DPM and Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, at the launch of book "Making A Difference Together" by Autism Resource Centre (Singapore) on 31 October 2017.
Ms Ho Ching, Advisor to the Autism Resource Centre,
Ms Denise Phua, President of the Autism Resource Centre and Supervisor of Pathlight School,
ARC and Pathlight Board Members,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Good afternoon to all of you. Thank you for inviting me to join you for the launch of this book, which records ARC’s 20 years of making a difference in the lives of Singaporeans with autism.
It is also a significant milestone in the journey to make Singapore a more inclusive society for people with special needs.
The ARC has transformed the autism landscape in Singapore, alongside its partners. It has brought hope and unlocked the potential of individuals with autism, and brought much support for their families.
I will highlight a few of ARC’s major initiatives in this journey. First, in early intervention. ARC believed from the outset in providing effective early intervention for children with autism to help them maximise their fullest potential. In 2004, it developed the WeCAN Early Intervention Programme and became the first Asian centre outside of Europe to receive accreditation from The National Autistic Society (NAS).
Second, in schools. In 2002, ARC proposed a full-fledged plan to MOE for autism support, including an autism-focused school. MOE accepted this. Pathlight School was opened in 2004, to better serve students with high-functioning autism by offering a mainstream academic curriculum leading to PSLE and GCE ‘N’ and ‘O’ levels. Pathlight has come a long way. Starting with 41 students and 10 teaching staff, it now serves more than 1,100 students, and 300 teachers, across two campuses. Many of them do well enough to go on to get a tertiary. A fair number of them are working.
ARC also spearheaded the first satellite partnership school model to promote meaningful interactions between students with special needs and students from mainstream schools. ARC also partners MOE to train Allied Educators in mainstream schools under its ARC Learning Academy. To date, it has trained more than 200 Allied Educators to support students with mild autism in mainstream schools.
Third, for employment. ARC started the Employability & Employment Centre (E2C), to equip youths and adults with autism with employable skills and match them to suitable jobs. E2C is now located at the Enabling Village and manages a cluster of job sites that include NLB, Datapost and Edible Garden City.
Individual and teams are behind every good social cause
But ARC was not simply about resources or programmes. It was about a group of individuals, who felt about the issue, wanted to open up the potential of people with autism in Singapore, galvanised others, sought the Government’s support, then partnered Government, worked with parents, and started a movement where everyone infects each other with their energy and enthusiasm.
That’s how every good social cause gets going and gets more impactful over time. Individuals who feel for the issue, build a team, put in time and effort, and infect each other with their passion.
The individuals behind ARC have never sought credit for themselves. But I want to say that they were pioneers in a field that needed pioneers, and we should remember our pioneers in this field. Individuals like Ho Ching, Leong Geok Hoon, Kwek Puay Khoon, Marilez Wijaya, June Tham, Dr Lam Chee Meng, Mary Yong, Catherine Pownall, Dr Sharifah Mariam Aljunied, Ng Sock Kian and Eddie Koh who formed the team that embarked on the Reach-Me project; and Denise Phua and Anita Russell who came in when ARC was formed. And the individuals who have been tireless in running the programmes, as professionals, like Stephenie Khoo, who has been involved for 12 years, and Linda Kho, who came in as a volunteer are then became Principal of Pathlight School from ten years ago. All individuals, who built teams, and have devoted time and energy to making a lasting difference to the community.
I witnessed first-hand the efforts and impact of the ARC team when I was Minister for Education when Pathlight was opened, and in subsequent interactions when this group of parent volunteers and professionals became key partners to MOE, including in the training of our special education (SPED) teachers and Allied Educators from mainstream schools.
This partnership between volunteers in the community, the government and the VWOs and other service providers, is also how we are strengthening our social and health care networks on the ground. For example, we are currently developing better partnerships to support caregivers of persons with disability.
I am pleased to share also that drawing from the experience of the Enabling Village, MSF is studying the feasibility of setting up hubs to train and hire persons with disabilities near their homes. This will simplify daily commuting, which is a practical issue for persons with disability, and strengthen and tap on local networks with employers in the vicinity. Local collaboration in a neighbourhood has many positive spin-offs, builds relationships, and can help both persons with disabilities and their caregivers in a different way.
I believe the stories in this book will not only help us remember the journey that got the autism movement here, but also serve as an inspiration for others.
We have come a long way, but we can and will go much further - to make Singapore a truly inclusive society, with everyone able to contribute to the best of their abilities.
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