Yangon Day 5 to 8: Adventures In and Around

World

We are now back in Singapore and feeling slightly unsettled by an unpleasant incident that had happened with the Burmese customs. Aside from that, the trip was still a good one and I’m gonna jot down some highlights of days 5 to 8.

I accompanied R to the Professional Development Conference on Day 5. He was there to speak on his topic “The Teacher’s Toolbox”. It was eye-opening for me to be at a professional event and I learnt a few things observing and speaking with people.

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The next day, I took the train up to an area away from the city to visit a special school called Eden Centre. I had already scheduled a time with the staff some days prior. They brought me around to see the classrooms and the different children, teachers and staff who work there.

Eden Centre is privately run and supported by donations. As I walked around, I remember feeling very impressed with the work that was being done. The centre deals with global delay, autism, cerebral palsy, down syndrome, and takes in children from ages 0 to 18. There are physiotherapists, occupational therapists, and a training manager. There is a training room and even a hydrotherapy pool. I left the centre feeling heartened by what I saw and experienced.

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Across those few days, Mel also brought me around to some pretty cool places, like 50th Street Bar and Pansodan Art Gallery. We had ramen at a Japanese restaurant, bought fresh flowers from the night market for her house, and had Shan noodles at the almost-famous 999 Shan Noodle House.

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She took an afternoon off work to take me cycling on an island. Locating the jetty and getting on the right boat were enough of an adventure in themselves, so much that I was ready to go home by the time I landed on the island. We eventually spent about 2.5 hours on the island.

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This island, called Kanaung To, comprises just one main road and many little villages connected by small winding paths. A local woman loaned us the use of a bicycle for two hours and so we were able to cycle around and explore the land. The kids were very curious to see us, staring and waving as we passed.

The next three days were spent seeing more of the city and shopping at Bogyoke market. More in the next post!

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Wake me up inside

Book matters

These are the chilling words that opened the play I went to watch today.

“Wake me up inside. Call my name and save me from the dark…”

You probably might find these words familiar, especially if you were listening to pop music in the early 2000s.

Esther and I watched Falling today, a play about a family who has a son with autism.

I was prepared to witness some heart-wrenching scenes but I certainly wasn’t prepared to be in tears half of the time. Emotions were raw and as the events of each scene unfolded, it just broke my heart knowing that this is the same situation that parents with an autistic child are facing every single day.

Design Galore

Book matters, People, Singapore

It’s Singapore Design Week. It’s only Tuesday and the week is just busy, busy.

There is SingaPlural, Maison&Objet Asia, IFFS. I’ve got interviews and press events to go for. At these many, many press events, I meet lots of people and the team has been introducing me to the different brands we work with.

Even without these things going on, my mind has been quite fully occupied with work on the weekdays and I haven’t been doing much for my book even on the weekends. I’ve been telling myself that I’ll get back to my book once I’m more settled in my job.

But I think that’s not what God has in mind.

I met an editor of another publication yesterday and bumped into her again today. We started talking and the subject of my book came up. She then suggested something which I thought was absolutely brilliant–design for autism.

As she elaborated on her suggestion, I found myself being simply impressed.

I guess I’m always impressed by people who can come up with ideas and different perspectives on the spot. So cool, these people. I do come up with ideas but it takes me time.

So anyway, I got excited about that idea and decided that it’s something I definitely want to pursue, but probably when “I’m more settled in my job”.

But just half an hour later, I bumped into her again and she very excitedly introduced me to a designer from a very prominent local architecture firm. What they have recently done was put together the first-ever all-inclusive school in Singapore. It’s not yet fully operational and I think there hasn’t been much publicity because it’s just really, really new.

So, this seems to be a nudge to start work on the online platform.

In the Least Likeliest of Places

People, Singapore

It’s an unexpected place for an autistic kid to find friends.

Yet on two different accounts, it is where friendships have reportedly been forged.

One parent said that his son had a friend who became his unofficial study buddy. This friend would regularly get him to study together in school or at the library.

He calls the boy “an angel” and even goes as far to credit him for helping his son pass the final examinations.

Another parent said that her son was no longer bullied and was even asked to go on outings.

She feels that he was finally in a place where he was simply accepted for his differences.

It’s not therapy.

It’s not a special school for students with autism.

It’s the Institute of Technical Education, or more commonly known as ITE.

Before you call me out for being elitist (because I expressed surprise over something good that came out of ITE), allow me to say that I’d have been equally surprised if this were to have happened in any junior college or polytechnic.

Simply because students in these tertiary institutions are mostly still kids.

It’s quite common to hear of autistic individuals thriving in universities. One reason is that students get to focus on a specialisation. Another reason is that university entrants are usually hitting their twenties and have by this age, realised that kindness is an option when responding to someone who seems odd to them.

So for kids in ITE to take an autistic individual as one of them is something I did not quite expect.

Neither did these two parents.

Their respective sons had gone through mainstream education enduring much bullying and embarrassment and they hadn’t expect ITE to be any different.

Yet it was a world of difference.

Insider Knowledge

People

Over the weekend, I had the privilege to hear Dr Stephen Shore speak on autism.

Dr Shore wrote the book Understanding Autism for Dummies. That however, isn’t the reason he’s an autism expert. The man has autism himself.

As a child, Dr Shore was diagnosed with “atypical development with strong autistic tendencies” and recommended for institutionalisation. Instead, his parents engaged him in play, music and movement, many of which have official sounding names now like Floortime and Miller Method, in order to “reach into his world”.

Today, Dr Shore is a professor of special education at Adelphi University. He is married for 25 years now and speaks candidly of navigating the dating scene in high school and college.

The two-day seminar with Dr Shore gave us valuable insight into autism and what it is like for someone on the spectrum. Besides intervention and teaching methods, he also spoke about self-advocacy and employment issues, which I feel are very pertinent to the situation in Singapore.

Without looking at the number of undiagnosed/misdiagnosed adults, there are 600 to 700 children diagnosed with autism in Singapore every year. These kids are going to grow up, those in school now are going to be adults in just a few years, and the question is: Will they be ready to live in society? More importantly, is society ready for them?