Written by: Alexia Teo (22-U1) , Vernice Tan (22-U1), Jovielle Bruto (22-A2), Naja Thorup Kristoffersen (22-A6), Yam Lok Sum (22-A1) , Lok Qi Ern (22-O1)
Designed by: Hao Rui (22-A4)
What is autism?
Autism, also known as autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a condition affecting brain development that can be severe or mild. People with autism can find it difficult to communicate and form relationships and may show repeated or limited patterns of thought and behaviour.
People with ASD may also have different ways of learning, moving, or paying attention. Symptoms include difficulties with eye contact, not responding to their name, lack of gestures and facial expressions as well as getting upset by minor changes.
Marginalisation of those with autism
People who have autism deal with discrimination and obstacles that deny them their rights as well as access to help. As a result, individuals with autism face marginalisation and poverty at disproportionate rates as compared to others.
The general public may have difficulties understanding the challenges faced by those with autism. For instance, people with autism may find it difficult to communicate their feelings and needs. This causes them to have seemingly extreme reactions to stressful situations. Hence, Singaporeans, who do not understand those with autism, often label them as “weird” and ostracise them from activities or groups.
This form of discrimination, stemming from ignorance can stretch beyond social situations, affecting their opportunities at school and work on a systemic basis.
Employers, teachers and people with authority may discriminate against the label of autism without understanding the full extent of the individual’s capabilities. Employers may choose not to employ someone with autism due to the stigma attached to that label.
Moreover, teachers may misunderstand the intentions of autistic students due to their lack of familiarity with the way they communicate and thus end up punishing them unfairly.
Processes like job interviews heavily favour those who are neurotypical. As a result, the chances of those with autism landing a job is often determined by their ability to mask their autistic tendencies and appear as non-autistic as possible.
What structures are in place to help those with autism?
In light of such difficulties, there exists a need for external support. An example of this would be the measures in place for children diagnosed with autism. There are a variety of educational options available, mainly catering to children who can choose to attend customised curriculum or the national curriculum.
Opting for the national curriculum would mean that children attend a mainstream primary school. Alternatively, children can choose to attend Pathlight School. Pathlight School is the first school in Singapore that specifically caters to the needs of those on the autism spectrum. Not only will students be taught the mainstream school curriculum, but they will also learn essential life skills and methods to overcome their differences.
Pathlight school in Singapore
Apart from the above measures, there are also other organisations in Singapore that assist children with autism. For example, the Autism Resource Centre Singapore is a charity started by a group of professionals and parent volunteers dedicated to serving children and adults on the autism spectrum to lead meaningful and independent lives in society.
Other organisations also include THK Autism Centre in Geylang Bahru and Eden Centre for Adults in Clementi and Hougang.
When it comes to integration into the workforce, the Employability and Employment Centre (E2C) by the Autism Resource Centre offers services to assist people with autism to integrate more successfully into the working world. It also offers services for employers who are interested in hiring people with autism in their companies. By easing the hiring process of those with autism, employers are more motivated to them.
What more can we do to help people with autism?
Although there are currently some measures in place to smoothly integrate those with autism into society, there are still more ways in which we can further support them.
Firstly, if we are in an appropriate position to give counsel – for instance, as a family member, or a friend, – we should make sure that they consult an appropriate specialist that is able to cater to their specific needs. This is because ASD is a spectrum and people’s needs can vary from one person to another.
For example, someone with autism may have difficulty communicating via speech. In response, these individuals are brought to specialists such as speech-language pathologists, who help them develop the ability to vocalise their thoughts.
On the other hand, another person with autism could have virtually no issues with communication. However, they may have difficulty understanding social cues, which would require a different approach from a different set of specialists.
Secondly, to accommodate a friend or family member with autism, we must strive to implement a predictable schedule and structure. This creates a sense of safety and stability that minimises feelings of anxiety or irritability, which may arise from inconsistency. This can offer great comfort to someone with autism.
Lastly, we should be wary of methods to help ease the burden created by sensory issues. People with ASD are hypersensitive and can get easily overwhelmed by the 5 senses. As a result, while in the presence of someone with autism, we must be conscious of how the environment around them may affect them.
Here are some ways to mitigate the effects of sensory overload:
- Provide earphones to someone with autism when entering a noisy environment
- Install dim lighting
- Refrain from using strong smelling perfumes or scents
Overall, it is evident that those with autism face great difficulties in performing even normal daily activities, like moving around loud spaces or navigating social situations. Hence, it is essential to be aware of their needs as well as take action to accommodate for their differences to create a more inclusive society.
Oxford Learner’s Dictionary. (n.d.). Autism. Retrieved from https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/autism?q=autism
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, March 28). Signs and symptoms of autism spectrum disorders. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/signs.html
Goh, Y. H. (2022, May 27). Living with autism: She loves social media and make-up but struggles with talking to herself. The Straits Times. Retrieved from https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/living-with-autism-she-loves-social-media-and-make-up-but-struggles-with-talking-to-herself
Hoo, L. (2021, August 18). A complete list of schools for children with autism in Singapore. A Complete List of Schools For Children with Autism In Singapore. Retrieved from https://www.homage.sg/resources/autism-school-singapore/
Menon, M. (2022, April 3). More can be done to support adults with autism, says parent. The Straits Times. Retrieved from https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/more-can-be-done-to-support-adults-with-autism-says-parent
Autism Resource Centre (Singapore). (2022). Retrieved from https://www.autism.org.sg/
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Autism spectrum disorder: Communication problems in children. National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Retrieved from https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/autism-spectrum-disorder-communication-problems-children