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Independent living, employment among focus of Singapore's first master plan for people with autism

Independent living, employment among focus of Singapore's first master plan for people with autism

The Autism Resource Centre is part of the Autism Network Singapore, also comprising the Autism Association, Asian Women’s Welfare Association, Rainbow Centre and St. Andrew’s Autism Centre. (Photo: Ang Hwee Min)

SINGAPORE: Singapore’s first master plan for individuals on the autism spectrum was unveiled on Monday (Mar 29), providing recommendations for independent living, including on housing, employment and life after their caregiver dies. 

The master plan serves as a directional roadmap to help autism service providers develop services for those on the spectrum, and enable them to live a quality life, said the Autism Resource Centre (ARC) in a press release.

It contains 14 recommendations, covering a person's early years to adulthood, specifically in living, learning and working. 

More than 500 people, including professionals and families, contributed to the master plan, said ARC. 

Speaking at the launch, ARC president Ms Denise Phua said that the master plan is also aimed at helping major autism service providers work together to become "more aligned" and "the good things that are done in each of the groups are actually scalable".

“This is also one way ... by which we actually try to align, try to prioritise together, try to identify and also work on areas that are important for the sector.”

READ: How to help people with autism? It starts by just being a friend

DIFFERENT DISABILITY GROUPS HAVE DIFFERENT NEEDS

Touching on the current Enabling Masterplan already put in place by the Government, Ms Phua said that while important, the national plan is "general" and “not specific to different disabilities”.

Disability groups are “not homogeneous” and have different needs, she said. 

“There’s really a need to look deeper so that we’re able to come up with more value adding specific programmes and plans for each major disability,” she added. 

Each edition of the national Enabling Masterplan provides a roadmap for five years. The current roadmap ends in 2021.

Since the Government is looking at rounding up the current Enabling Masterplan, ARC has asked for its autism enabling master plan to be considered, said Ms Phua. 

The master plan has been submitted to the Government, she added. 

The master plan covers six “high priority” areas: Quality assurance for autism services, planning for life, learning for life, employment continuum, residential living continuum and planning for life after death, said ARC in the press release.

READ: Hugs and heartaches - Ageing parents stay strong despite challenges raising children with autism

Under the master plan, ARC recommends introducing residential training programmes to “improve the outcomes” for adults on the spectrum living and working independently. 

Another recommendation was to develop sustainable and integrated living options, so as to provide more choices for the diverse profiles of those on the spectrum.

In the area of jobs and employment, the master plan suggested that a skills council task force be set up to identify the skills that individuals on the spectrum may require for relevant jobs, said ARC in the press release. 

A toolkit of best practices for hiring and supporting adults on the spectrum in the workplace could also be developed for employers, ARC said. 

“The toolkit should also contain clear pointers about what adults on the spectrum can bring to the table, which may enable employers to be more open minded about recruiting them,” the press release read. 

As for those who are unable to work for pay, ARC recommends building “a continuum of solutions” to raise their quality of life by “providing additional opportunities for meaningful engagement”.

READ: How technology gives my son hope with his autism

The Ministry of Social and Family Development and SG Enable announced in January that they aim to create 1,200 job opportunities for people with disabilities in 2021. 

These will include employment, training and skills upgrading opportunities. 

Another area the master plan covers is life after death - how individuals on the spectrum can continue to thrive after their caregivers die.

The centre recommends designing a comprehensive guide for this topic. 

“To support parents and caregivers in the process of planning for the life of the person on the spectrum after they pass on, an organised and straightforward step-by-step guide is crucial. This process should involve the person on the spectrum as well,” said ARC. 

Moving forward, the centre will engage stakeholders such as caregivers, adults on the spectrum and community partners to share the recommendations in the master plan, it said in the press release. 

Key autism service providers under the Autism Network Singapore will also prioritise the recommendations that each of them will focus on, said ARC. 

The centre will also develop customised training programmes for those on the spectrum to cover areas such as independent living, soft skills and work, the press release said.

READ: Navigating taboos, parents grapple with sexual stirrings of children with special needs

ARC has also initiated a project to develop alternative residential models for individuals on the spectrum.

“Among the continuum of residential models being explored are independent living with regular support services, small group homes modelled after those operated by government-supported senior activity centres, and clusters of public HDB/private apartments distributed in a neighbourhood,” said ARC. 

These will supplement the residential homes currently operated by St Andrew’s Autism Centre, which provides housing for adults with higher support needs.

“We have submitted the masterplan to the Government, and the Government I believe will take into account these suggestions and recommendations as the next Enabling Masterplan for the nation is going to be launched,” said Ms Phua.

Source: CNA/aj

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