Currently, the common solutions for autism employment are job coaches supporting full-time mainstream jobs as well as factory work in sheltered workshops and Day Activity Centres.
There is a need to provide a sustainable alternative that:
- Is able to provide for the survival of autistic people into the foreseeable future despite the massive automation of most jobs
- Provides a slow-paced, low-sensory stimulation and predictable work environment
- Does not depend on highly paid professionals to run
Farming fits the bill.
Idea: Create eco-tourism farming communities on Pulau Ubin Island
Eco-tourism farming communities be established on Pulau Ubin where tourists and students can tend to organic crops using traditional farming methods and learn more about local wildlife while living in attap houses.
Firstly, the farms can employ elderly folk as supervisors while autistics work the farms under their guidance – the slow pace of life and the quiet sensory environment can produce a healing and rejuvenating effect.
Secondly, the farms can host cash-strapped nonprofits and social enterprises that need large areas of low-cost land to operate – these organisations can run the farms in place of paying rent.
Thirdly, this community can provide a retirement option for cash-strapped healthy elderly who may otherwise need long-term government assistance. They can take up paid roles to supervise and guide autistic farmworkers.
Lastly, the farms may be able to pay for themselves by selling surplus produce. Perhaps the selective use of technology such as exposing the plants to LED lights at night can increase yield significantly while keeping the crops organic.
These farms can be based on Camphill communities [see below for videos], a sustainable model of inclusion in existence since 1939.
Idea: Implement nation-wide urban farming
We can convert HDB rooftops and river canal surfaces into miniature farms run by social enterprises such as Grace Mission Hydroponics and Edible Garden City. A predictable, low-stress environment with limited sensory exposure and well-defined tasks is ideal for many autistics.
Inclusive farming, which integrates disabled as well as socially disadvantaged people (e.g. young offenders) in a social community, also improves the physical (e.g. better sleep), emotional (e.g. higher self-esteem) and social well-being (e.g. greater personal responsibility) of farmers.
In addition, we can convert the green spaces in our neighbourhood to Food Forests growing fruit trees and vegetables. Unfortunately, open spaces are vulnerable to theft. One approach is to designate community farms as critical national infrastructure monitored by security cameras and have every theft investigated diligently. Another approach is to plant fruit trees requiring much time and effort to harvest while passing new laws that force thieves to pay heavy fines as compensation to farmers.
Perhaps a more enlightened approach is to saturate green spaces with hardy and low-maintenance crops. Nearby schools, old folks’ homes, day activity centres, places of worship and social service agencies can adopt plots of land. Those who harvest the crops are morally obliged to do volunteer work in exchange.
Researchers at the Institute for Sustainable Food at the University of Sheffield have estimated that 10% of a city’s urban green spaces can supply 15% of the local population with sufficient fruits and vegetables. If this can be translated to Singapore, we might even be exporting greens one day!
References: Camphill Communities