President’s Challenge Volunteer Drive rallies more than 2,200 volunteers despite Covid-19 limitations – AutismSTEP
SINGAPORE – Technology is allowing more people to get involved in volunteer work and continue helping others despite restrictions during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Since the start of the year, the President’s Challenge Volunteer Drive (PCVD) has rallied more than 2,200 volunteers from over 20 organisations to support its beneficiaries.
Online activities such as hand yoga sessions, digital literacy training workshops and singing sessions have been held by volunteer groups this year.
President Halimah Yacob on Wednesday (Oct 14) noted that technology will bring change to the social service sector.
“This year, many volunteering activities cannot take place in their usual forms due to the Covid-19 pandemic. But I am glad that many volunteers have leveraged technology to continue their volunteering activities,” said Madam Halimah during her visit to the Metta Welfare Association.
“I hope PCVD will build on this positive momentum and create more regular volunteering opportunities through the use of technology to help the vulnerable groups in Singapore – in line with the theme of President’s Challenge 2021 on ‘Building a Digitally Inclusive Society’,” she added.
For full article, please visit: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/presidents-challenge-volunteer-drive-rallies-more-than-2200-volunteers-despite-covid-19
It is encouraging that Singapore is taking steps to include and support the community of people with disabilities in tangible ways (New accreditation for firms hiring people with disabilities, Oct 9).
One gap that has yet to be addressed is that of enabling people with disabilities to make a living from providing services to support their community.
These can range from professional services such as occupational and speech therapy, peer support services such as those from counsellors and adult educators, as well as other useful services such as remote IT support and video production.
Many of us understand inclusion as a dependent relationship where abled people are responsible for supporting people with disabilities and integrating them into mainstream society.
People with disabilities are seen as being unable to contribute meaningfully to determine their future; plans, training and initiatives are undertaken by abled people on their behalf.
I propose shifting to a relationship of inclusive equality, where both abled and disabled people work together as equal partners to create change – with the Government forming a quadripartite alliance with service providers (including employers), caregivers and disabled people.
For full article, please visit: https://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/forum/empower-people-with-disabilities-to-stand-as-equals
Autistic people’s ability to understand another person’s thinking does not diminish with age, as it does for non-autistic people, a new study shows.
Researchers evaluated ‘theory of mind’— or the ability to infer someone’s mental state — in autistic and non-autistic adults. Many autistic people struggle with this cognitive skill, research has shown.
In the new study, younger non-autistic people demonstrated greater theory of mind than both younger autistic people and older autistic and non-autistic people. Older and younger autistic people, though, were largely similar.
“Our results show that there seems to be no significant decline in understanding others’ minds with age in autism,” says study investigator Esra Zıvralı Yarar, assistant professor of psychology at the Social Sciences University of Ankara in Turkey.
The findings also suggest that the brains of autistic people do not age in the same way as those of non-autistic people, she says, at least with regard to some functions.
“This paper is a well-designed experimental investigation,” says Uta Frith, emeritus professor of cognitive development at University College London in the United Kingdom, who was not involved in the work. “Any paper that reports on older people with autism is welcome, because we are so ignorant about cognitive changes that come with age.”
Yarar and her colleagues recruited four groups: 29 autistic and 20 non-autistic people aged 18 to 50, and 29 autistic and 19 non-autistic people older than 50.
Participants completed a 20-item questionnaire to assess their ability to identify their own emotions, as well as a 28-item questionnaire to assess their powers of empathy.
Four additional tests explored different aspects of theory of mind. Participants were asked to identify another person’s thoughts or feelings by looking at a photograph of the person’s eyes; to explain interactions between animated triangles in videos; to explain the motivations of two characters in a video and what they themselves might do in that same situation; and to put five pictures in order to tell a coherent story and then explain the story.
For full article, please visit: https://www.spectrumnews.org/news/theory-of-mind-does-not-fade-with-age-among-autistic-adults/
SINGAPORE – For some, playing the piano well might be a difficult feat to accomplish. But Ms Siti Sakinah Zainal not only mastered the instrument in seven years, she did it despite being blind.
The 24-year-old human resources executive learns her pieces by listening to them and then playing back, memorising them, and picking up the musical cues from the conductor’s breathing when she is playing in an orchestra.
She was among the many people with disabilities (PWDs) who performed at the Purple Parade 2020 on Saturday (Oct 31).
Held annually since 2013, the parade is Singapore’s largest movement to support inclusion of PWDs and celebrate their abilities.
In previous years, huge crowds turned up at Hong Lim Park and Suntec City to take part in the festivities, which typically included a massive carnival, march and concert. This year, due to the Covid-19 outbreak, the organisers have moved the events online.
Over 2,600 Singaporeans, including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, pledged in a video montage on Saturday to support inclusion and celebrate the abilities of PWDs.
Instead of a carnival, Purple Parade merchandise was sold online. And for the first time, a virtual “purple map” replaced the march as a sign of solidarity, allowing people to leave an online message of inclusion or support for PWDs at this website.
The concert was live-streamed on the Purple Parade’s Facebook page, with a special screening at the Suntec Singapore Convention and Exhibition Centre for invited guests that also incorporated some live segments.
It opened with a heartwarming reworded version of the nursery rhyme Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, sung by a choir from the Rare Disorders Society (Singapore).
The audience was then treated to rousing drum and Wushu performances, songs, dances, and a special music video, performed mostly by PWDs.
For full article, please visit: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/community/undaunted-by-covid-19-parade-celebrating-people-with-disabilities-goes-virtual
Two special education schools to be redeveloped and located at new joint campus in 2025 – AutismSTEP
SINGAPORE – Two special education schools serving students with mild intellectual disability will have a joint campus, and redeveloped to accommodate more students.
Chaoyang School and Tanglin School, which are both run by the Association for Persons with Special Needs, will also have more facilities to cater to students across the autism spectrum.
The special education (Sped) schools will be located at the former Da Qiao Primary School in Ang Mo Kio in 2025. Chaoyang School is currently also located in Ang Mo Kio and Tanglin School is in Bukit Merah.
At the new site, Chaoyang School will provide 400 primary-level places and Tanglin School will have 350 secondary-level places. They currently have 320 and 260 students enrolled respectively.
Minister of State for Education Sun Xueling, who spoke to reporters during a visit to Chaoyang School on Thursday (Nov 5), said the schools hope to provide more places for children with mild intellectual disability who live in the north-Eastern and central regions of Singapore.
Ms Sun, who is also Minister of State for Social and Family Development, said it will be more convenient for families to have both schools located at the same site. It will also give the students a sense of familiarity.
For full article, please visit: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/parenting-education/two-special-education-schools-to-be-redeveloped-and-located-at-new
There are hardly any medical or life policies available to people with autism or Down syndrome in Singapore. This segment of the population is just as susceptible to ageing and diseases as the rest. Without insurance coverage, they may add to the cost and burden borne by society.
As this group of people age and face health issues, and if they cannot afford even average healthcare, then the state may have to step in with subsidies and grants for their upkeep and medical needs.
Presently, the insurance landscape is a maze for those with autism and their caregivers.
Mr Wesley Loh described how openly autistic people with low support needs can face exclusion on the total permanent disability coverage under the Dependants’ Protection Scheme (Govt help needed to tackle insurer bias against autism, Sept 17).
While we advocate the inclusion of people with special needs in our society and workforce, we do not seem to provide adequate coverage for them, unlike what is readily available to working people with no special needs.
The Ministry of Social and Family Development and the Monetary Authority of Singapore said they are building a set of guidelines for private insurers, under which insurers should not treat people with disabilities differently from those without, unless such differences can be justified (Insurers expected to deal fairly with all clients, including those with disabilities, Oct 7).
For full article, please visit: https://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/forum/those-with-special-needs-face-a-maze
From rejecting her at first, a student with mild autism now refers to Madam Germaine Png as his “guardian angel in school”.
It was an affirmation for the then new allied educator (AED) from a secondary school.
Madam Png, 33, told The New Paper: “It showed that even though students might not be receptive initially, they come to realise that we are here to help them and most of them open up and want to receive support.”
On Oct 22, the MOE announced that AEDs providing learning and behavioural support (LBS) will have their own development track when the allied educator scheme is split into distinct tracks in 2022.
There will also be a greater number of higher-level positions created.
Meanwhile, not seeing immediate improvement in students is among the challenges faced by AEDs.
They give after-school interventions to support students in mainstream schools who have mild special needs such as dyslexia, autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
To find the right strategy to help them, AED (LBS) Lourdes Maria said they spend time understanding these students, who have a broad range of needs and exhibit different extent of behavioural difficulties.
Ms Maria, 40, who will be one of the first two educators to be appointed as lead AEDs (LBS) in January next year, said: “We have to find out exactly why a child is behaving in a certain way, and then manage the triggers and teach them how to manage their issues.”
To help the students develop, AEDs (LBS) work with their parents, teachers and classmates to get them on board in support of the students.
Ms Maria and Madam Png, who each spent 10 years as AEDs in a secondary school, are now placed at the Ministry of Education (MOE) headquarters.
Despite the challenges, there are rewards that come with the job.
For full article, please visit: https://www.tnp.sg/news/singapore/allied-educators-feel-joy-when-students-flourish
PEDESTRIAN crossing pictograms in Huercal-Overa to help people on the autism spectrum are a pioneer initiative in the province.
The council is painting the pictograms on crossings which provide access to schools, sports centres and municipal facilities to promote the self-sufficiency and highway safety of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
The initiative stems from an agreement between the local authority, the TEAVIAL non-profit association for autism and road safety, and TEAVIAL collaborator, the provincial ASTEA autism association.
“We continue working with ASTEA to make the municipality accessible to all”, explained Huercal-Overa Mayor Domingo Fernandez.
“It is a small gesture with which we are improving the road safety of residents with ASD, with the importance this means for their day-to-day lives.
Social Well-being councillor Jose Lopez highlighted the important work ASTEA does in the municipality, making it clear the association could “count on the collaboration of the council, both in terms of carrying out activities and in providing space for its headquarters.”
Lopez said the premises should be available to ASTEA within the next few months, and will have areas for workshops and therapies, as well as an office for administration.
For full article, please visit: https://www.euroweeklynews.com/2020/10/02/pedestrian-crossing-signs-to-help-people-on-autism-spectrum/
This made my day: Temperature screener helps reunite lost boy with autism with his mother – AutismSTEP
A pair of closing train doors at Punggol MRT station separated David from his domestic helper, but by the time she hurried back to the platform to find him, the 17-year-old boy was nowhere to be found.
It wasn’t until later that day that the boy’s mother, identified only as Clara, was able to locate her son, who has autism, at Vivocity, due in no small part to the efforts of a helpful temperature screener stationed at the mall.
In a post on Friends of ASD Families’ Facebook page last night (Oct 6), Clara recounted how her son and helper had been on the way to school when they lost each other. While rushing to board the train, the doors closed just as her helper stepped in, leaving her son outside the carriage.
Despite gesturing for David to wait at the platform for her, the teen was missing when Clara’s helper returned to the platform. She took the train along the pair’s usual route to school in an attempt to locate the missing teen, but to no avail.
After searching in vain for the teen, she informed Clara of what happened and approached the station staff for help.
But as Clara was making a police report, she received a call from David’s school, informing her that a man had found her son and that the two were waiting for her at Vivocity.
For full article, please visit: https://www.asiaone.com/singapore/made-my-day-temperature-screener-helps-reunite-lost-boy-autism-his-mother
Researchers from several American universities are collaborating to develop artificial intelligence based software to help people on the autism spectrum find and hold meaningful employment.
The project is a collaboration between experts at Vanderbilt, Yale, Cornell and the Georgia Institute of Technology. It consists of developing multiple pieces of technology, each one aimed at a different aspect of supporting people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in the workplace, according to Nilanjan Sarkar, professor of engineering at Vanderbilt University and the leader of the project.
“We realized together that there are some support systems for children with autism in this society, but as soon as they become 18 years old and more, there is a support cliff and the social services are not as much,” Sarkar said.
The project began a year ago with preliminary funding from the National Science Foundation. The NSF initially invested in around 40 projects, but only four — including this one — were chosen to be funded for a longer term of two years.
“We’re very excited to be part of that selection,” said Brian Scassellati, the A. Bartlett Giamatti professor of computer science, mechanical engineering and materials science at Yale. “I think it’s a recognition of how important this problem is and how close we are to being able to help people.”
People on the autism spectrum tend to have strong visual reasoning abilities and often see puzzles differently from how a neurotypical person might see them. Companies find it beneficial to hire people with strong visual and spatial abilities because these skills can be very useful, especially for working in technology, according to Maithilee Kunda, assistant professor of computer science and computer engineering at Vanderbilt University.
Kunda leads the effort to develop AI and cognitive modeling that analyzes a person’s visual reasoning abilities. Then, based on the analysis, people are connected with job positions they might excel in. This is done through an assessment consisting of a series of puzzles during which the test-taker wears an eye-tracker and is monitored with cameras. The researchers then use the measurements they take from both the sensors and the test to study the visual thinking process of the test-taker, according to Kunda.
Several years ago, Kunda realized “you can give two people the same set of problems to do and they can both be equally successful solving the problems correctly, but they could be doing it in completely different ways,” she said. “This is like the great mystery of cognitive science. All these things are happening inside your head and we cannot directly measure them.”
Eighty percent of people with ASD are either unemployed or underemployed, according to Sarkar. However, Kunda pointed out that often the issue is not with someone’s job abilities but rather with their social skills.
For full article, please visit: https://yaledailynews.com/blog/2020/09/23/yale-researchers-develop-ai-technology-for-adults-with-autism/