A guide to the financial, social, and emotional support available to families of children with special needs
heAsianparent recently featured the story of Karen, a mother who is battling to raise two children under the age of 6 who have both been diagnosed with autism, while having to deal with a neighbour who is allegedly applying undue pressure on her small family, often cursing for her children to die.
In our attempts to raise community awareness on empathy towards families with special needs children, we reached out to the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) about the various avenues of support for families with autism, that is currently being implemented in Singapore.
Support for families with autism
Regarding Karen’s specific case, the MSF spokesperson said: “It is indeed challenging for Karen to care for two children with autism while facing disputes with her neighbour. Karen and her family are receiving support for their social and emotional needs, as well as financial support from MSF and our community partners. These include Early Intervention professionals and social workers. These professionals will continue to work closely with Karen and her family to mitigate the family stressors.”
“MSF Social Service Offices (SSO) have been supporting the family with Comcare Short-to-Medium Term Assistance from April to December 2020. The family is also supported by a Family Service Centre near their home, which provides counselling support and advice in managing the family’s relationship with their neighbour. Both children are attending the Early Intervention Programme for Infants and Children (EIPIC). They attended weekly online classes with Karen during the Circuit Breaker period,” the spokesperson further added.
In the article about Karen’s ordeal, she said to have felt depressed to the point of suffering from very dark thoughts as the situation had become unbearable for her.
The disputes with her neighbour added to the general stress that parenting brings — and that of raising children with developmental needs, in particular.
MSF shared that while it is challenging for families like Karen’s who are dealing with a myriad of difficult situations, there are a few avenues of help offered by government programmes that they can take to avoid being over-burdened and receive targeted help specific to their cases.
“We encourage individuals and families facing social and emotional challenges to reach out to their nearest Family Service Centre (FSC), which are based in the community and staffed by social service professionals. Alternatively, individuals and families could reach out to any social service touchpoints and we can make the necessary referrals to the FSC,” MSF noted.
A list of the nearest FSCs in your locality can be found here.
The National CARE Hotline (1800-202-6868) is a further venture set up recently to provide 24/7 round the clock emotional support and psychological first aid to those feeling stressed and distressed.
“The hotline also provides emotional reassurance, a listening ear, or practical coping tips. The CARE Hotline is open to all and complements existing phone or online counselling platforms,” MSF noted.
“If callers need help beyond what the volunteer counsellors of the CARE Hotline can provide, they will be linked up with agencies, healthcare institutions and community partners for more support,” MSF further added.
Below are lists of various hotlines, including the National Care Hotline, and that of community partners offering targeted support for families in distress.
Infographic of hotlines to call for when in need of assistance. PHOTO: MSF
Support for families with autism: Educational support for children with special needs
According to MSF, families in similar situations can benefit from Government-funded programmes that provide early intervention support for families with autism, through a range of professionals, from learning support educators and early intervention teachers; to therapists, psychologists and social workers.
The early intervention seeks to maximise a child’s developmental potential.
“[Programmes like] SG Enable supports families with children with developmental needs and provides referrals to relevant services. Today, children under the age of 7 with developmental needs can receive intervention through Government-funded Early Intervention (EI) programmes. Children with mild developmental needs are supported by the Development Support (DS) and Learning Support (LS) programmes, in a preschool setting. Children with moderate to severe developmental needs can receive intervention through the Early Intervention Programme for Infants and Children (EIPIC) at EI centres,” MSF stated.
The range of early intervention programmes can be found in the infographic below:
The EIPIC programme saw a recent revamp to make it more flexible and customisable to the varied needs of children.
Fees for Singaporeans have been lowered to make the programmes more affordable for families of children with developmental needs.
For full article, please visit: https://www.asiaone.com/lifestyle/guide-financial-social-and-emotional-support-available-families-children-special-needs
Autistic girls may find social interaction more rewarding than autistic boys do, according to a new study focused on the brain’s reward system.
“It may be a critical variable that can influence the way girls with autism present as opposed to boys,” says lead investigator Mirella Dapretto, professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral studies at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Previous studies have found that the brain’s reward system does not react strongly to social stimuli in people with autism in general, suggesting that they find social interaction less rewarding than typical people do. But much of that work has been done in boys: Across 13 studies, for example, 90 percent of the study participants were boys or men, according to a 2018 review.
The new findings, published 2 June in Translational Psychiatry, suggest the response is different in autistic girls.
The study is “remarkable,” says John Herrington, assistant professor of child and adolescent psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, who worked on the 2018 review and was not involved in the new work. Researchers have long wondered whether autistic girls have different social challenges than autistic boys do, he says, but this is the first study to examine the question from a neurobiological perspective.
Another study by Dapretto’s team, published in April in Cerebral Cortex, reveals sex differences in connectivity between brain networks in autistic children3. Together, the studies lend support to the idea that girls and boys experience autism in distinct ways, underscoring the need to represent both sexes in autism investigations, researchers say.
Boys are diagnosed with autism roughly four times more often than girls are, making it difficult for researchers to recruit autistic girls for their studies. To address this, Dapretto co-leads a consortium of researchers at four sites across the United States who gather and compile brain imaging data from both sexes.
For the June study, she and her colleagues scanned the brains of 43 boys and 39 girls with autism, as well as 39 boys and 33 girls without autism, all 8 to 17 years old. While in the scanner, the children were asked to arbitrarily place images of fractals into one of two groups, after which they received feedback to help them learn the correct group for each fractal. Sometimes the feedback included text and images of smiling or frowning faces, and other times only text.
When compared with autistic boys, the autistic girls show stronger responses to faces in the nucleus accumbens, a brain region involved in reward processing, the researchers found. There was no such difference between typical boys and girls. Autistic girls, but not autistic boys, also show a stronger response to the facial feedback than to the text-only feedback.
Compared with neurotypical girls, the autistic girls show stronger responses to social feedback in other regions of the brain, including parts of the frontal cortex and insula. The latter is also active during reward processing.
The findings indicate that social feedback could be a particularly effective component of therapies tailored for autistic girls, Dapretto says.
The work may also help to explain how some girls disguise their autism traits — a phenomenon known as camouflaging. If girls find social interactions more rewarding than boys do, some may be better able to compensate for social difficulties, says Tal Kenet, associate professor of neurology at Harvard University, who was not involved in the work.
For full article, please visit: https://www.spectrumnews.org/news/brain-responses-to-social-stimuli-may-vary-by-sex-in-autism/
When a video clip of a boy dashing out onto the roads made its rounds on social media this week, many netizens were quick to blame his parents for negligence.
In the dashcam footage,on Sunday (Aug 9) night.
With scarce information shared in the Facebook posts, the man who saved the boy was mistaken for his father.
However, the child’s mum has revealed what happened that day.
In a Facebook post on Aug 10, she shared that her son had slipped out of their home in Pasir Ris as the handyman working on the CCTV had left the gate open.
Realising that her son was missing, the worried mum immediately ran out to look for him at the nearby pond.
However, the boy had headed in the opposite direction and later dashed onto a road along Pasir Ris Drive 1.
“He has no sense of danger as he is a child [with special needs],” she wrote.
For full article, please visit: https://www.asiaone.com/singapore/boy-special-needs-dashes-out-pasir-ris-road-saved-passer
Two second-year Institute of Technical Education (ITE) students have emerged winners in a global social innovation competition involving teams from 10 countries, placing Singapore top alongside Greece and Slovakia.
The Social Innovation Relay 2020, which is in its 10th edition this year, challenges youth to develop an innovative business concept that addresses a social need.
Mr Arthur Chong, 19, and Mr Ernest Antonio Ching, 18, had earlier earned their right to represent the Republic in the global finals, which was held online on June 16, by beating nine other teams from schools such as Raffles Institution (RI) and Dunman High School in the final national leg of the competition late last month.
A total of 95 teams in Singapore took part in the local competition and 10 made it to the finals.
The two ITE students had come up with the idea of a social enterprise to train and place youth with autism in jobs that matched their skills. Mentors would be assigned to coach the youth on handling work situations for up to a year.
The pair also developed a prototype of a chat support application making use of emojis, to allow youth with autism to communicate their feelings easily to their mentors or work supervisors when facing challenges at work.
Said Mr Chong, who is doing a Higher Nitec in IT applications development: “We have classmates and friends with autism, so we know first-hand the difficulties they face with finding mainstream employment.
“Some of my friends shared the problems they faced during their internship periods – breaking down when under extreme stress, not knowing how to deal with difficult situations – that’s where we got some inspiration.”
The duo said they also drew inspiration from local social enterprise Inclus, which helps people with special needs find gainful employment.
For full article, please visit: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/education/ite-duo-top-global-social-innovation-competition
Inherited mutations in a gene called ACTL6B lead to autism, epilepsy and intellectual disability, according to a new study.
The mutations are recessive, which means that they lead to autism only if a person inherits them in both copies of the gene — one from each parent, who are silent carriers. Most other mutations implicated in autism are spontaneous, or ‘de novo,’ mutations, which are not inherited.
The study suggests that recessive mutations in ACTL6B could be a relatively common cause of autism, says co-lead researcher Joseph Gleeson, professor of neurosciences and pediatrics at the University of California, San Diego.
ACTL6B helps to control the expression of other genes in brain cells by encoding part of a protein complex called BAF. This complex tightens and loosens chromatin, the bundle of DNA and protein crammed inside a cell’s nucleus, during transcription. Scientists have linked autism to mutations in many other chromatin regulation genes — including several that encode other parts of the BAF complex.
ACTL6B mutations have previously been associated with neurodevelopmental conditions, but the new study makes a strong case that they are tied to autism, says Gaia Novarino, professor of neuroscience at the Institute of Science and Technology in Klosterneuburg, Austria, who was not involved in the study.
The work also provides a comprehensive look at how mutations in ACTL6B affect the brains of people, mice and flies, and suggests that the gene plays a common role across species.
“It’s kind of shocking how highly conserved the function of this gene is and how robust this phenotype is across different species, all the way from flies to humans,” says Wendy Wenderski, a graduate student in co-lead investigator Gerald Crabtree’s lab at Stanford University in California. These similarities across species highlight ACTL6B’s importance in brain function and indicate that researchers can study animals to learn how the gene works in people, she says. The findings were published in May in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The researchers searched a database of genetic sequences from autistic people, many with parents who are closely related — for example, first cousins. (Recessive mutations are common among the children of such parents.)
Recessive mutations in ACTL6B occur more frequently than expected among autistic people, they found, but not among 256 controls who have other developmental conditions. Among six families, they identified 13 autistic people who have two nonworking copies of ACTL6B.
All of the autistic individuals with ACTL6B mutations in both copies of the gene also have epilepsy and intellectual disability, conditions that would not have distinguished them from the rest of the members of the database.
The researchers also analyzed recessive gene mutations from a 2019 study of more than 2,000 autistic people and 5,800 controls. In this dataset, ACTL6B ranks sixth among the genes most likely to carry significant recessive mutations, which suggests that ACTL6B mutations are common among autistic people, not just those whose parents are related.
Gleeson and his colleagues used cells from members of one ACTL6B family to make a series of brain organoids — 3D cultures of brain cells. They found that the BAF complex in the mutant organoids contains unusually high levels of ACTL6A, a protein related to ACTL6B. The complex also fails to control chromatin remodeling as effectively, activating a set of genes that are typically shut off.
“It’s like taking the brakes off a train. The train just plows straight ahead,” Gleeson says. “The result of that failed gene regulation is that cells misbehave: They don’t know which way is up, when to turn off, and they generally cause chaos, we think, in the brain.”
The study provides insight into how ACTL6B mutations, as well mutations in other BAF components, might cause autism, says Albert Basson, professor of developmental neurobiology at King’s College London in the United Kingdom, who was not involved in the study. But it is still unclear how, or if, mutations in BAF-complex genes interact with other mutations to disrupt chromatin remodeling in entirely different ways, he says.
Researchers examined mice and flies missing both copies of ACTL6B, and they found that these animals have brain differences that are reminiscent of those seen in people with the mutations. The mice have an atypically thin corpus callosum, the bundle of white matter connecting the two halves of the brain, similar to what the researchers saw in brain scans from five people with ACTL6B mutations. This change to the corpus callosum likely hinders the transfer of information between brain regions.
Similarly, fruit flies missing the fly version of ACTL6B have some altered connections between brain regions. Providing them with functional copies of the human version of the gene prevented this issue, indicating that the gene works similarly across species. The mice missing ACTL6B showed social impairment and increased repetitive behaviors, analogous to what occurs in people with autism. That suggests that the loss of this gene affects mice and people in a similar way, the researchers say.
The study provides a good example of a recessive form of autism that is linked to specific brain circuits, says Timothy Yu, assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard University, who was not involved in the study.
For full article, please visit: https://www.spectrumnews.org/news/study-links-gene-to-inherited-form-of-autism/
SINGAPORE – Palm oil giant Musim Mas is donating $5 million in total to five local organisations, to help those affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Singapore-based firm announced in a statement on Monday (June 22) that under its Musim Mas Project Onward, each beneficiary would receive $1 million.
The donation will benefit the Alzheimer’s Disease Association (ADA), Metta Welfare Association, The Majurity Trust, The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund (STSPMF) and the Singapore General Hospital.
The firm said it is meant to demonstrate solidarity and commitment to vulnerable families and individuals in need during this period.
“The Government’s swift and decisive policies meant that most Singaporeans are able to cope with the aftershocks of Covid-19. However, we recognise there are many less privileged families and individuals who need more help now,” said Mr Alvin Lim, chief financial officer and executive director of Musim Mas Holdings.
“We hope this cash donation will inspire and empower these organisations to rise above the uncertainties brought about by the pandemic, and to continue serving their communities with fervour,” he added.
Last year, Musim Mas donated $1 million to the ADA to fund its therapies and programmes.
For full article, please visit: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/palm-oil-firm-donates-5m-in-total-to-five-local-organisations-to-help-those-affected-by
Dating shows aren’t exactly rare when you’re scrolling through Netflix. The streaming service has debuted a slew of such shows this summer, including “Love is Blind,” “Too Hot to Handle” and “Indian Matchmaking.”
But the newest iteration, produced in Australia, is causing some people to take a closer look at the genre.
“Finding love can be hard for anyone,” a narrator says in the opening scene of “Love on the Spectrum.” Then, the twist: “This series follows young adults on the autism spectrum as they navigate the confusing world of relationships and dating.”
Australian audiences watched in 2019 as the show’s 11 autistic participants went on dates, got advice from family members and pondered what love might feel like when they do find it.
“It would be like a fairytale,” one participant said.
“A natural high, I suppose,” offered another.
“Love on the Spectrum” recently dropped on Netflix in the US and the UK, and it’s quickly become one of the most talked-about non-scripted shows featuring autistic cast members. But with a more global audience has come more discussion about the show’s promises and pitfalls. While some viewers say the show accurately portrays the dating lives of autistic people, others warn it degrades them and is inherently voyeuristic.
For full article, please visit: https://www.pri.org/stories/2020-08-21/netflix-series-about-dating-lives-autistic-people-gets-mixed-reviews
NEW YORK, May 31 — New US research has shown that during early childhood, children with autism may experience a reduction in their symptoms.
Carried out by researchers at the University of California Davis, the new study looked at 89 boys and 36 girls with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The researchers used a 10-point measure derived from the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS), which is considered to be the gold standard assessment tool in autism research, to measure the severity of the children’s autism symptoms
The team looked at a change in the severity score for the children between the ages of three and six and classified them into groups based on their severity change score, with a change of two points or more considered to be a significant change in symptom severity.
The findings, published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, showed that not only can children’s symptom severity can change with age, but they can also improve and get better, with 28.8 per cent of the children placed into a Decreased Severity Group. However, 16.8 per cent were placed in an Increased Severity Group, and the remaining 54.4 per cent of the children were placed in a Stable Severity Group.
“We found that nearly 30 per cent of young children have less severe autism symptoms at age 6 than they did at age 3. In some cases, children lost their autism diagnoses entirely,” said David Amaral, senior author on the study.
“It is also true that some children appear to get worse,” Amaral said. “Unfortunately, it is not currently possible to predict who will do well and who will develop more severe autism symptoms and need different interventions.”
In addition, the researchers also found that girls with autism show a bigger decrease in severity than boys, and also a lower increase in severity during early childhood, which the researchers say may be due to girls being able to hide their symptoms better, a coping strategy which is more common among females diagnosed with ASD than males with ASD across different age ranges, including adulthood.
“The fact that more of the girls appear to have decreased in autism severity may be due to an increasing number of girls compared to boys who, with age, have learned how to mask their symptoms,” said Einat Waizbard-Bartov, the first author of the paper.
Early childhood is a period of substantial brain growth with critical ability for learning and development. It also is the typical time for an initial diagnosis of autism and the best time for early intervention. In the US, about 1 in 54 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), with four times as many boys with ASD as girls.
For full article, please visit: https://www.malaymail.com/news/life/2020/05/31/autism-symptoms-can-become-less-severe-in-early-childhood/1871001
A couple in the United States with a popular YouTube channel has come under fire from netizens after rehoming their adopted son with autism, Huxley, with another family, reported BBC.
The four-year-old boy received sponsorship deals and money from their YouTube video after Myka Stauffer and James Stauffer made videos about their experience of adopting Huxley, according to a tweet in a CBS News article.
The couple had adopted Huxley in 2017. Viewers had noticed that Huxley had not been appearing in their vlogs since end-2019. The news of Huxley’s “rehoming” was only revealed in this video.
Myka stated that this was to ensure Huxley’s privacy and help him adjust to his new home.
Some critics felt that the couple, who has four other children, used the adopted boy to develop their YouTube career.
Couple struggled with adopted son’s behaviour
In a video on Tuesday (May 26), the couple shared a video titled “an update on our family”, where they explained that Huxley had been rehomed to another family.
Couple faces backlash on social media
Since posting their update, the couple has been receiving criticism from online users on various social media platforms, such as Twitter, YouTube and Instagram.
For full article, please visit: https://mothership.sg/2020/05/stauffer-adopted-huxley/
Despite the safe distancing measures, about 60 children and youth have been taking part in an inclusive model hunt where they learn how to walk on the runway and dance.
Social enterprise Singapore Fashion Runway (SFR) is holding its third edition of Singapore’s Next Top Inclusive Model Hunt, in partnership with YMCA Singapore.
It is a competition where participants are eliminated over several rounds, with winners in up to 12 categories.
But this year, the catwalk and dance classes, which began last week, have been conducted through videoconferencing.
About 25 per cent of the participants have special needs, such as intellectual disabilities or autism, and SFR hopes to boost participation rate to 40 per cent or 50 per cent.
“The beautiful part of this (event) is that those without special needs can learn to give joy and hope to families with kids with special needs,” said SFR founder Eileen Yap.
“At the same time, the children with special needs feel confident, and find the runway format of the event very memorable,” added the trainer at Mountbatten Vocational School for those with special needs.
For full article, please visit: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/inclusive-model-hunt-goes-online-amid-safe-distancing-measures