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Call for inter-ministerial effort to tackle autism issues

The author, a father of an autistic child, of the following article prefers to remain anonymous to protect his child.

In support of World Autism Awareness Day, 2 Apr 2011

The UN Secretary General, in delivering his 2011 World Autism Awareness Day (WAAD) message, said that persons with autistic conditions faced major challenges due to stigma, discrimination, and lack of support. This was a violation of their fundamental human rights. The Sec-Gen called to support parents, create jobs and improve public education for individuals based on their skills and strengths.

On 2 Apr 2011,  the inaugural Singapore WAAD was held at the Rainbow Centre. It is a pity that the Guest-of-Honour, Dr. Vivan Balakrishnan, missed the opportunity to engage with parents and volunteers at the panel discussion. The discussion highlighted many gaps in government policies and actions today.

Call for inter-ministerial effort to tackle autism issues

Autism affects 1 in 105 children every year. With Singapore’s population at 5 million, there are probably 47,000 individuals with autistic conditions. It is not easy to appreciate the challenges faced by autistic people when they look so “normal”. Hence they are very often misunderstood, discriminated, and marginalised.

This situation needs to be addressed. Every autistic individual should be given the best chance to become independent and productive in this country. Parents and VWOs are unable to shoulder the multi-faceted challenges without a stronger role by the government.

I strongly appeal that the Prime Minister Office convene an inter-ministerial work-group to coordinate and oversee concerted efforts to address various gaps today:

  1. lapses in developmental screening of autistic symptoms by doctors and nurses;
  2. current education road map for autistic people fail to exploit the true potential of each individual for productive adult life;
  3. insufficient resources for early intervention and after school programs (hot topic at panel discussion);
  4. lack of state facilities to care for autistic adults who no longer have a family to depend upon
  5. lack of autism awareness among employers;
  6. lack of laws to protect autistic people from discrimination in their daily lives, at work and insurance policies

This work-group, which has overall responsibility to drive autism awareness in Singapore, will be best helmed by a minister to effect a coordinated effort across involved ministries.

This call for action is urgent and necessary when you consider the opportunity costs to society if 47,000 autism people are not productive or independent.

Embrace diversity. Include Autism.

I note that Singapore, which had yet to sign the United Nations' Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, fell short in international benchmarks for special needs support. Singapore can change. It can start by truly embracing diversity, and including autism in this endeavour. Perhaps, leadership should be demonstrated by the Prime Minister Office.

References
1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Autism_Awareness_Day
2. http://web.me.com/bjchua/Sheares_College_Main_Site/Autism_Day.html
3. http://www.un.org/en/events/autismday/sgmessage.shtml
4. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ylB8nPUtaw
5. http://www.asiaone.com/News/AsiaOne%2BNews/Singapore/Story/A1Story20110303-266200.html