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Gerald Giam, former Non-Constituency Member of Parliament from Workers' Party in a house visit (Source : Facebook).

Former NCMP shares thoughts on educational options for autistic children

Parents of special needs children should not be paying any more in school fees, than those with children in mainstream schools, wrote Gerald Giam, former Non-Constituency Member of Parliament from Workers' Party, on his Facebook account.

Mr Giam was sharing an encounter during his house visit that he had with a family. The parents shared with him that they are very concerned about the educational options available in the country. Although Pathlight is one of the option, but the school is located in Ang Mo Kio while he lives in Simei.

Mr Giam noted that while there are schools nearby that also provide additional resources to support special needs students, but the treatment is not the same as attending a specialised school like Pathlight.

The school fees in special needs schools tend to be much higher ($350/month in the case of Pathlight) than in mainstream schools (although there are subsidies for the needy). Mr Giam shared his thoughts with the family that parents of special needs children should not be paying any more in school fees, than those with children in mainstream schools.

He noted that while the costs of running special needs schools may be higher, this burden should not fall disproportionately on these parents, who are already faced with higher costs for many other things that parents like him would take for granted.

The father expressed hope that the government would set aside more resources to build more of such schools for the special needs students who live in different parts of the island to have the treatment needed in a more accessible area.

Mr Gerald wrote, "A few months ago, I read an excellent series of articles in The Economist (16 Apr 2016) on "Dealing with autism - Beautiful minds, wasted". The newpaper pointed out that the potential of autistic people is largely squandered in both poor and rich countries. Globally, 80% of those with autism are not in the workforce -- numbers which the Economist says "represent a tragic human toll, as millions of people live idle and isolated outside the world of work." One American study suggests the costs could be as high as 2% of GDP. It could be even higher in Singapore."

"Autism is a complex brain condition, encompassing a broad range of symptoms. These can include discomfort around other people, hypersensitivity to sounds, touch, tastes, smells and light, and obsessive interests. At least a quarter of children with autism do not speak, though some studies put the figure higher. At the other end of the scale are people of average or high intelligence who can live relatively normal lives," wrote the Economist in its article 'The Rise of Autism, Spectrum Shift' on 16 April 2016.

The article said that people with autism may have disability, but they also often have extraordinary gifts in a few areas, which can make them very effective workers if they are given the right environment. Because of this, specialised schools are needed so that the children with autism can have appropriate educational environment, therefore they will grow up to be productive workers and live fulfilling lives.

"As one of the richest countries in the world, we must do more to support parents with special needs children. Their children are also our nation's children, and a precious resource which we must not squander," Mr Gerald wrote.

Recently, Ms Ho Ching, CEO of Temasek Holdings also highlighted the presence of children with autism, when she brought the blue dinosaurs patterned purse to the visit to the White House. The purse was designed by an autistic student of Pathlight, See Toh Sheng Jie. Many had praised her for raising the awareness of the members of the public that these children need support to grow and to have their spot in the community.

See Toh Sheng Jie, an autistic artist who design Ms Ho's purse (Source : art.autism.org.sg).
See Toh Sheng Jie, an autistic artist who design Ms Ho's purse (Source : art.autism.org.sg).