Singapore is not ready for Inclusive Equality despite efforts to engage with various stakeholders, including publishing this alternative autism masterplan and a proposal for an autistic-focused non-profit.
Many autism organisations remain unwilling to engage with autistic advocates and ignore the emails of autistics keen to work with them. The rest often engage in “exploitative inclusion” portraying autistic people as damsels in distress to be saved by knights in shining armour in the form of parents, professionals and organisations.
Autistics are invited on stage to speak about autism awareness and perform for events, then ignored until the need for positive publicity from them is required again. Autistics may also be invited to participate in media interviews, but any resulting misleading portrayals damaging their employment prospects will be met with silence. Most of the community thinks there is nothing wrong with such portrayals.
Autistics may be invited to act as consultants or advisors who have no power to formulate policies and veto decisions; only their endorsement of prepared statements and plans are sought. During feedback sessions, the focus seems to be ensuring that autistics with higher support needs get enough time to express themselves rather than to collect quality ideas and opinions from autistics who have the capacity to contribute. No autistic has also ever been invited to sit on the board of autism organisations or government policy-making committees or be paid professional rates to engage in consulting work. These imply that autistic participation is merely a symbolic show of inclusion.
What passes off as inclusion is often “unconditional acceptance”, where society maintains low expectations of autistic people and perpetuating the belief that autism is a “lifelong condition” with no hope of change. Efforts to encourage autistic people to take responsibility and make efforts to better their lives are dismissed as ableism, conspiring to ensure that they never develop the habits and skills to take care of themselves.
Autistic people who show some talent in arts and sports, as well as those who organise typical awareness/inclusion events (that results in no lasting or strategic change for the community), receive official recognition and awards.
Meanwhile, those who break stereotypes of autism’s limitations and those engaged in serving the real-life needs of fellow autistic people continue to be ignored. There remains no interest and effort to cultivate competitively employed autistic autism professionals.
These imply that society still sees autistic people as exhibits that show the inclusive effort of non-autistic people, rather than as competitive, competent partners. Inclusive Equality remains elusive.
Meanwhile, the Singapore government continues to endorse open discrimination by insurance companies and schools providing early childhood education courses.
Autistic people who do well in mainstream society refuse to reveal their diagnosis and participate in the autism community for fear of being discriminated against, resulting in a “brain drain” of the autism community where the most adapted and brightest leave as soon as they are able to. Even parents have found that disclosing an autism diagnosis can lead to teachers putting less effort and attention into supporting their autistic children.
Autistic people who do less well in mainstream society often engage in counterproductive behaviours that damage their reputation and divide the community, making it difficult for them to be taken seriously and mature advocates reluctant to participate to avoid being tainted by the bad reputation.
- Superficial advocates repeat the “exploitative inclusion” narrative with their low-quality work while getting cheered on by the autism community.
- Buoyed by the success of a highly controversial role model, vocal advocates destroy stakeholder relationships with emotionally immature responses.
- Some autistics even use their autism diagnosis as an excuse to deflect blame or partner non-autistic predators to target naïve autistics.
- Meanwhile, no one is speaking out about the dangers of personality disorders being misdiagnosed as autism.
Inclusion has become trendy. Many people are taking advantage of government grants to create charities disguised as “social enterprises” that close shop as soon as funding runs out while having only a superficial understanding of autism disability issues. They tend to engage in activities (e.g. sports activities, awareness campaigns, providing low paying work) with limited impact on the lives of autistic people.
Many organisations that openly employ autistics tend to consider such employment as an act of charity rather than investment. Beyond providing a symbolic number of jobs that are less demanding than that of non-autistic colleagues, they have no intention of supporting autistic staff to be more competitive or further their career development. The problems that autistics people face outside their work environment (such as family conflicts, exploitation by ‘friends’, mental health struggles) that resulted in them becoming difficult to employ are also not among the employers’ concern.
Decision-makers choose to ignore the issues faced by adult autistics with low support needs, focusing the bulk of their efforts solely on caregivers and autistics with high support needs.
Those who are genuine in creating change find it frustrating to work in such a situation.