2. Understand Autism*
What is autism?
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurological and developmental disorder that affects how people interact with others, communicate, learn, and behave.
An estimate of 1 in 100 people in Singapore are diagnosed with autism.
Autism is a spectrum
A person with autism may perceive and conceptualise objects, people, the environment and activities differently from the way neurotypical people would.
Autism Spectrum Disorder is a non-linear spectrum. No two persons are the same. Everyone has different strengths and difficulties.
Is autism curable?
No, there is no-known cure for autism. We can introduce structured intervention and training to help individuals acquire skills or learn how to manage in certain situations but these do not cure the condition
Traits and personalities
Persons on the spectrum may exhibit certain identifiable traits and personalities in the following:
social interaction, communication and rigid & repetitive behavior
Persons with autism may find it difficult to socialise or understand certain social behaviours and norms as well as knowing what to say or behave around others. These can impact them in a few ways:
- absent or unusual eye contact
- finding it difficult to start or hold a conversation
- appearing unresponsive
- finding it difficult to make friends with peers
- finding it difficult to understand non-literal language such as metaphors or sarcasm
Communication is the act of imparting or exchanging information, this can be in the form of speech, writing or other medium. Persons with autism find communication in varying 'difficulties' and these impact their everyday lives. According to statistics, spoken language may not develop for up to 25% of persons with ASD. Persons with autism frequently exhibits echolalia (repeating words or phrases) and this could be a way for them to make sense of information or for auditory input. Persons with autism may be perceived to have difficulty initiating or sustaining conversations or using unusual or repetitive language
As such, Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) helps to bridge the communication for persons with ASD. It is a form of assistive technology which allows the communicator to communicate with others with the assistance of to use pictures or voice output and can range from low technology ones such as Communication Boards and Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) to high technology ones such as iPad with apps such as Proloquo2go, iClick-iTalk, Sonoflex, Go Talk Now etc.
Rigid & Repetitive Behaviour
Persons with autism find comfort in routines and as such may show preference and insistence on the sameness and inflexible adherence to routines such as greeting rituals, route of travel, food, music, placement of items and timing of activities.
They also exhibit repetitive behaviors as these may be for self-stimulation and/or regulation
Such behaviours which are also called "stimming" can look like:
- twitching their fingers
- rubbing their hands
- rocking their body
- repeatedly smelling objects/sniffing people
- tapping on surfaces with their fingers
- making vocal sounds
- covering their ears
The reason for such behaviors can be generalised into these 4 categories: Sensory, Escape, Attention, and Tangible.
Sensory: Persons with Autism are hyposensitive and hypersensitive on a myriad spectrum. Their senses are typically enhanced and some seek out certain sensory satisfactions while certain senses can overwhelm them. Sounds that may sound normal to neurotypicals may actually be deafening for some of persons with autism. The same applies for light, smell, texture and taste. They may seek out physical sensations and movements through different behaviors.
Escape: When faced with tasks that are too boring or too difficult, they may also exhibit certain behaviours as a form of escape or reluctance to do a certain task.
Attention: Just like any neurotypical, another reason for exhibiting behaviours is to seek attention from others such as teachers in school or parents at home.
Tangible: Other times individuals can also exhibit behaviours to gain access to certain items that they want.
New situations, exceedingly difficult tasks, sensory issues and communications issues are common triggers of anxiety and this can escalate to a meltdown if the root cause is not identified/managed early. A meltdown is an intense response to a situation that is overwhelming, and the person temporarily lose control of their behaviour.
Signs of anxiety
-Pacing, rocking hand flapping
-humming/singing with intensity
-difficulty answering questions
-difficulty in making sense of their speech/thoughts
-getting too close to people
-shaky legs, trembling hands
Tips in managing meltdowns
-pay attention to triggers
-use visuals and or/sensory items
-call for help
Interaction with Persons with Autism
-Respect them as individuals, accept differences and don't make assumptions.
-Do not make hurtful comments, seek first to understand and show empathy.
-Give them time and space, as they may need more time to process information or warm up to an idea.
-Avoid using metaphors or sarcasm
-Speak clearly and calmly
-Use visual/gestural cues whenever possible
*Adapted from St. Andrew's Autism Centre Volunteer Handbook
There are many possibilities going beyond the game such as volunteering at an organisation that works with persons with autism. Here's a list for you to get started in Singapore:
A not-for-profit charity based in Singapore officially registered in year 2000. It was started by a group of professionals and parent volunteers dedicated to serving children and adults on the autism spectrum to help these individuals lead meaningful and independent lives in society.
It is a non-profit organisation for the education, training and care of persons on the autism spectrum, and their families.
Registered as a charity in 1992, Rainbow Centre (RC) is an Institution of Public Character. Through practical education, meaningful support and effective training programmes, RC strives to increase the quality of life for them and their families.
4. Partner us
Apart from using hello empathy as a product, you can also approach us for facilitated conversations for you and your team.
hello empathy is a product of WeCreate Studio and Xopo Design, each offering unique services.
An architectural and design consultancy for social good. We direct our planning, design and management capacity towards working with the non-profit sector and less-privileged communities in Singapore and regionally.
Xopo Design is a business design consultancy, blending business thinking and design thinking to drive agility with market relevance in the digital age. Building a digital business is a science. Xopo systematically solves business problems with precise design methodology and engages with cross-functional teams to drive and operationalise design-led innovation in their business.