Q: Social chitchat and outings seem to be a waste of time. Why even bother with them?
A: While some mentally healthy and productive people may see these as a waste of time, social chat groups and outings provide mental wellness support at a very low cost to autistics who face social rejection and abuse when they attempt to socialise. Autistics struggling with mental illnesses also need some supplementary support between their brief and occasional visits to mental health professionals. Caregivers, social workers and researchers who wish to understand and support autistics can also observe and interact with autistics directly through such communities.
Q: There are already many organisations that support autistics with high support needs. Why is the proposed solution of a Camphill-inspired Community strategic?
A: The existing support relies on hiring highly paid professionals to serve a small number of autistics. The autistics are engaged in either non-productive activities or factory work that is highly vulnerable to automation. We need a more sustainable alternative that can pay for itself so that it does not require exorbitant fees from caregivers or heavy subsidies from taxpayers.
Q: Homeschooling seems to go against inclusion. Why not bring every child with different backgrounds together so that they can understand each other better?
A: It is important to understand that autism is not just a culture but also a disability. The best way to bring people of different cultures and races together to understand each other is to get them to socialise and mix. But the best way to support autistic people who have challenges with socialising, communicating and making sense of the world is to provide a gradual and measured exposure for them to slowly adapt to mainstream society.
Homeschooling allows caregivers to control the pace and means of this integration, rather than being forced to comply with the demands imposed by the school. It also takes a load off the teachers and allied educators so that they can focus their support on those children who are ready to be integrated into mainstream schooling.
Q: I am not comfortable with some of the beliefs of Waldorf Educators. Do we have to follow those beliefs too when doing homeschooling?
A: We are not aiming to provide Waldorf Education but to let caregivers learn the Waldorf Approach so that they can gain an alternative perspective of how to better support their children without resorting to robotic behavioural approaches often criticised by autistic advocates. Whether the caregivers want to subscribe to any belief, technique or system is up to themselves.
Q: Are you offering any cures, therapies or treatments for autism?
A: No, we do not. We take a neutral position and let the caregivers decide what is best for their autistic kids, or for the adult autistics to decide what is best for themselves. The Waldorf Approach does not claim to be a cure, therapy or treatment for autism; it is simply a different approach to education.
Q: Why is this community-led as opposed to being led by caregivers, autistics or professionals?
A: The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This non-profit is part of a vision of how we may all work as equals together to serve the community despite our differences. We all share the common goal of ensuring that autistics can continue to thrive and be supported even after the passing of their caregivers.
Q: Why use the word “Neurodivergent” instead of “Autistic” in the name of the non-profit?
A: While our focus is on supporting autistic people, we are aware that they have many complex co-morbid support needs that may be better described as “Neurodivergent” (e.g. bipolar, ADHD, sensory sensitivity).
In addition, there are many people who are unwilling to identify as autistic but are fine identifying as Neurodivergent. We wish to encourage such people to join our community to contribute their lived experiences even if they are not officially autistic.
Q: Why are there so few openly autistic people in your management positions? We should be supporting the maxim nothing about us without us.
A: Autistics who can lead are not willing to reveal their identities. The openly autistic people lack the executive functioning skills, mental wellness and emotional maturity to serve in leadership positions. Much work is needed to address the stigma and discrimination against autism in both autistic and non-autistic people, as well as to raise the quality and competency of autistic advocates.
However, while Singaporean autistics are not yet ready today, our work will hopefully cultivate a new generation of autistic leaders over the next three decades so that half of the leadership positions can be taken up by autistics by 2050.
Most of the management positions are taken up by caregivers of autistic people who have a vested interest in their long-term well-being. Some of these caregivers are also likely to be autistic, but do not wish to seek an official diagnosis for themselves. This hidden representation can perhaps be considered a pragmatic compromise for now.
Q: What is the non-profit’s position on inclusion and autism advocacy?
A: Equality, not inclusion, is our goal. Inclusion will take care of itself once equality is attained. We will not bend our policies for the sake of appearing inclusive. Advocacy is necessary but it will not be the focus; taking action to implement strategic solutions is our focus.
Q: Why rely on membership fees? Why not just get grants from a government agency or a generous individual?
A: Many organisations have closed down as soon as their funding run out. We are here to stay as our work will take decades, thus we require a reliable source of income (via membership fees) to ensure we can still survive even if we lose all other sources of funding.
Q: Your volunteers’ honorarium looks generous. Why pay so much?
A: We are aware of many caregivers who are homemakers working part-time jobs. If we pay enough to replace their part-time job, they will be able to serve the community wholeheartedly to give their autistic loved ones a brighter future. In addition, the honorarium is relatively small compared to working equivalent jobs at for-profit companies, so it cannot be described as generous.
Q: How will the premium events, peer insurance, caregiver teacher training and other paid services come under this non-profit organisation?
A: We are aware that the non-profit will face many legal and financial vulnerabilities due to the huge scale of the work involved to execute the Action For Autistics Masterplan (AFAM). To better protect our work as well as increase transparency, paid services will be set up under different legal entities that are most suited to their nature and the situation.
Q: Why not set this initiative up as a business? Why not earn a profit while creating change?
A: This project is meant to serve the community rather than individual interests. A business will create a conflict of interest between profitability and community service. To avoid any disrepute and concerns, it is best to use a transparent structure with legal protection to ensure that funds cannot be misused for personal enrichment.
Q: Why set up a society (association)? Why not use a non-profit company limited by guarantee?
A: A society is structured to maximise transparency and accountability in its operations and funding. Its open and democratic system of governance is most suited for community-led initiatives. As an independent legal entity not linked to any human individual, it can continue to exist even if all its founding members have passed on. The ability to obtain Institution of a Public Character (IPC) tax-exempt status will give both a huge boost in credibility as well as funding.
Q: Some of the plans in AFAM seem very ambitious. Are you sure they can be implemented?
A: Unlike many initiatives created to take advantage of short-term funding opportunities and popular trends, we take a very long-term perspective spanning decades. How quickly AFAM can be implemented will depend heavily on the amount of support received. If wealthy and influential stakeholders are convinced about the value of strategic change, this can happen within a decade. If not, it may take half a lifetime to implement, but we will eventually get there.