A few days ago, I paid a visit to the Pathlight School in Singapore, where my old friend, Stephenie Khoo works in the Autism Resource Centre. Pathlight has developed a strong reputation as a place where high functioning autistic students can prepare for mainstream school with supports, and eventual job training.
Singapore’s advantage is that it is small, so the different schools and organizations can coordinate more easily, and funding doesn’t have to come from disparate sources like it does in the US. And of course, professionals in the field have mined the data of other countries and honed in on the most crucial aspect of raising autistic kids–to be successful adults who are as independent as possible.
To that end, the job skills program has tie ups with various companies that are dedicated to hiring its graduates, which is a wonderful commitment to making our society more inclusive. Stephenie let me take a peek at the onsite Starbucks, and also at the art gallery and shop, where students’ artwork has been transposed onto useful and beautiful objects, and the artists earn royalties for their work. I know you know I shopped!
I have also been urged to visit Enabling Village, which is described as “an integrated community space..combining retail, lifestyle and training for disabled members of the community in an all-accessible public space.” I am dying to do so, but family commitments take precedence on this trip, so I shall save it up for next time.
Pathlight really seems to have thought of it all. They run programs during school holidays, Saturday activities for adults, and they are hosting an autism conference next May.
It’s very heartening to see how much has happened in just over a decade. When I first poked around Singapore’s autism services about six years ago, things were already looking up, and now they have burgeoned. It thrills me to have caught a glimpse of a job skills training program in action. It is such a vital piece of the autism education big picture. My thanks to Stephenie for inviting me to visit such a progressive environment.
I don’t have a ton of time, or I might have visited a school more suited to A, just to see what works for kids of his ilk here. I’ll be honest and admit that visiting an autism school while being thousands of miles away from him seemed very odd, and I went into a slight funk for the next two days, during which I OD-ed on pictures of him and indulged deeply in kid-sickness. I always do that on these trips, though. It comes with the territory, and eventually I find the sweet spot between missing him and enjoying myself.
Wedding festivities have commenced in earnest in my family, and we had a splendid evening just being together with one another and with friends. Sometimes I caught myself missing A, like a string being pulled away from the group dynamic. At those moments, I breathed through some sharp pangs, and let my mind dwell on his little quirks.
I also know that A is here in spirit. Autism shapes a family. If we let it, it makes us into the stronger people we were waiting to become. If we embrace it, it is an invitation to transform our views on inclusion. And if we love the people who manifest it, there is no other choice to make.