To ask the Minister for Social and Family Development (a) what are the current efforts to raise the awareness of Singaporeans regarding children and young adults with autism; (b) what has been done to ensure that these autistic individuals continue to have access to resources and provisions; (c) how can the Government and society partner each other to further raise awareness and enhance access to resources and provisions; and (d) whether there will be more efforts to help autistic individuals integrate into society and lead meaningful lives.
1. The Government closely partners the people, private and public sector to raise awareness of autism and provide support to persons with autism. Several Social Service Agencies, such as the Autism Resource Centre, the Autism Association Singapore, St. Andrew’s Autism Centre, AWWA, and Rainbow Centre are committed to serving persons with autism and their families. We work with these agencies, and other partners, to raise awareness of autism, provide for detection and early intervention, educational support in the schooling years, job support, social inclusion and care services.Persons with autism or their caregivers can also approach SG Enable for information and referral to various support services.
2. A key factor to greater inclusion is improving awareness and understanding of autism. The National Council for Social Service (NCSS) has been running the “See the True Me” campaign since 2016, in partnership with the Tote Board. The campaign encourages the public to see persons with disability for who they are, instead of the disability that they have. It has also helped to raise awareness of autism by showcasing the abilities of persons with autism, and by profiling employers with inclusive hiring practices.
3. We tap on the network of polyclinics and GPs to detect autism in children early. Polyclinics and GPs may refer children to the Child Development Programme at KKH and NUH for diagnosis of developmental concerns, including autism.
4. Children diagnosed to be at risk of autism are referred to subsidised Early Intervention services for developmental and therapy intervention. For children with moderate to severe developmental needs, they are supported through the Early Intervention Programme for Infants and Children, provided at 21 Early Intervention centres across Singapore. Children with mild developmental needs receive short-term targeted intervention through the Developmental Support and Learning Support programmes in some 550 preschools.
5. Earlier this year, I announced enhancements to make early intervention services more affordable and more customised. The subsidy enhancements have lowered the out-of-pocket expenses for early intervention services for most families by 30% to 70%. We are progressively rolling out more customised early intervention services, such as the Development Support Plus programme, to support children with mild to moderate developmental needs within preschools. This will give parents greater assurance that intervention is tailored to their child’s specific needs, and build a stronger foundation for the child to develop to his or her fullest potential.
6. During the schooling years, students with mild autism who can access the national curriculum are supported in mainstream schools by specialised manpower, such as teachers trained in special needs and Allied Educators for Learning and Behavioural Support. These Allied Educators are able to provide group intervention for students with autism to learn social and communication skills. Specialised school-based intervention programmes are also available to support students with mild developmental needs, including autism. For example, students with both dyslexia and mild autism would be supported by the school-based dyslexia remediation programme to build up literacy skills. Those with moderate to severe autism who require more intensive and specialised assistance in their education are supported in special education (SPED) schools, such as Pathlight, AWWA School and St. Andrew’s Autism School.
7. We also work with partners to help young persons with autism prepare for working life. For example, the School-to-Work Transition Programme offers customised training pathways and work options for students with disability, including those with autism. This is a multi-agency collaboration between MOE, MSF, SG Enable, and the SPED schools, to support students in their transition from school to employment.
8. SG Enable offers Disability Awareness and Disability Management courses to enhance the capabilities of employers looking to hire and retain persons with disabilities. SG Enable also partners the Autism Resource Centre, or ARC, to provide job seekers with autism with job placement and support. ARC runs an Employability and Employment Centre, located within the Enabling Village, to provide training and customised employment to persons with autism. Opening more opportunities for employment also requires changing the mindsets of employers and customers who interact with employees with autism. Under the "See the True Me" campaign, KFC Singapore, which hires over 90 employees with disabilities, came up with specially designed tray-mats. These tray-mats contain tips for patrons on interacting with persons with disabilities, for example, encouraging them to be patient. Minister for State Mr Zaqy Mohamad will share more on Government’s efforts to integrate persons with disabilities, including those with autism, into the workforce.
9. There are also ongoing efforts to support opportunities for persons with autism to contribute to the wider community. For example, NCSS has worked with a group of community partners1 to engage persons with disabilities, including those with autism, to deliver customised dinner meal sets to vulnerable seniors. These volunteer and social interaction opportunities help persons with autism form social networks within the community.
10. We also set up the Special Needs Trust Company to support parents and caregivers with subsidised trust and care planning services.
Recently, we launched several workgroups with cross-sectoral representation, including members of the disability community, to look at making preschools more inclusive, improving employment opportunities, and increasing the ease of independent living for persons with disabilities.