Autism advocacy #2 — To label or not to label?

a handwritten slogan on a white and blue poster

Should a person with an invisible disability (PWID) like autism wear a visible identity label in public?

So asked a forum contributor in the local dailies.

In her letter that was published yesterday, Ms Amy LOH Chee Seen wondered if it would help to stick a label or some sign on a PWID. That way, folks like her know they are “special” and will interact more sensitively to them and their caregivers.

My first reaction was to think of those American high school movies or TV series. Where bullies will stealthily pin a note on the back of victims with either the words “Kick Me” or “Loser“.

The letter did make me fume as I thought: Does “educating” the public on how to look out for PWID (like my son) work, only if we play a game of…

…pin the tail on the donkey?!

Source: Crafting Chicks

Before I try to answer that question let me quote verbatim the gist of Ms Loh’s brief 169-word letter here:

“I was once chided by a mother after I told her son, who had been causing a ruckus on the train, that he was old enough to know better than to behave that way. She considered my response to be inappropriate, and told me that I was destroying his confidence. She did not explain the reason for the behaviour, but I guessed later that he might have been someone with autism.

How was I to know?

Since there is sometimes no visible means for the public to identify and be more caring towards children with special needs, I wonder if an easily identifiable one can be created. Perhaps a sunflower badge? A colourful wristband?”

A sunflower badge she says? Really?? Oh ya, that’s exactly the floral accessory missing below my son’s collar all these years! Why didn’t I think of that?!

A colourful wristband? Hmmm…I wonder what colour is still “available” in 2022 that hasn’t been snapped up by one advocacy group or another? Amaranth? Celadon? Glaucous?

But what really made me cringed was that question she asked just before…

“How was I to know?”

crop man covering eyes of anonymous woman
Photo by Anete Lusina on

It brought me back to a time when I was young, single and clueless. Back then, one of the things I dreaded was being on long-haul flights and seated in front of crying babes or restless tots. No doubt you’ve had that experience too pre-Covid right?

No? Well good for you! I certainly did.

One time a kid behind kept kicking my airplane seat like it was a football. At first, I tried to show my displeasure subtly. I rotated my head around ever so slowly, just above the head rest, as though looking for something. After some time when the kid persisted, I had no choice but to turn full body and ask his mom to “restrain” her son.

If I could turn back time, now armed with what I know, I’ll probably still have done the same. But, I’ll also have made a point to befriend the kid and his caregiver at the start of the flight. Then whatever happens subsequently would at least be easier to smooth over since we’ve “made contact” in a light, non-threatening fashion.

To do that though would require some EQ, keen observational skills and insight on my part, borne from a place of learned empathy and experience. Not to mention a humble disposition and conscious avoidance to label.

And none of these comes naturally or easily for anyone. Least of all the entitled elites in society, which most likely includes this forum letter writer, as her question “how was I to know?” clearly demonstrates.

Even the seen are “mistreated”! What more the unseen??

man wearing jacket and peaked cap grayscale photo
Photo by Brett Sayles on

Of late, there have been lots of news about frontline workers being mistreated by members of the public here. Thanks to Covid, healthcare workers are the unfortunate forerunners in this regard.

But they aren’t the only ones.

One particular segment that came into prominence, thanks to two recent local reports, are security guards directing traffic in and out of establishments like condos, malls and schools.

An already thankless job, the last thing these folks need are the “entitled elites” (EE) lording over them by literally attacking them!

In the first report, a 61-year-old male driver of a Bentley was arrested for acting rashly, following a viral video that showed his car inching forward and bumping against a security officer outside a school last month. All because the latter was trying to stop the driver from cutting a long line of cars trying to drop off kids during the usual morning peak hour rush.

The second report appeared three days ago on Facebook.

It was a post from the Union of Security Employees (USE) that referenced an incident last November. A BMW driver allegedly got out of his car to push a security guard to the ground for stopping his car from illegally cutting lanes outside a mall. The driver made off lickety-split when the guard threatened to call the cops.

Police investigations are still ongoing while the guard’s still home now convalescing from a fractured palm.

In fact, the USE reported that since launching a mobile app two months ago for security guards to report similar incidences of abuse, 46 such complaints were lodged to date!

The actual numbers are most likely much higher.

Oh for empathy amongst the entitled elites!

woman wearing maroon velvet plunge neck long sleeved dress while carrying several paper bags photography
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

So you tell me Ms Loh; and for that matter, you the Bentley and BMW drivers!

If people like security guards who are clearly visible, not just with a sticker label but dressed daily in full uniform and in full view of everyone, can still get mistreated when all they are doing is their job, then what makes it more likely a sunflower label under his collar or a multi-coloured trinket on his wrist will ensure my son be treated kindly by you, the EE of this world?!

In mulling over Ms Loh’s letter with fellow caregivers last night, there was one overwhelming consensus; one best illustrated by what a few took turns to share:

“It feels like Ms Loh was actually saying: “I don’t really have the time to pause, consider and figure out what that PWID’s behaviour implies. So just give me a super quick short cut way to know, then I can move on.” How entitled and unfortunate!”

“Labelling …so as to benefit the uneducated and insensitive public, is not a justifiable motive to me.”

“Asking people to wear tags to explain why they deserve kindness and understanding reflects seriously how immature our community is in being nurturing and inclusive.”

“…it just makes me sad that some people feel they can’t exercise empathy and understanding without the special needs label…”

Any wonder why caregivers and PWID everywhere must still continue educating and advocating for ourselves to society-at-large?

[PS — Last night, another fellow caregiver opined, and I agreed, that Ms Loh’s letter appeared ‘clickbait-ish‘, especially going by another letter from her in the same daily published in 2014 on removing fried rice as a local cooked food stall menu item. Her identity is also suspect — on Facebook, Ms Amy LOH Chee Seen only has seven friends!]

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