Special needs children get into business of serving up noodles as part of 'do good' move

Tan Chun Seng, 19 and his mother, Mdm Chan Mee Fong 49, running Noodles For Good, a noodle store at Pathlight School.
Tan Chun Seng, 19 and his mother, Mdm Chan Mee Fong 49, running Noodles For Good, a noodle store at Pathlight School.PHOTO: ALICIA CHAN FOR THE STRAITS TIME
Tan Chun Seng, 19 and his mother Mdm Chan Mee Fong 49 (not in photo), running Noodles For Good, a noodle store at Pathlight School.
Tan Chun Seng, 19 and his mother Mdm Chan Mee Fong 49 (not in photo), running Noodles For Good, a noodle store at Pathlight School.PHOTO: ALICIA CHAN FOR THE STRAITS TIME

After taking an order for dan dan noodles, Madam Chan Mee Fong, 49, sticks a picture of the spicy Sichuan dish onto a board. Her son Tan Chun Seng then places a portion of the handmade noodles in boiling water and starts the timer.

The 19-year-old, who has an autism spectrum disorder, works better with visuals. The mother and son duo are not just serving up noodles, but also piloting an initiative called "Noodles for Good" at Pathlight School in Ang Mo Kio.

Launched by Central Singapore Community Development Council (CDC) with the Autism Resource Centre (ARC) and Si Chuan Dou Hua restaurant on Tuesday, this is part of a micro-business series called "Business for Good", which provides business opportunities to special needs families.

Said Ms Denise Phua, mayor of Central Singapore district: "Some special needs individuals are unable to enter the workforce on their own. They typically have to be taken care of by family members, who are in turn unable to be employed due to the nature of being a caregiver."

Central Singapore CDC plans to expand the Business for Good initiative to 50 kiosks offering a variety of cuisines in the next three years.

There are also plans to reach out to more community partners, such as schools, where human traffic is high, and corporate partners to provide their expertise.

Family pairs are selected under ARC's Employability and Employment Centre programme, with a structured process of assessment, training, job support and placement. ARC job coaches train parent/guardian and child before the trainees operate on their own.

In the case of Mr Tan, his job coach learnt the steps of preparing noodles and dumplings from chefs at Si Chuan Dou Hua restaurant before breaking them down into autism-friendly instructions. Mr Tan was able to cook noodles, prepare dumplings and wash dishes independently within a week. His mother is the cashier, manages customers and adds minced meat and spring onion to the noodles. Their monthly profit is about $2,000.

Madam Chan, a housewife, said in Mandarin: "Before, I was worried that he would be a burden to his sister after my husband and I are gone. Seeing how he overcame his fear of hot water and learnt to cook the noodles with long chopsticks, I am relieved and happy.

"To all parents with special needs children, don't be afraid of hardship. Believe in your children and you will be amazed by what they can do."