Much Ado About Nothing?

Much Ado About Nothing? – Thoughts on the curious incident of the missing photographs.

Anyone reading or following my writings in social media and here in my website – especially my ‘friendly’ stalkers – would know that I have been fussing about having been omitted in the official social media for #APAC19 – the Asia Pacific Autism Conference 2019 – which recently came to a most successful end.

I was involved in the organising committee and the scientific committees. I was also a Plenary Speaker in Day 1 – one of only two actual autistic researchers invited to speak. Well, I wasn’t really invited, I actually quite vehemently volunteered myself for it. I felt that an autism conference ought to feature at least some actual autistic speakers at an authoritative level. Dr. Damian Milton was the other autistic Plenary Speaker.

You may gasp at this, and ask, “Why no autistic Keynote?” Understandable, many have asked me this question. Well, to be fair to the Singapore organisers, what has been achieved in APAC19 already represents a quantum leap in the direction of inclusion and progress for Singapore’s autism scene. I cannot express how very genuinely pleased I am at this amount of progress made within such a short time frame. But this is what is great about Singapore – once the powers-that-be decide on something, we can do it really quickly and pretty well too. This is the very first time an autism conference in Singapore included any autistic voices at all. Actual authoritative autistic presence in autism conferences was unheard of before this. So, please hold off the harsh criticism and bear with us. Baby steps. In fact, this wasn’t really a baby step at all – the baby literally propelled across a huge ravine and up a formidable mountain in one grand leap! Kudos to the organisers for taking on board the suggestions they did, and embracing the theme of ‘thriving’ in such a positive way. Autistic adults in Singapore finally had the chance to stand up and speak out, and those who presented did so with great flair and panache. I am proud to be among such brave company. The stigma is real, and many of them had to think twice, or more, before deciding to ‘come out’ of the ‘autism closet’ into the public domain – because fear of losing one’s job on account of one’s neurological difference is a very real thing here in Singapore.

So, back to the grand ‘fuss’ that I made over the last few days about the seemingly trifling issue of a few photographs of me being missing from official social media. I should not even need to explain, because any reasonable and reasoning human being would know the import of this, but I have decided to do so, in case some people failed to grasp it (there’re always the stragglers, and this explanatory post is for them, because I don’t want to leave anyone behind).

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APAC19 – personal highlights

20190620- a quiet moment with Lucy before my Plenary Speech (Photo courtesy of Prof. Iliana Magiati)

Head here for my brief spotlight page on APAC19 and some of my own photographs – Asia Pacific Autism Conference 2019.
(Click on the link)

All in, it was a resounding success, one which Singapore can be proud of. Not that we have ‘arrived’ yet, but that we have been able to learn and achieve this much progressive thinking, inclusivity and respectful facilitation – all within such a short span of time.

The folks at ARC (Autism Resource Centre) were amazing! So much hard work and coordination of this mega event, and everything went excellently well, given the monumental task at hand.

1,800 people registered for this event. The largest of its kind ever in Singapore, and perhaps even in the entire Asia Pacfic region.

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With Us

(Transferred from Bunnyhopscotch.)

“For us without us” or “Nothing about us without us”? More and more, I am meeting non-autistic allies who are standing alongside our advocacy and lending strength and dynamism to our cause. Here in Singapore, there has been an ‘awakening’ of sorts too, but we have a long way to go before we can achieve deep rooted progress at the very most fundamental levels. We are a very ‘progressive’ city – judging by what’s visible to the eye, at least. We do know how to do things well, if we want to. And we’ve done so many things extremely well. For one, I am immensely proud of our airport. There’s no need for me to sing the praises here – you can look it up anywhere and everywhere. I’m also pleased and relieved that people don’t have to fear being gunned down randomly on the street or in school. We’re by and large a pretty safe city to live in, and I’ve lived in a few rather pleasant cities too, but none with the kind of placid security that Singapore has. I am also really encouraged by the many positive changes that have taken place in the disability sector – the higher levels of awareness and desire to learn better ways – even within the short span of the last two years that I’ve been back. We are a robust little nation, and this is proof that we can do things quickly if we decide we wish to.

OK, so, here, today, I am talking about Autistic equity and autonomy.

A prominent non-autistic advocate for Autism in Singapore asked me this question, and I have no reason to doubt her sincerity, in fact, I do believe in her dedication to our cause (paraphrased):

Are only Autistic people allowed to advocate for Autism? What about non-Autistic people like parents and friends? Do we not have a stake in Autism Advocacy too?

My answer was probably a tad too wordy for this kindhearted person, because she never replied thereafter, leaving our ‘conversation’ without cadential closure, which is a ‘normal’ part of interaction with non-autistic persons. I am fine with that, technically, it’s all cool, except that this kind of thing leaves my autistic brain inside an echo chamber of very loud silence, which I am not sure what to make of, really.

Let me try to put it through again in a more neat and tidy nutshell, because I understand that non-autistic brains tend not to like too many details, and typical autistic communications tend to be detailed – hence the tension between the two realms. (Back to the empathy issue – Empathy works both ways, shouldn’t it?)

Autism Advocacy benefits greatly from the voices of our allies. We cannot do this alone. But allies are allies, you need to allow Our voices to lead the way, to shape the form and direction, and you need to listen to us about us. Stand with us, not for us.

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neurodivergent world

Clement Space @ Playeum 2019 – Dawn-joy Leong

Seems as if I’ve been involved in quite a few “firsts” in Singapore lately. The most recent was the very first Autism/Neurodivergent-Led, Disabled-Led Art & Design residency, which was support by the National Library’s library@orchard branch, and yesterday saw the soft opening of Singapore’s first Neurodivergent immersive and interactive space – crafted by two autistic artists and two artists with Down syndrome, curated by Esther Joosa and Imran Mohamed for Playeum, a centre for children to discover creativity in multiple ways. Continue reading

Uniquely Me Episode 1 – a perspective

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The first episode of “Uniquely Me” – a series about autism and autistic lives in Singapore – aired last night on MediaCorp’s Chinese Channel 8. Immediately afterwards, there were rumblings and rants emerging from the adult autistic community in chat groups and on Facebook.

Background

Some contextual background is needed before I launch into my own perspectives and reactions to this twenty minute show.

Autistic people – we are an oppressed and traumatised, vulnerable and hurting community worldwide. As autistics, we are already predisposed towards hypersensitivity, detail orientation, and communicate with the world in ways unlike the normative. Add to this the accumulated collective cultural history of Autism (see Steve Silberman’s “Neurotribes” – the best book published thus far on the history of autism), and the specific situation here in Singapore, where the perception of autism as a whole is mired in the old medical model, and autistic people are generally presumed incompetent rather than competent, completely devoid of our own voice / voices: we have thus acquired a collective trauma, and individual heightened anxiety around the subject of Selfhood. The setting is a painfully raw, tender, largely confused and ignorant, and emotionally volatile scenario. It is not surprising, then, that many in the adult autistic community have reacted explosively, with anger and shock, at this very stark presentation of autistic persons with complex needs in the first episode. Continue reading