Contributed by Debra Quek and Anu Pandey, Class of 2015.
Ion Orchard in Singapore, all lit up in blue
In 2007, the United Nations General Assembly declared 2 April World Autism Awareness Day (WAAD). Events to commemorate this day are organized all around the world.
Last year, students of Benjamin Sheares College spearheaded the first celebration of WAAD in Singapore, bringing together various autism centres in Singapore to organize a one-day seminar for caregivers. The event was well received and even drew participants from outside Singapore! This year, we had the privilege of collaborating with 5 autism centres in Singapore, namely, Autism Association (Singapore), Autism Resource Centre (Singapore), Rainbow Centre, Shoulders Singapore and St. Andrew’s Autism Centre to organize this year’s activities for WAAD 2012.
Our college decided to build on the solid foundation laid down by our seniors by reaching out to not only to caregivers, but also to healthcare professionals and the general public. We sought to raise awareness about autism throughout society, and to draw attention to the need for social understanding and acceptance of individuals with autism. Our campaign this year included 2 concurrent 1-Day seminars for caregivers and for healthcare professionals, as well as participation in the global Light It Up Blue! for Autism Campaign.
Light-It-Up Blue! is a global initiative aimed at encouraging cities and towns worldwide to pro-actively raise autism awareness in their communities. Prominent buildings and structures that have participated include the Empire State building in New York, Niagara Falls in Canada, Sydney Opera House, and the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Brazil. This year, Singapore joined this global effort to raise awareness for autism with ION Orchard lighting up blue on 30 March. It was indeed a sight to behold!
In preparation for the event students from across all 4 levels arrived on site in the early afternoon, working hard throughout the day to ensure all was ready when the volunteers arrived in the evening to help distribute collaterals in efforts to raise awareness and spread the word about autism.
Behind the Scenes
When evening came round, the Hwa Chong Institution Military Band entertained the crowd with uplifting tunes, including “Accidentally In Love”. Volunteers from the various centres also lent a hand by reaching out to the public with postcards, balloons, candy and blue lightsticks.
More People in Blue!
Leading up to the light up of ION Orchard, Ms Denise Phua, MP of Moulmein-Kallang GRC, President of the Autism Resource Centre and Co-founder of Pathlight School, addressed the crowd with a rousing speech. Our Guest-Of-Honour for the evening was Mr. Sam Tan, Mayor of Central Singapore CDC, and MCYS Senior Parliamentary Secretary. We were also honoured to have Dean Ranga and Dean Stenberg, our college masters, Professor Kon Oi Lian and Professor Paul Michael Yen and the heads of the autism centres, Mr. Yew Teng Leong, President of Rainbow Centre, Mrs. June Tham, Executive Director of Rainbow Centre, Mr. Ho Swee Huat, Chairman of Autism Association Singapore, Ms. Tan Wee Lim, Principal of Eden School, Ms. Paula Teo, Senior Manager of Programmes & Services, and Mr. Dennis Ang, Chairman of the Management Committee of St. Andrew’s Autism Centre, present at the event. Mr George Young, from Fly Entertainment, has long been a supporter of the cause. He too came down despite a busy schedule to lend his support.
George Young came to support the cause
In addition to ION Orchard, other buildings that participated in this Light It Up Blue! Campaign include the Singapore Flyer, Duke-NUS GMS, St Andrew’s Cathedral, St Andrew’s Community Hospital, St Andrew’s Autism Centre, and Pathlight School.
We would like to say Thank you
The next morning, volunteers gathered early on a rainy Saturday morning to prepare for the arrival of participants of the Autism Seminars. This year, we decided to run 2 parallel seminars for Caregivers and Healthcare Professionals. We were delighted to have the Dean of our school, Prof Ranga Krishnan, as our Guest of Honor, and the various Heads of the autism centers and our college masters as part of the welcoming party.
Dean Ranga, the Guest of Honor
To kick off the start of the seminar, the children from Rainbow Centre performed a Welcome Cheer cum Dance routine, and proud parents could be seen snapping pictures of the children as they wowed the crowd with their tumbles and mat routines. Pathlight School and St. Andrew’s Autism School also put up performances that had the audience moving along to the rhythm of the dances, and all 3 groups amazed the crowd with their showmanship.
Performances by the kids!
The various heads of the autism centres, Ms Denise Phua, Mr Dennis Ang and Mr Yew Teng Leong came together to give a joint keynote address to update both the caregivers as well as the healthcare professionals on the current landscape of the autism community in Singapore, highlighting again that this is the first time that the various centres have come together as a joint effort to raise awareness for the autism community in Singapore.
Ms Denise Phua, Mr Dennis Ang and Mr Yew Teng Leong
For the caregivers, the theme of the seminars was ‘Transition Into Adulthood’, as this is an important topic for parents to gain more knowledge of as they make future plans for their child with autism. We invited speakers to talk to parents about financial management for their children, as well as about employability opportunities for their children as grown-ups. We also had an alumnus of Pathlight School partner our collegian to be the emcee for the day, and he did us all very proud!
Gaining & Sharing Knowledge
As for the healthcare professionals, Dr. Alvin Liew from IMH talked about the implications of the new DSM-V, while Dr. Mariam Aljunied from MOE taught the audience about the methods in which they could approach children with autism in their encounters with them.
To mark the end of the seminars, Ms. Phua facilitated a joint panel discussion where she brought up a model on enhancing the Quality of Life for people with autism and parents where then able to address some of their questions to the panellists
Our panelists presented with tokens of appreciation
WAAD2012 has been a truly meaningful endeavour, and it has been a privilege being a part of this cause. We are incredibly thankful to each and every person who gave up time, energy and encouragement to make the event possible. A special thank you to our college masters and seniors, whose time, efforts, guidance and insight were absolutely invaluable. THANK YOU!!