It's not often we get the chance to think about and discuss the topic of autism.
It doesn't help that the population of Singaporeans who have autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is relatively small, and so our likelihood of encountering them is diminished.
But it doesn't change the importance of knowing how to be sensitive, thoughtful, patient, accommodating and inclusive to our friends who think and interact with their worlds in a slightly different manner from us, because if we don't, it can have quite a devastating effect on them.
Mum shares her experience
Friends of ASD Families is a Singapore-based Facebook community page that shares the experiences of families with loved ones who live with autism, and also strives to show how acts of kindness make a big difference to caregivers and families of people on the spectrum.
In a post on Jan. 8, a contributor named Janice shared a heartbreaking account of the experience of her eight-year-old son, who is mildly autistic and attends a mainstream school.
She explained that there was one day her son returned from school feeling down and lonely -- not only did nobody at school want to play with him, despite his repeated attempts to invite them to, he was also laughed at when he slipped and fell on a patch of wet floor. Nobody helped him up either.
To express his feelings, he drew this heartbreaking picture:
No support at school because he is a "mild case"
According to Janice, her son does not receive support at his school even though there is an allied educator stationed there because his autism is milder than others.
She writes that he is "basically left to cope with the school day on his own devices".
Unfortunately, she explains, the effort to integrate higher-functioning children with autism into mainstream schools isn't currently substantial enough:
"Sometimes people do not realise how hurtful exclusion is, especially in what seems like inclusion on the surface. It is such a painful irony to be excluded despite being “included” into mainstream education. There has been a lot of talk about inclusion but inclusion is meaningless if children with different abilities are merely being put in the same place without any genuine form of interaction."
Emphasising sameness rather than difference
Janice notes that efforts to educate children about autism focus more on how people with autism are different from those who don't have it, when it would be more constructive to help people understand how they are in fact just like us -- in that they have feelings, they also desire friendship and companionship and they do completely understand the things people say to them, insults and all.
That being said, Janice writes that helping other children to understand and be more caring and patient with students like her son is a simple way to make things a whole lot better:
"Actually all it takes to educate school children about the decent way to treat others is the golden rule - 'Do to others what you want them to do to you.'"
You can read her post in full here:
Top photos via Friends of ASD Families & MOE Facebook pages