April is World Autism Awareness Month, a time to honor the remarkable resilience of those with Autism, along with their caregivers and advocates who support them. On this special occasion, let's celebrate the diverse talents, passions, and aspirations of people with Autism and work towards building a more inclusive society.
Autism, or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), is a complex neurological condition that uniquely impacts individuals. Hence, the needs of people with Autism can vary significantly depending on the severity of their symptoms and individual differences.
In 2016, an estimate indicated that one in 150 children in Singapore was on the autism spectrum. There has been a growing gap between supply and demand for services for the post-18 group, with the number of Special Education school (SPED) graduates increasing at an average of 5 per cent a year in the last three years (Shafeeq, 2023).
Social Gifting interviewed Serene (53), the mother and caretaker of 2 autistic children, to comprehend what they need most. Bryan (24) is a mid-functioning Autism individual with social interaction limited to narrow special interests. Bernice (23) has severe deficits in verbal and nonverbal social communication skills and requires very substantial support.
In this article, we focus on Bernice and Serene. Being a caretaker, Serene shared that she does not have a lifestyle of her own. She follows her children's routine from day to night, Monday to Sunday, and from January to December. She looks after Bernice 24/7, even when Bernice is sleeping.
Serene shared that there are a few common needs that most individuals with Autism may have, including:
1. Having a Routine and Structure is crucial for individuals with Autism. Having a predictable routine and a stable environment can help reduce anxiety and stress. When they are anxious, they may start acting out. When Bernice is triggered and starts acting out, Serene will bring her to the "calm room" to stabilize her mood and allow her free will to express her emotions. The "calm room" is equipped with aircon to bring down her temperature and a padded wall to prevent her from hurting herself.
2. Communication support and Understanding and Acceptance of individuals with Autism. Bernice has difficulties with communication, social interaction, and repetitive behaviors, and it is essential to understand that these behaviors are part of their condition. Bernice is non-verbal and does not understand social cues. However, she still needs social interaction to help her develop communication skills. Serene is thankful to the volunteers who took the time to visit Bernice and spend time interacting with her.
3. Caregiver Support. At times, Serene feels helpless and frustrated. She is providing caregiving support 24/7 without a break. She has tried entrusting Bernice to the care of other family members, but it did not turn out well. She shared that there was an episode where she was driving and felt a strong urge to drive into a tree. She immediately stopped the car and called her husband. She couldn't stop crying and sought medical support. After taking psychiatric medication, she felt better. She hopes there is more support for caregivers like her, providing resilient and morale support to alleviate stress.
4. Education and Employment Support. Many individuals with Autism, like Bernice, have little or no support after they graduate from SPED School. They were turned away from the Sheltered workshops due to behavioural issues. Neither are they suitable for open employment. That left them with limited choices, such as attending Day Care Centre. However, the average admission waiting time is around 3 to 5 years. Without engagement for an extensive period of time would result in losing all the skills they have learned and accumulated in school and even lead to health and mental issues.
Bernice discovered Social Gifting through Rainbow Centre's Micro-Business Academy (MBA) programme, a pilot initiative started in 2020 to create self-employment and meaningful work for persons with disabilities. Through Social Gifting, Bernice crafted beautiful items and connected with corporate clients to offer tailor-made corporate gifts. Her exquisite crafts can be found @ https://www.social-gifting.com/collections/bernice. At Social Gifting, we believe that home-based jobs tailored to their unique abilities can help them achieve their full potential.
Serene shared that she has learnt to be patient through Bernice and Bryan. She has learned to slow her pace, which helps her to appreciate things in life and not take things for granted. She hopes Bernice can continue to be engaged in the community. Through this sharing, Serene hopes to increase the awareness that many adults with Autism are disengaged at home and need home-based work to provide them with routine and a purpose in life.
It's important to note that every individual with Autism is different, and their needs will vary. Therefore, working with them, their families, and professionals is vital to identify their specific needs and provide the appropriate assistance. Thank you for joining forces to comprehend their needs and provide support in different ways.