Month-long campaign sheds light on autism community, promotes awareness

The campaign aims to increase awareness about the differing levels of support that those with autism need. PHOTO: PEXELS

SINGAPORE - A new month-long campaign aims to shed light on common questions such as how people with autism communicate without words, and what it is like for a parent caring for a child with autism.

The campaign, organised by five social service agencies that make up Autism Network Singapore (ANS), wants to increase awareness about the differing levels of support that those with autism need, and encourage the public to accept them as they are.

Dubbed "This Is Me", the online campaign kicked off on World Autism Awareness Day, which falls on April 2 every year, and features 10 personal accounts of those with autism, their caregivers and professionals like therapists.

Autism spectrum disorder refers to a developmental disorder that affects a person's ability to communicate and interact. The disorder also includes limited and repetitive patterns of behaviour.

One in 150 children here has autism, a higher rate than the World Health Organisation's global figure of one in 160.

These figures were revealed in the Government's third Enabling Masterplan released in 2016.

Representatives of the campaign hope to foster acceptance of autism in the community, which will make it easier for people to come forward and seek support, such as in instances where adults hide their condition from employers or caregivers, or keep their children with autism at home away from the public.

Ms Tan Sze Wee, executive director of Rainbow Centre, one of the ANS partners, said: "The pandemic has had repercussions in every facet of our lives, even more so for those with autism and their families who inevitably had to battle new forms of social isolation and stress in the marathon of caregiving.

"Strong families and caregivers are key to persons with autism succeeding in the community."

Ms Jacelyn Lim, executive director of Autism Resource Centre (Singapore), another ANS partner, said more can be done beyond raising awareness.

"Often, people may be aware (of autism) but may lack the knowledge of how to interact or respond to people on the (autism) spectrum. More can be done to encourage greater interaction and support in the community and workplace, such as providing job opportunities that tap their strengths with appropriate training," she added.

Ms Lim noted that one of the challenges facing caregivers is access to suitable respite care to allow them to take a break, while those with autism need access to lifelong learning opportunities to upskill and keep up with new job demands.

The pandemic has also highlighted issues faced by young children with autism and their caregivers.

Ms Nurnain Safariah Selamat, head of programme for the junior level at AWWA School@Napiri, noted that making sure children with autism adhere to Covid-19 regulations such as wearing a mask or socially distancing from others has been a unique challenge for caregivers.

Students also found it difficult to cope with the vaccination process and changes to their routine.

"The school tried to address the above challenges with a two-pronged approach of both giving the families our emotional support and equipping their children with the ability to adapt to these changes through the teachers' teachings and school resources.

"Our clients and their families spend more than half their day outside of our safe, supported environment. Actions that benefit and support persons with autism (and their families) would actually benefit anybody else, too.

"For example, everybody could do with a little more care and concern, a little bit more time and patience extended to them, and a lot more clarity of expectations," she added.

The campaign's stories will be shared through ANS' Facebook and Instagram pages over the course of the month, along with a series of comics to improve the public's understanding of autism.

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