More can be done for adults with special needs: Denise Phua

Ms Denise Phua (left) and Dr Janil Puthucheary with Eden School students (from left) Vuitton Low, Jefferson Chang, Joven Goh, Jeff Low and Gobi Visnu, who took part in a drama performance emceed by teacher Nuratiqah Hanisa Mas'at, at the Autism Congr
Ms Denise Phua (left) and Dr Janil Puthucheary with Eden School students (from left) Vuitton Low, Jefferson Chang, Joven Goh, Jeff Low and Gobi Visnu, who took part in a drama performance emceed by teacher Nuratiqah Hanisa Mas'at, at the Autism Congress' opening ceremony at Pathlight School yesterday.PHOTO: PATHLIGHT SCHOOL

Support and services for people with special needs have been focused on children and teens in the last decade, but more should be done for adults with special needs, said Ms Denise Phua, president of the Autism Resource Centre (ARC).

On the sidelines of the Autism Congress yesterday, the MP for Jalan Besar GRC said: "Emphasis for services has been on the younger ones in the last decade. However, learning doesn't stop when they leave school at 18 or 21.

"To ensure a quality of life that includes more independent living and relevance, adults with special needs require lifelong training and support in daily life and work skills."

In her speech at the congress, Ms Phua, who is also the school supervisor of Pathlight School and Eden School, said it takes a team effort from families, professionals, the Government and the community to maximise the potential of every individual with autism.

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Singapore should not just adopt, but adapt, other countries' best practices to meet the needs of its special needs community, she added. The country should also ensure that adults with special needs can continue working in a future economy characterised by disappearing jobs and the emergence of work that requires new skills.

"Children with autism grow up to become adults with autism," said Ms Phua. "What about those who are not suitable for open employment? What are the sustainable financing models in housing and healthcare, especially for those who have high support needs? What is the support system when they have encounters with the law, in the space of criminal justice?

"These are issues that keep many of us who care for this community awake for many nights."

About 1,000 people, including overseas delegates, attended the event. Senior Minister of State for Education and Communications and Information Janil Puthucheary was also at the opening.

At the two-day congress, autism experts will talk about the different types of services, funding and support given to people with autism in their countries. They will also discuss issues such as leisure and employment.

The opening, at Pathlight School, also showcased organisations that provide work opportunities for people with special needs, with buy-in from their families. They included the Noodles for Good stall, a collaboration between ARC, Central Singapore Community Development Council and Si Chuan Dou Hua Restaurant.

Madam Chan Mee Fong, 50, runs the stall at Pathlight School with her son Lau Chun Seng, 20, who has moderate autism and is unable to speak.

She said working at the stall has increased his confidence, and she hopes this will help him find other work in the future. "He can do more things, such as handling the ingredients, on his own. He is also very happy to work," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 31, 2017, with the headline 'More can be done for adults with special needs: Denise Phua'. Print Edition | Subscribe