Adults with moderate to severe disabilities will soon have more day activity centres (DACs) to go to when caregivers are at work.
There are now 23 DACs, one of which was opened officially yesterday. It is the third one meant for adults with autism. Two more DACs will open this year and a further 500 places will be added over the next five years, half of which will be for adults with autism.
This will bring the total capacity in DACs to 1,700 by 2021, said Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin yesterday at the official opening of Eden Centre for Adults (Clementi).
The centre, in Block 351, Clementi Avenue 2, is for people with moderate to severe autism. It started operating in June last year and has half of its 40-person capacity filled.
Clients spend their day at the gym, take part in leisure activities such as a leather workshop, or learn living skills such as preparing simple lunches.
Such centres are crucial because many adults with severe disabilities are unable to join the workforce and need higher support throughout their lives, said Ms Denise Phua. She is an MP in Jalan Besar GRC and a board member of Autism Association (Singapore).
Each year, just the Eden School for children with autism, located in Bukit Batok - and of which she is the supervisor - has 15 graduates who may need the services of day activity centres, she said.
She added: "Each centre operates at a deficit of about $400,000 per year at full capacity.
"But we do it because we firmly believe that even those who are unable to contribute to the economy deserve a place and some form of support in our country."
At the event, Mr Tan related the story of a client, Isaiah, whom the Eden Centre has helped since it opened its Clementi branch.
He said: "Initially he was so stressed about coming to the centre that he would literally lie down on the floor outside the centre. Today, Isaiah looks forward to coming and is able to have his meals together with everyone in the cafe. With Isaiah in the programme, his mother is afforded some respite and is able to cope with her routine better."
While day activity centres are a necessity, they are costly. Ms Phua said it costs about $1,800 to provide such services to each adult with disabilities every month.
Hence the Autism Association will, by year-end, pilot a programme in which caregivers will be trained by professionals on how to teach their children independent living skills.
The association will partner Autism Resource Centre to develop the training material .
Mr Tan said: "Whenever I talk to caregivers, one of the things that crop up is, 'How do they enable their loved ones with disabilities to achieve a better level of independence?' This is very much related to their concerns about what will happen to their loved ones when they are not around."
Ms Phua said: "We have to, as a people, intentionally design and support the integration of persons with disabilities, especially those with higher needs, into our society.
"I believe that our future is only as strong as our resolve to include those who are at high risk of being put aside, who are at high risk of being left behind."