Maybe I’ve hit the halfway mark here as I explore the topic of autism via a new master plan.
Whatever it is, I now find this master plan series a lot harder to write about than I imagined.
It has a lot to do with what I’ve learned so far, including this particular HPA#3 on Learning for Life. (For those interested, you can find the full rendering for this third HPA here.)
If you’ve followed me, you would know this is my fourth Saturday in a row unpacking a national master plan to help our country’s Autism Community (AC). Called the Autism Enabling Masterplan (AEM), it was carefully put together by various stakeholders and publicized four months ago.
In it, six High Priority Areas (HPAs) were identified as critical for intervention to ensure members of the AC live meaningful lives in an inclusive society.
But before I explain why I find this series harder than expected to write about, let me unpack HPA#3.
Learning beyond the 3Rs for those with autism
HPA#3 talks about learning for life in the context of the unique challenges members of the AC face.
Most of us go through years of formal education to hone our IQ. But at the same time, we also collect non-academic knowledge along the way.
You know, the kind that teaches us to navigate and survive in this complex world. To negotiate social contracts and interpersonal relationships. Discover what’s kosher and what’s taboo. Communicate effectively in verbal and non-verbal ways. When to say yes and no. To charge ahead or take a step back. To relate to people in ways that promote mutual understanding, cooperation, and co-existence.
In short, develop what’s conventionally referred to as average or above-average emotional intelligence or quotient (EQ). And that’s not even adequate enough of a description! Not when you think about the myriad of generic and technical skills one needs to survive in this unpredictable world we live in (pandemic anyone?).
All that while we ace exams, score the next promotion and get ahead of the pack.
Unfortunately, members of the AC often struggle to master both IQ and EQ concurrently. By default, the education system lean towards fostering competencies in the 3Rs (Reading, wRiting, and aRithmetic). This means less time spent to help those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and other special needs, understand, learn and develop their EQ and fulfill their core learning needs.
These include needs like “self-regulation, flexibility, communication, or social relationship skills” (pg 29 in the AEM report, available for download here).
And that’s just a few of the many daily living skills the rest of us take for granted.
Learning to survive with autism
The AEM report also highlighted a very sobering truth.
For most in the AC, the types of work they graduate into after formal education tend to be detail-oriented and repetitive in nature. Such work have clearly defined goals and endpoints. Examples include jobs in the retail and F&B industry, or back-end warehousing and manufacturing.
Unfortunately, many of these are already being disrupted, automated or replaced by AI!
Yet, without these job opportunities, more time and effort must be expended to help the AC navigate the new employment landscape they face today and tomorrow.
Which leads a parent like me to wonder: “How do I help my son build up the necessary and relevant skills to survive long after I’m gone?”
A menu of recommendations
The first recommendation suggests we start preparing the AC from an early age.
From a young age, teach them daily living skills as well as employability skills, work habits, communication, and interpersonal skills. Offer them training opportunities to hone these on the job and on the go.
Secondly, improve the kind of support they get in all educational settings. Provide what would essentially amount to a “menu of services or programmes” to cater to their diverse needs.
The third recommendation proposes setting up an “Enabling Academy” to identify learning needs and draw up a proper and “comprehensive lifelong learning and development roadmap”. This academy should hire local and foreign trainers and consultants, who themselves could be members of the AC. They can systematically develop courses and programs that build strengths and talents, bridge gap skills, and develop self-mastery and leadership in the AC.
The last recommendation argues for the creation of a Skills Council Taskforce that can look ahead to spot changes in the rapidly evolving employment landscape and future economy. These insights will inform how the AC should pivot in order to ensure their skills are still relevant and needed well into adulthood.
With all that said, I can now explain why I find this series increasingly more challenging to write.
A lot of what’s been documented in this AEM has brought to the surface unspoken fears of every parent like me with an ASD kid. Many of these touch on aspects of autism I’m not even fully aware of, and most certainly not even considered.
Heck, I’m struggling just to manage C on a day-to-day basis!
On the one hand, I deeply appreciate the authors and the tremendous effort they put in to create this master plan. But on the other hand, they’ve left folks like me with the full and overwhelming weight of what lies ahead for my son and others in the AC.
There’s still so much to do to prepare my ten-year-old to transition as smoothly as possible into adulthood. For him (and us), that’s less than a decade away!
So with the benefit of this AEM and its recommendations, my wife and I need to forge ahead and ready him (and us) for an uncertain future.
Will all these recommendations come to pass in time to ready my son for what lies ahead?
Will we his caregivers also be equipped and ready?
For now at least, this AEM raises more questions than answers.
(Check in next Saturday when I unpack HPA#4 – Employment Continuum)