More support needed for adults with special needs: Denise Phua

President of the Autism Resource Centre, Ms Denise Phua, speaking at the Autism Congress on May 30.
President of the Autism Resource Centre, Ms Denise Phua, speaking at the Autism Congress on May 30.PHOTO: PATHLIGHT SCHOOL

SINGAPORE - Support and services for people with special needs have been focused on children and teens in the last decade, but more support is needed to help special needs adults, said Ms Denise Phua, president of the Autism Resource Centre (ARC).

Speaking on the sidelines of the Autism Congress on Tuesday (May 30), Ms Phua, an 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 age 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 a speech at the Autism Congress, Ms Phua, who is also the school supervisor of Pathlight School and Eden School, said that 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 said. The country has to also ensure that special needs adults can continue working in a future economy characterised by disappearing jobs and the emergence of work which 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."

Some 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 event.

The Autism Congress, held at Pathlight School, also showcased organisations which provide work opportunities for special needs families and individuals.

These include the stall Noodles for Good, a collaboration between ARC; Central Singapore Community Development Council (CDC); and Si Chuan Dou Hua Restaurant.

Madam Chan Mee Fong, 50, runs the Noodles for Good stall with her 20-year-old son Lau Chun Seng, who has moderate autism and is unable to speak.

She said that working at the stall has increased his confidence.

"He can do more things, such as handling the ingredients, on his own. He is also very happy to work (at the stall)," she said.