Saturday, January 10, 2015

How to bring out the best in your person with autism

How is the autism community like in your home country like? Are they committed to bring the best out of the person with autism?

I'll start with my own country, Singapore.

Our people with autism (especially low-functioning autistic people) have government subsidies, which provide a minimum support, enough to live on. 

Some people with ASD have vocational training, giving them a 'job'. Standardized testing ensures that able Singaporeans, even with autism spectrum disorders, maximize their opportunities in life so long as they meet a certain standard on them. They are placed in STEM, business support or even the arts.

Despite the fantastic job in Singapore so far, there is still dissatisfaction in the Singapore autism community. They include the enlistment of males under conscription (which is not too desirable given that it's coerced, but it could work out well with support from the armed forces, as Singapore has conscription), the inability to get into the civil service and similar 'stable jobs' (and hence, a stable source of living, especially for higher-functioning individuals with autism) and rejection of health and medical insurance cover for autistic individuals.

I can only say most members of the autism community are content, but many are not, as more can be done. Perhaps a step in the positive direction would be having the autism organisations in Singapore to examine its biggest issues and work them for the good of people with autism, at the local context, as much more can be done. There could be international cooperation on autism, if this helps to better what we can offer at the local level.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Finding our value

Aspies and people with autism are supposed to solve problems with technical abilities. Do we, and our families, accept that our world is changing faster than our ability to process problems? Will we ever find our strengths to adapt with the environment?

Being more passionate and intuitive than the other people is not the solution.

With globalization, people with better abilities than us can supplant whatever roles we are doing. We can be replaceable, by any machinery, computer or even fellow human being anywhere, so long as their costs are lower than ours and they bring in more monies than us. We still do not find an equitable system that spreads wealth to human beings, as our social support structures as a whole weakened relative to, say, 30 years ago, before Thatcherite policies and Reaganomics.

We have to re-think our current positions relative to other people. 

A mentor I confide in posed me this question, and this question the Aspie or autism way of survival: do I have anything to lose if I just do anything what I wish to do? 

I adapt to my environment by being a mediocre, say, *ahem* then I may not even survive the future of regulations, presence of many more capable and motivated people with higher qualifications and *better experience*. How can I tell this to my support structure that, just let me do anything what I want so long as it doesn't risk my health too much, and I tell you what I do every day - am I not networking, building skills etc.?

I feel that I am losing nothing, I may gain even more - sanity, motivation and focus on what I have now, relative to the loss of my family' face, hopes and wishes which are not built on sensible foundation. I face not just a language, but mindset barrier that seems insurmountable for now.

Who does not want to gain the ability to lead an independent life, while we live with a positive attitude that busts stress and obstacles to lead one's family and community ahead?

Ultimately, we have to find the most practical way out to bring immediate value to our surroundings around us. If we choose to like what we love to do, and what we love to do is in demand by other people around us, we should keep doing it regardless of pay. Then we have a value. We will not be that easily replaced by anybody, or anything.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

I Can't Breathe!

As someone with Kanner's autism who went through rather unconventional treatment, I have three pleas:

(1) Don't force me to do certain things. 

Especially if they impact my career, way or life or thinking. 

Because it is not a matter of whether I like some things or not. It is more of whether, with the onslaught of globalized competition, we can 

(2) Recognize that we are all unique.

Don't say 'why X with autism can do it, but not you'?

Autism is more than Kanner's and Asperger's. It is a spectrum.

People with autism, with reasonable accommodation, can achieve whatever they set out to do. LFs have a greater sense of awareness of their inabilities than HFs, from my experience.

(3) Let me do anything what I want, including the choice not to talk aloud about my autism.

Not every person with autism is a self-advocate.

What is the use of saying 'I have autism, I am talented, I need accommodations to achieve well and other people need similar stuff'. We would rather spend time and effort on something we enjoy doing. If we enjoy digital art, we should spend time talking about conceptual ideas, instead of ranting on how life is unfair to us, and why we should enjoy 'human rights'.

We'd love to have human rights. We love building skills and know-how even more, to build skill sets.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

My Experiences As An Autistic Do Gooder

I am Timothy. I am an Inclusion Ambassador with DPA (Disabled People's Association). I share with you my experiences with DPA, where I advocate across disabilities, cultures and potentials.

DPA is a cross disability organisation. We do not merely advocate for autistics. The term DPA uses is 'students with autism'. I like to think autism as a label like Prada and Hermes, but at the same time, autism is not a label. It is part of my life. I am autistic just like I am Singaporean, and I am of Chinese descent. Happy Chinese New Year to everyone!

What a way to start an auspicious new year.

We speak for all kinds of disabilities. When we speak up for people with disabilities, we have to speak every single person with disability. We want to be inclusive to one another, the disability community, while recognising that we must be included. We are equals as human being. There is no such thing as we have a greater need because of our disability. We share common challenges in the disability community. We have the desire to participate fully and effectively, to contribute to society, on an equal basis, as other people.

In DPA, we get opportunities to share our lived experiences. I spoke at the age of 5 and I was diagnosed with autism at age 11, when the ARC or Autism Resource Centre was formed. In my cohort, half of the people with disabilities in Singapore have a developmental or intellectual disability. I am glad DPA gave me the opportunity to speak to many educators and students. I hope my life story will better support autistic students to shine and do their best in their schools and hopefully, in their lives. 

However, it is not just autistic students that I care about. I actually look across disabilities. I share a recent experience I have with Engineering Good Student Chapter, where I get to facilitate a discussion with a group of engineering students in universities, and fellow Inclusion Ambassadors who are wheelchair users. 

Currently, I am not physically challenged. This is why I am physically in the discussion session. I emphasised that disability is not just about crutches and wheelchairs. After all, the sign outside accessible toilets is typically about a person sitting on a wheelchair. I also added that despite what the students see in DPA, not every person with disability is old. In the case of autism, may I hasten to add, not all of us are children. You, the audience, see at least four of us, autistic individuals who are adults, on this stage.

I am also heartened one of the students is so forthcoming. He shared his experiences using a wheelchair as he was warded in the hospital. He was treated for a physical injury. He tells us that disability can be temporary. Unlike physical disability, there is no cure for autism. Autism is lifelong and permanent. There are intervention to improve the way we interact with other people socially, though the response could be different in different autistic individuals.

With our sharing, we proceeded to do handicrafts, specifically, a rose, just in time for Valentine's Day, which just passed. The students taught us how to make a rose. We folded the papers, we cut the papers in a shape, and then we stuck the papers together. Result: beautiful flower. I dedicated this flower to a fellow Inclusion Ambassador with visual difficulties because just because one does not see, doesn't mean one cannot feel the love for Valentine's Day. Disability is not just what you can see. I understand we are very much visual, but we want everyone to feel the spirit of love and support in our society and be fully integrated and supported to do good for Singapore and the world.

Although I roughly had an idea of what the students wanted to do, I just asked the students again, what they would like to achieve out of their visit to DPA and do the handicrafts with us. They replied that they wanted to create a more user-friendly wheelchair. The Inclusion Ambassadors went on to share their experiences in their lives. However, there are moments I have to interject.

I caught the slip of the tongue 'wheelchair bound'. I allow another Inclusion Ambassador to chime in and share her experience about being moving around more smoothly in a wheelchair.

When an inclusion ambassador talked about difficulties moving to get into and from a wheelchair, I specifically paused the discussion, just to introduce the concept of Activities of Daily Living or ADLs. They are what we do to get going in the day. Go find out more about ADL yourself. I just want to highlight the need of functional mobility or 'transferring', which might also be a common issue for people as we age, including autistic individuals. Yes, we age, too, and autism support groups with elderly folks like to tell us their mishaps linked to the different ADLs.

Overall, I am glad we have get to sharpen the project goal of the group of Engineering students. At the same time, I am also happy I can support fellow Inclusion Ambassadors to share their experiences in a more thoughtful and focused way.

When different people with different disabilities, and different ideas come together, this diversity will bring about a common vision and direction for all of us to do wonderful things. I will urge autistic individuals to come out of our autism silo. We will have a broader view of our world when we open our hearts and minds, sometimes even hands like what I experienced, to the different potentials our world has to offer to us.

I strongly believe cross disability advocacy will work out well for autistic self-advocates. We need to have a spectrum view of autism. Different functional labels or diagnoses should not divide us. Every individual has a different need and we should never let our childhood to decide the kind of resources we want to seek, to improve our quality of life and enable us to contribute to society even more.

My experiences in DPA has brought me to a greater awareness of cross disability advocacy. I do all I can to have inclusivity within me. I even look out for ways to improve accessibility across borders. When I attended the Asia Pacific Autism Conference in Sydney, Australia last September, I enjoyed spotting accessibility features such as Braille on bus stop buttons, wheelchair accessibility in buses and trains, and hearing loops. I should say Singapore has its strengths though there are some things Singapore can learn from other lands like Australia, especially accessibility for those with visual difficulties.

This leads me to my thought of cross border cross-disability advocacy. Like Singapore, Australia also has challenges towards more accessible society. One would be the lack of wheelchair accessible public transport options, as not all trams or buses or trains I rode are equipped with facilities to allow boarding of wheelchair users, and there are also shortages of accessible parking spaces. This is essential as public transport frequencies in Australia are much less frequent than those of Singapore’s, and the central city is often too busy for cars. Not everyone drives around, too.

I also remember an episode where we have an autistic delegate in the conference. He wears hearing aids. From other autistic delegates I hear, I gather he has hearing difficulties and is autistic, too. He uses Auslan, or Australian Sign Language, as a mode of communication. I know a little PECS (Pictorial Exchange Communication System) and I really enjoy non-verbal communication. I am also fortunate to see Singapore Sign Language or SgSL in action. But Auslan, it is not totally the same as the SgSL I saw. Using my atypical autistic ingenuity (slight pause), when I see this delegate with his hearing aids, I just did what I did with non-verbal autistics. on the Notes app on my phone, I wrote, ‘Hi’. 

In DPA I was taught, if I need anything, I need to take the initiative to ask for accommodation, and if it is not given, I must be informed. I just safely assumed there will be an Auslan interpreter in the conference. Anyway, I asked whether there would be an Auslan interpreter. 

(I thought there is) No harm asking, right?

I was then told – there will be no Auslan interpreter in the conference.

It certainly sounds devastating. And soul-crushing. In a supposedly inclusive space, we are not able to accommodate all people like me, we are not able to get the fullest experience in the conference.

In future, I make it a point that if we want to bill an event as an inclusive one, with real participation of people with disabilities, they better meet the needs of the participants. Given that there will be a major autism conference, the Asia Pacific Autism Conference 2019, the following year; I hope we will prepare better to support reasonable accommodation for the participants that come to the conference. 
DPA has also given me the exposure to different cultures. In my short time in DPA, I get to work with people with different experiences in different lands. 

In DPA, I have the privilege to attend a few workshops by DPA’s first and original Inclusion Trainer, Mrs Nina Munday. Nina, who hails from Scotland, gives me insights on not just the cultures she experienced, but also the best practices of inclusion and equality practices that is not just best British practices, but also Singapore’s very own. (Note: Nina is a Hong Kong-born Scot lady.)

When Nina went back to Scotland, I am glad DPA found a powerful trainer, Ms Asha Karen. Asha was already an accomplished lawyer in her home country, India. I also learn Singapore can have much to learn from the strengths of India: strong individual rights for all people, proactive approaches to disability rights, and powerful people with disabilities-led movements that takes the charge in disability rights movement in India. All these in the context of the limited national incomes India has, on average, as compared to Singapore.

Singapore has also come a long way. Singapore has little disability-related legislation that I know of. Singapore only ratified CRPD on 18 July 2013. We have progressed so much in a short span, from a nation when wheelchair users were told ‘it is more cost effective to not install lifts in train station’ to one where almost all buses are wheelchair accessible, from a nation where people with disabilities are seen as ‘beneficiaries’ to one where we can come together, contribute to society and the workforce – even TAFEP (Tripartite Alliance For Employment Practices) recognises there should be no disability-based discrimination, and celebrate our abilities. Yes, we are able!

As a citizen of the world, living in a global village, I learn that I am one of the many out there. There is no country better than other countries. In one of the activities, I think that is Common Purpose, a participant who is born in Australia asked whether there are initiatives in Singapore where we can be given grants to live our own lives and make our own decisions. I do not know of any such initiatives in Singapore right now. 

However, Singapore has a unique strength in identifying family as our basic society. I am glad in Singapore; many supportive families empower their family members with disabilities to be our neighbours and our friends. Now, we have a Disabilities Council, where parents from different informal support groups outside our disability organisations gather together, with Disabled People’s Association (DPA) and Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), to gather and propose current needs and gaps, the resources and limitations, that bring out the best in all Singaporeans.

I guess it is different society, different approach.

DPA has also developed the capacity so that people with disabilities, along with it autistic individuals, will be better able to face the challenges of our futures.

In the past few months, younger DPA members stepped up to form the DPA Young Adults Section. DPA needs to develop the capacity for the next generation of leadership. In view of this, DPA members between ages 18 to 35 are in this Section, with programmes and initiatives to develop the know-how and confidence to move the disability community forward. Across disabilities, selfless, forward thinking and determined leaders that deliver change and empower the disability community will have to move their communities, so all of us can embrace the future.

With the Section, autistic leaders can benefit too. We can learn from the know-how through advocating for disability, through dismantling the barriers within different disabilities, to destroy the barriers within our minds and hearts. We will have to stand firm and think of consensus to move through the parents, the treatment providers, the non-government organisations, the government and the public, just as any public- and disability-facing organisations are reasonably expected to prepare for. We aspire to be our own voice and bring our autism community into the future.

Thank you.

Achievements As Autistic Self Advocate

organised by UNSW Art & Design in UNSW Galleries

- Did promotional videos in both Chinese and English

- Part of the artistic direction to inform the autistic response to space, form and energy

- Engagement in inter-sectional advocacy across autism and mental health

- Representative of autistics in Asia
- Did promotional video on strengths in autism
- Promoting cross-cultural interaction across borders

- Presented methodology and insights on the research process
- Synergise different disability communities into positive action
- Leading the conversation in disability discussion

Co-Trainer, Inclusion Ambassador Orientation Programme, DIsabled People's Association Singapore (DPA)

Refining and Delivering a programme that empowers and enables people with disabilities
- Setting the expectations for Inclusion Ambassadors, a signature programme the DPA runs
- Optimizing the different abilities in DPA for other DPA public-facing engagements, e.g. Disability Awareness Training Series (DATS)

Other notable events Timothy is also part of:

Tote Board 30th Anniversary: A Good Day Out
Disability in the City – Sharing Session in DPA
Inclusivity and Me, a collaboration between Ngee Ann Polytechnic and DPA

Tuesday, March 18, 2014


This is why I tried to write a business plan. I want to be my own boss of my parallel import sporting firm, importing football training systems and American basketball sporting goods, especially those Under Armour compression and basketball shoe lines. I even designed questions to support marketing and promotional decisions - this is why I did tons of surveys. it can be better refined.

I know my destiny will still be one of 'failure'. I know it. My father has dreams of being a geologist, crushed because of familial pressures for him to 'do anything', which happens to be his current line of work. 40 years later, same old story. But different twist - I have a condition he doesn't has.

My parents knew my plans and decried me as daydreaming. They said they are getting older, and they want me to stop whatever I want and just do what they want.
I would rather be unemployed as fuck (mind my words but I say what I mean) than to toil my time where I cannot give a middle finger salute under any dick shit situation that it is really needed. Don't accountants have to give a true and fair statement of financial accounts and affairs? (Well... even if you say whatever you want, while other people go 'money money money', 'fame fame fame' or 'dreams dreams dreams', I am still going 'family' and 'acceptance by in-group' as I can't get the first three.)

I have to honestly say, I would rather fail so that I can be a great intellectual with the shiny PhD from some research intensive university in Saudi or UAE, than to be a decent person in my parents' plan. Or...

I cannot fulfil my dream as a researcher in the Arts/Social Sciences especially in English or Geography or Sociology, because of... I cannot do Psychology because I was literally forced to withdraw out of someone else's wishes, even though I chose Psychology. I am forced to abort job search and business plan writing and I have to do something I know I can never be great at.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Not In My Back Yard - Aspies not welcome in their homeland

I dare to say Singaporean Aspies are not welcome in our homeland. We are just like snakes, to be driven out by some certain Saint. As an Aspie myself, I think Aspies may be considered pests or parasites of our society, for some reasons.  But I do know the ones causing our suffering are definitely mistreating others like us, and therefore, sinister, to say the least.

We all want to bring the best out of whatever abilities we have and minimize the costs of our failures, just as any other rational human beings.

Being identified as an Aspie does not make us stupid, vulnerable or incapable to ourselves. It is the way other people perceive our characteristics, and link them with our conditions, that make us stupid, vulnerable or incapable.

However, let us be clear about it - Aspies are perceived as incapable, and it is our human nature not to be associated with such people, and it happens that we have the traits that make their conditions a hindrance to their lives (i.e. defining Aspies as Aspies).

So this means we try to make our achievements public while we try to hide our autism conditions, while we promote about what we can do for society. This means we can help our community only in secret, so that we do not cannibalize our chances of success.

Please be clear in what do you want, friends.

Do you want to be identified as an Aspie? Are you so fearful of that because that already sort of happened in your life?

Or you want to be identified as, say, a great artist, who moves and shakes the world with some masterpiece that the world identifies with?

I am sure for all of us, the answer will be latter.

If you don't want to be identified as an Aspie, and you just want to live your own life as 'you', then just live you in your own personal space. At least the Internet is vast enough for you to create many alter egos, don't you?

If you know what you want to be in your life, then work not for preventing being an Aspie, but work for the person that you truly want to be, and I am sure it has no 'autism' label. A few autism groups I know have the mechanism to isolate the autism label from the others, so that you could bring your views to autism - and then, moving on, you could go on be your true selves completely without autism label through another alter ego.

From my observations with a handful of Aspies from Hong Kong, the discrimination against Hong Kong-born Aspies in Hong Kong is definitely much more than the discrimination against Singapore-born Aspies in Singapore. Plus, for people like me, we have no other homeland we can call our own - not China, through the Bandung Declaration that we have to declare loyalty to our host nations, not our 'host nations' where we may be discriminated when we are not immigrants, and certainly not the land we call Singapore, where we are second class citizens in the land we are born and bred.

Ironically, given the perception of America and Britain that they are 'free' lands - when people with autism in America and Britain are also suffering in their own way through lack of opportunities in a really competitive environment, it is more likely that we Aspie Singaporeans choose to be third class citizens in these countries, doubly discriminated as people of both disability and color.