Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), or autism in simpler terms, is a complex developmental condition that can be characterised by various persistent deficits in an individual’s social communication, behavioural patterns and speech. Most people would describe individuals with autism to be socially challenged and have speech and language comprehension issues. But the matter at hand runs deeper than what’s on the surface.
Based on previous studies, autism affects around 1% of Singapore’s population. This means that an average of 50,000 Singaporeans is currently living with autism, with 11,500 of those under 19 years of age. On top of that, it is also estimated that over 200 children in the country are diagnosed with autism annually.
These figures surely are alarming, but there’s actually a silver lining to this. Experts have gathered that Singapore’s high autism rate and steady rise in the number of individuals being diagnosed are likely a result of increased testing and awareness among citizens.
To uplift the country’s disability sector and supplement the existing efforts to treat autism, the government has been proactive in initiating multiple programmes catered towards individuals with autism over the years.
Before diving straight into seeking help, it is useful to first understand and learn about autism to a significant extent. It is only when you are equipped with the relevant knowledge that you can determine which resources and avenues of support you need to help your loved one with their condition.
To get you started, have a read at our resource on all you need to know about Autism Spectrum Disorder — from the different types, symptoms, causes and treatment options available.
Once you have everything you need to know, you can finally move on to getting the support and resources you need. From children to adults, here are the different types of help available in Singapore for individuals with autism.
Different Types of Help Available in Singapore for Individuals with Autism
Early Intervention Programmes (EIP) and Special Needs Centres
Early intervention plays a pivotal role during the diagnosis of autism in children. Multiple studies have shown that early diagnosis of and interventions for autism can result in significant long-term positive effects on one’s symptoms and skills
These programmes are best suited for children around 2 to 3 years of age. At this stage, this is where a child’s brain is still forming and has more neuroplasticity. This can be described as the changes that happen in the brain during the developmental stages as a result of neural changes induced by learning and environmental interactions. Due to this plasticity, treatments are more likely to be effective in the long run.
Regardless of age, early intervention typically includes the following programmes and practices:
- Speech therapy
- Sensory integration therapy
- Physical therapy
- Hearing impairment services
- Family training
- Social skills training
To begin your search, here are several intervention programme centres that you can look into:
- WeCAN Early Intervention Programme
- Rainbow Centre Early Intervention Programme
- SBCC Early Intervention Programme
- Singapore Brain Development Centre (SBDC) Early Intervention Programme
- Bridging the Gap Early Intervention Programme
Alternatively, there are government-subsidised EIP services available at 17 Voluntary Welfare Organisations (VWO) nationwide. The sooner an individual receives help, the better the chance of learning how to overcome the symptoms of autism in due time.
Schools and Student Care Centres
If you have a family member with autism in their early childhood or adolescent years, you may want to consider enrolling them in schools that specifically cater to individuals with special needs.
Parents may feel inclined to enrol their children in mainstream schools for them to feel included and accepted in society, but it’s important to note that the needs of someone with autism differ greatly from that of an average student. Each individual is different, and while some may thrive in mainstream schools, others learn and grow better in a different environment. This explains the need for such niche educational institutions.
The features of autism-centric schools and student care centres revolve around (but are not limited to) the following:
- Special education services — Each student will be given an Individual Education Plan (IEP) that is specific to their needs. While each IEP is unique and different, most plans typically include therapeutic sessions, Specially Designed Instruction (SDI), and other classroom placements.
- Transition services — Students in their adolescence may undergo training or job coaching before stepping into the major stages in their lives including university and employment. These can either occur within the school or external programmes within the community.
- Speech services — Individuals with autism are likely to suffer from speech impediments as a result of brain anomalies related to speech and language. Through various speech services, teachers can collaborate with parents to create a conducive and effective speech therapy plan to improve the child’s communication skills over time.
- Behavioural challenges — Verbal outbursts, sensory overload, and difficulty focusing are just some of the many behavioural challenges an individual with autism can experience. Compared to mainstream schools, special education schools provide more structured learning environments and tailored behavioural plans to help their students improve their functional skills.
To ensure the effectiveness of the curriculum, the organised programmes are facilitated by qualified teachers and trained staff in a safe and nurturing environment with a conducive classroom size. Through such specialised schools and student care centres, parents and caregivers can be assured that their child is receiving the best care possible to cater to their needs.
Here are several schools in Singapore that specialise in autistic-centred learning:
- Pathlight School
- Eden School (Formerly known as the Autism Association Singapore)
- Grace Orchard School
- Rainbow Centre
- St. Andrew’s Autism Centre
If you are considering enrolling your child with autism in school, check out our guide on the list of schools available for children with autism.
Day Activity or Care Centres for Adults
As part of the government’s effort to support individuals with moderate to severe disabilities including autism, there are numerous fully operational Day Activity Centres across Singapore tailored for adults.
These community-based facilities provide persons with disabilities aged 16 and above with the necessary care and skills training they need to live independently despite their specific conditions. Since many adults with severe disabilities are unable to join the workforce, centres such as these are essential for these individuals who require higher support throughout their life.
Typically, clients would spend their day at the activity centre participating in mild exercise, learn practical living skills such as cooking simple dishes and engaging in different leisure activities such as crafts workshops. Apart from learning basic and practical life skills, this also allows them to socialise with members of their community, which can help eliminate their social disconnection altogether.
Some notable day activity centres in Singapore for adults include:
- SPD Day Activity Centre
- Eden Centre for Adults
- St. Andrew’s Autism Centre — Day Activity Centre
- Metta Day Activity Centre
- AWWA Adult Disability Home & Day Activity Centre
Adult homes provide long-term residential support to adults with autism whose family members and caregivers are incapable of giving care. Compared to day activity centres, clients will receive more comprehensive care plans on top of the recreational and training activities already provided.
Previously, the majority of persons with disabilities living in Singapore would stay in homes and other assisted-living facilities made for special needs apart from their own such as the Institute of Mental Health. But in 2019, Singapore launched its first residential facility designed to meet the needs of adults with autism.
Through their three core values — Daily Living Skills, Communal Living Skills, and Emotional Behavioural Management, people with autism are able to live with dignity and independence in the long run.
Learn more about St. Andrew’s Adult Home here.
Training (For families and caregivers)
As much as individuals with autism need to receive the relevant treatment to cope with their symptoms and behaviours, training for parents and caregivers are equally important as well. Various parent training interventions and training programmes have shown to be effective on the symptoms of children with autism. This evidence-based treatment teaches parents how to respond effectively and communicate with their children to improve their communication skills and other autism symptoms.
Here are several training programmes that can give parents and caregivers insights on how to effectively tackle autism in their child:
- WeCAN Parents and Caregivers Training
- Autism Partnership Customized Parent Training Program
- Autism Resource Centre (Singapore)
Helping Individuals with Autism Reach Their Full Potential
By now, you’ll know that autism can manifest across various life stages in a person. It can start as early as your infant years and last up until you reach your elderly stage of life. If you have a loved one with autism who could use additional care support, we can help.
- Deb, S., Retzer, A., Roy, M., Acharya, R., Limbu, B., & Roy, A. (2020, December 07). The effectiveness of parent training for children with autism spectrum disorder: A systematic review and meta-analyses. Retrieved March 24, 2021, from https://bmcpsychiatry.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12888-020-02973-7
- Francis, E. (2021, January 18). Autism spectrum disorder 101: Symptoms, tests & more. Retrieved March 24, 2021, from https://www.homage.sg/health/autism/
- Goy, P., & Tai, J. (2016, December 23). 1 in 150 children in Singapore has autism. Retrieved March 24, 2021, from https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/health/1-in-150-children-in-singapore-has-autism
- Kolb, B., & Gibb, R. (2011, November). Brain plasticity and behaviour in the developing brain. Retrieved March 24, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3222570/
- Mody, M., & Belliveau, J. (2013). Speech and language impairments in autism: Insights from behavior and neuroimaging. Retrieved March 24, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3862077/
- User, S. (2016, January 13). Prevalence of autism in Singapore. Retrieved March 24, 2021, from https://www.autism.org.sg/living-with-autism/prevalence-of-autism-in-singapore