of her little quirks, obsessions and world rich of imagination.
“I’ve always thought Aisha was brilliant because no one ever taught her any of these things,” Aida smiled as she proudly showed me Aisha’s works.
Not A Walk In The Park
Aida’s special needs sisters has been her biggest source of inspiration. Children have the ability to imagine, to be playful about things, which she sees in her sisters. Just encountering how they see the world gives her a whole different perspective on life.
However, growing up with them and the unpredictability that comes with it forces her to make light of every situation life throws at her, whether good or bad.
It’s never been an easy journey for Aida, balancing time for herself and being there for the family.
“They take up a lot of my energy but I’m lucky that I have friends and family members who are supportive and willing to help out in any way,” said Aida.
On days when she’s too tired to bring her sisters out, her friends would help out by taking the sisters on long drives and making it a fun experience out of something that is typically mundane and ordinary for most of us.
“We’d dress up, sing out loud in the car and make it a fun excursion for everyone,” she added.
They’re Inspiring And Brilliant In Their Own Ways
Despite the smiles and her chirpy demeanour, Aida constantly worries about the uncertainties that lies ahead.
“I’ll have to take care of my sisters once my parents pass on. But what if I get married someday? Can my partner accept and be understanding of my situation?” she exclaimed.
Regardless, she hopes to give an insight to the behaviour of people with special needs through her light-hearted illustrations and comics, which she shares online.
“I try to be funny lah even though I don’t really think I am, but I feel like humour is a good way to talk about things that people may be uncomfortable about,” she added.
People commonly associate (people with) special needs to be burdensome or less capable, but they are inspiring and brilliant in their own ways.
“I hope Singaporeans will be more aware and understanding when they see people with special needs out in public,” she said.