Mandarin Seminar for Autism 点亮心灵花园cum Photo Exhibition by youths with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
Students Care Service (SCS) organised 点亮心灵花园 – a mandarin seminar on Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) cum photo exhibition by youths with ASD, on 2 June 2012, at The Pod, Central Library. The response was overwhelming, with more than 135 participants turning up when there were only 120 places.
The seminar was organised to raise awareness and to increase understanding of what it might mean to live with ASD. Armed with a better understanding of the condition, the public’s perception of ASD can be more accurate and can act positively to make our society more inclusive and hospitable for people with ASD.
In recent times, there has been greater awareness of the term “Autism” or in Chinese “自闭症” due to the portrayals of persons with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in TV dramas, films and stories published in local newspapers. However, our experience working with students with ASD has revealed that even with the increased awareness, this group of students continue to be misunderstood in community, schools and social settings. They suffer discrimination, intolerance and isolation.
While many seminars on special needs such as ASD had been conducted in English, this seminar was conducted in Mandarin to reach out to the Mandarin –speaking community and those who work with them. The feedback we had received from many participants was very positive. They appreciated being able to attend a Mandarin seminar as they too would like to help the child with ASD in their family, but they are not well versed in English.
Our panel of distinguished speakers for the seminar included SCS Educational Psychologist, Mrs Bek Mee Hing, Occupational Therapist from NUH, Ms Esther Tai, and Vice-Principal of Chong Boon Secondary School, Mr Wong Jia Wang. Joining them during the panel discussion were Mdm Theresa Tay, who has 3 children with ASD, Mr Bob Lee, who has a young son with ASD, and Mr Eric Chen, a youth with ASD.
Youths with ASD often struggle with issues of self- awareness and self-expression. As a result they grapple with difficulties in relationships with others. This often leads to feelings of low self-esteem, low confidence, low motivation and even social isolation. Parents have expressed difficulties accessing appropriate programmes that allow these youths’ potential to be tapped and maximised.
Conducted in collaboration with Photovoice SG, a series of 10 basic photography workshops introduced a group of 20 SCS youths (aged 16 to 18) to photography as both a skill and an art. Each was equipped with a camera, and with the mentorship of experienced photographers from Photovoice SG, these youths underwent the workshops under conducive settings, enabling them to explore their inner and outer worlds through the lens of their cameras.
The resulting photo exhibition celebrated and commemorated their achievements and the experiential journey of self-expression. Their work and stories will be compiled into a photo book.
The outcome of the series of workshops is that the youths experienced themselves differently, positively, as well as learnt new skills and experienced success. The photo exhibition was launched during the seminar, and will make its round to three public libraries for a period of two weeks, thus offering helpful exposure of the youths’ work.