Singapore hosts first Asia Pacific Autism Conference outside Australia

Students from Pathlight School put on a dance and music performance to open the Asia Pacific Autism Conference 2019 on June 20, 2019.
Students from Pathlight School put on a dance and music performance to open the Asia Pacific Autism Conference 2019 on June 20, 2019.PHOTO: AUTISM RESOURCE CENTRE

SINGAPORE -Singapore has become the first country outside Australia to host the Asia Pacific's largest autism learning event.

More than 1,700 delegates from Singapore and 30 other countries attended this year's Asia Pacific Autism Conference (Apac) at Resorts World Sentosa on Thursday (June 20). Around 50 delegates at the event are on the autism spectrum.

Chairman of the Australian Advisory Board on Autism, which convened the biennial event, Ms Joan McKenna Kerr, said it chose the Republic due to its location at the heart of the region.

"From the response received, this was definitely a move in the right direction," she said.

"We congratulate the Autism Resource Centre (Singapore) (Arc) and the organising committee for putting together a well-thought out conference programmer that meets the needs of the autism communities here."

Singapore's hosting of the conference is a far cry from its "dismal" autism landscape just 20 years ago, chairman of the organising committee of Apac19 Denise Phua said at the opening ceremony.

She said that awareness of the disorder at the time was low, services were few and there was poor access to resources and provisions.

However, she said, a group of pioneers including Ms Ho Ching, the current advisor to Arc and the executive director and chief executive officer of Temasek Holdings, started several "much-needed services" such as training and special education schools.


Singapore also benefitted from the knowledge of overseas experts, including the National Autistic Society in the United Kingdom.

Ms Phua said that Apac19 is Singapore's way of showing its "deep appreciation" of how much it benefited from learning from others over the past years.

She noted that today, Singapore has over 20 government-funded early intervention centres, 19 special education schools and more mainstream support, employment programmes and homes for persons on the autism spectrum.

Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee also highlighted measures that Singapore has taken to support such people.

These include the launch of three Enabling Masterplans in 2007, 2012 and 2017.

Each of these plans have resulted in additional support for people with special needs, including 30-year-old Edwin Lim.

Mr Lim, who has mild to moderate autism, had trouble finding a job after his National Service as employers would tell him that they did not hire people with his condition.

However, with the help of Arc, he was able to get a job as an administrative clerk at United Overseas Bank's Scan Hub, where he has been working since 2013.

Mr Lim said: "I feel good now. The people are supportive and I enjoy that I have work to do so I don't get bored with myself.

"To those who are out there struggling, never give up. There are people who are willing to help."

However, both Mr Lee and Ms Phua acknowledged that more needs to be done.