More can be done to support adults with autism, says parent

Mr Bernard Chew with his wife Hsiao Yun and children Evan and Chloe.

SINGAPORE - Mr Bernard Chew worries about the future that his son, Evan, who has autism, will have when he and his wife have passed on.

Raising Evan, now 18, has given him insight into the daily challenges facing caregivers and influenced his work as chief executive of St Andrew's Autism Centre.

"Much emphasis has been placed on children with autism, and rightly so, but as these children grow older, their needs and those of their caregivers shift, and I think there is a need to raise public awareness about the experiences of adults with autism as well," he said.

Highlighting the learning curve that caregivers face, Mr Chew, 48, recalled his wife calling it a "cycle of grief and acceptance" where parents are happy for their child when they reach new milestones while subsequently yearning for the experiences they may never enjoy with their children.

He and his wife have two children - Evan and Chloe, 15.

Mr Chew noted that some facilities, such as public libraries under the National Library Board, have consciously made their spaces inclusive for those with special needs, and more venues could do the same.

He said more needs to be done to strengthen inclusive facilities for those with autism and who have completed their schooling.

"What happens after a child with autism crosses the age of 18? They may suddenly fall off a cliff because there are insufficient places in activity centres, and they do not have daily programmes in the week to stay engaged," he added.

There are currently six day activity centres that serve those whose primary diagnosis is Autism Spectrum Disorder. They are run by social service agencies including THK Autism Centre in Geylang Bahru and Eden Centre for Adults in Clementi and Hougang.

Mr Chew said setting up daily activity centres for adults with autism and developing sustainable long-term care facilities such as assisted living spaces or residential homes will go a long way to better support the autism community.

Through this year's autism awareness campaign, Mr Chew, who has been helming St Andrew's Autism Centre for two years now, hopes the public will get a glimpse of the daily struggles of caregivers and empathise with them.

"Besides making physical spaces inclusive, we hope to see more people becoming inclusive, not just accepting someone with autism around them but actually reaching out to them or a caregiver and offering help," he added.

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