It is the school holidays and, at the Enabling Village in Lengkok Bahru, groups of children at an art camp are learning that it is not a bad thing to be different.
Children who might normally disrupt a classroom with loud questions or noises are so curious about group members in wheelchairs that they calm down. Those with cerebral palsy perk up and participate in a theatre workshop or look forward to an outing to the Children’s Biennale at National Gallery Singapore.
At lunch break, a curious child might ask why his or her new friend has to be fed Milo through a feeding tube rather than sip it from a packet. A child with autism, over-stimulated, might have a meltdown.
But this is fine. Learning is messy, says Ms Jean Loo of Superhero Me, which is behind this inclusive holiday camp.
Community arts movement Superhero Me aims to give children from low-income households or those with physical or learning challenges access to the arts. A corollary is bringing in those from the so-called normal spectrum, who benefit immensely from socialising with those of different needs.
Ms Loo says creativity is sparked and problem-solving skills honed. And all take pride in achieving something together, whether it is completing a worksheet on paintings or learning to play a musical instrument.
Discussions of art in Singapore are often pegged to ticket prices or ratings controversies. Art is tarred as either expensive or so outrageous that it is elitist and out of the reach of the ordinary person.
What gets lost in such chatter is that art is a marvellous means of fostering understanding, of bringing people together and bridging the differences between them.
Not everyone has the time for a communal arts project, but art offers other ways to learn to share public space with strangers unlike ourselves.
Sensory-friendly shows are on the rise, open to all, but tailored to accommodate those on the autism spectrum. At shows such as these, the audience can usually enter or exit freely. Lights may be brighter as sudden blackouts tend to disturb those with autism.
For example, the Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay’s interactive theatre series for children aged two to four, Playtime!, has sensory-friendly performances from Aug 23 to 26. Koko The Great, the tale of a young boy’s fantastical adventures in his kampung, allows viewers to exit and enter at will.
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