To commemorate World Autism Awareness Day 2023, held on 2 April each year, the Autism Network Singapore will run an educational public campaign and open houses for representatives of organisations interested in stepping up to improve their support for autistic members of their communities.
Themed “Time to Act”, this year’s campaign calls for mainstream institutions such as schools, employers and public agencies to take a more proactive stance to champion and learn effective ways to support autistic individuals through different life stages in the community.
While ANS recognises growing awareness of autism in Singapore, this public campaign calls for greater action from the wider community, through online and physical activations. Autism Network Singapore (ANS) is an alliance of five social service agencies which serve over 5,000 individuals from birth to adulthood.
The open houses, held in April 2023, aim to shed light on the diversity of autism and seed new partnerships for the network to amplify inclusive efforts and open more channels of support for autistic individuals and their families. The tours are 90-min long, free of charge and will be hosted by senior management of the agencies.
13 April (3 – 4.30pm)
A disability awareness talk on Rainbow Centre’s new community-based services for youths with autism and tour to see the early intervention, special education and special student care services at its Margaret Drive Campus.
17 April (10 – 11.30am)
A tour of Eden Centre for Adults (Clementi), an adult day activity centre by Autism Association (Singapore) to learn about how the programme caters to the individual needs and preferences of each client.
19 April (10 am – 11.30am)
An autism dialogue with St. Andrew’s Autism Centre and tour of a special education school and day activity centre at Elliot Road.
25 April (10am – 11am)
A visit to job sites at the Employability and Employment Centre by Autism Resource Centre (Singapore), to learn about employability training and employment support for people on the autism spectrum. ARC(S) will also hold a virtual autism awareness workshop on 29 April (Sat) 3pm – 4pm.
Organisational representatives can find out more about the open houses here. You can look forward to stories and education information on supporting autistic individuals shared on the network’s Facebook and Instagram pages.
Despite national progress in supporting persons with disabilities, services for autistic adults after they graduate from special education schools, in particular, those with moderate to severe needs are still inadequate. Commonly referred to as the Post-18 Cliff, caregivers struggle with bleak options often limited to long waitlists2 for day activity centres, which range from one month to five years and an absence of employment opportunities and community support.
In 2021, the Autism Network Singapore launched the Autism Enabling Masterplan (AEM). The plan, put together with inputs of more than 500 people, aims to guide Singapore’s efforts to address the pivotal needs of individuals across the spectrum and – and emphasise the understanding that no one-stop solution addresses all needs. The AEM also articulates quality of life for persons on the spectrum and encourages shared responsibility with the community.
Some of the priority areas highlighted include the need to establish quality standards for key autism services and programmes, planning for life after the death of caregivers and developing a continuum of work and employment options.
The Autism Network Singapore partners have started work on several initiatives including:
Autism Resource Centre (Singapore)
ARC(S)’s employment programme, Employability and Employment Centre (E2C), has started a few employment models to cater to adults along the continuum of support needs. These include supported employment in open employment settings and worksites, microbusinesses (parent and child model) and social enterprises. E2C works with employer partners across different industries to redesign or restructure work processes, and train, place and support adults on the autism spectrum to jobs based on their strengths and interests. ARC(S) will also develop a best practices tool kit for employers.
Autism Association (Singapore)
AA(S) is piloting a Day Activity Centre (DAC) Without Walls, which enables adults on the spectrum to attend activities held at various community spaces outside of a DAC. Activities are planned out with the goal of achieving Quality of Life (QoL) outcomes.
RC has piloted the Micro-Business Academy (MBA), a 24-month programme where young adults with higher support needs and their caregivers receive business planning skills with person-centric skills coaching. Its goal is to enable families to run small-scale businesses with meaningful participation. Such businesses include snack gift boxes, marinated meat and handicraft. RC is currently designing 10 microjob prototypes, where a job role is unpacked into individual work tasks so the young adult can gain specialisation through intensive training and job support, to sustain long term work engagement.
St. Andrew’s Autism Centre
SAAC’s pilot Dignity of Work programme offers work-capable students and adult clients of SAAC the opportunity to be able to engage in productive supported employment and contribute back to society, in sectors such as urban farming, packing and laundry. For example, the onsite farms at SAAC, operated in partnership with farmers from BlueAcres and J&W Pte Ltd, offer opportunities for students and clients to undertake all aspects of the farming process, under the supervision and coaching of their coaches and teachers.
Although no formal study on the prevalence of autism has been conducted in Singapore, estimates based on data from public hospitals suggest that numbers are also increasing here. More than 5,500 children aged six and below were diagnosed with developmental problems in 2018, up from an average of 4,362 new cases each year from 2015 to 2017. As of 2016, it is estimated that one in 150 children in Singapore is on the autism spectrum, a higher rate than the global figure of one in 160.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) refers to a broad range of lifelong, neurodevelopmental conditions characterised by challenges with social skills and speech; repetitive behaviours and non-verbal communication. Individuals on the spectrum can range from being able to live independently to requiring significant support in their daily lives.