The Peer Community Non-profit aims to provide leadership training through service to the community and serving as a positive role model. It is the future evolution of the Whatsapp Autism Community of Singapore (WACS) with a structure inspired by the Boy Scouts and Chinese Clan Associations.
Its main role is to provide mental health support for the autistic community. While it provides limited disability support, it is not a disability organisation as it focuses on working with autism as a race/culture rather than as a disability.
Although this organisation is not focused on advocacy, it will support its members to speak out for and against issues specifically about autism. Examples include inaccurate/negative media portrayals, cases of discrimination, abuse/exploitation and inappropriate/disrespectful treatment towards autistic adults.
It is also important to have an independent and dedicated organisation led by Neurodivergents (including autistics) that can advocate for and provide direct support to their peers. These people are low-lying fruit that need relatively little help to become self-empowering once they have good role models to learn from.
They can mature fast when they are given the opportunity to lead a team to serve the community – becoming self-aware of their own issues by observing their peers, learning to be patient and accept imperfection, experiencing and expressing support for each other and embracing the diversity within all people.
It is also important for the community to work with all stakeholders (no matter policymakers or researchers) to break down silos. Hence, while this organisation officially supports Inclusive Equality, it will also work with all other stakeholders including those who are using charity, biomedical, and diversity mindsets.
Peer Support Services that this organisation can provide:
- Social Outings
- Knowledge & Interest Clubs
- Mental Health Support (e.g. Peer Befriending/Counselling)
- Mediation (e.g. dispute resolution, stopping inappropriate social behaviour)
- Skills Development (e.g. Advocacy, Advanced Social Skills) not covered by other organisations
- Resources (e.g. Funds, Facilities, Mentoring, Research)
- Networking (e.g. form teams, meet investors/partners, link with romantic partners)
- Leadership Training (e.g. self-reflection, coaching)
- Community & Peer Research to improve the welfare of autistic adults with low support needs
The first few stages of this non-profit will focus on training a group of Peer Support Leaders in online para-counselling, who will support autistic WACS members. Experienced mental health workers (especially if they are autistic) can also be engaged to supervise and assist the Peer Befrienders. This is inspired by IMH’s Peer Support Specialist programme which provides support on mentally wellness.
Once the programme is in place, candidates who wish to apply to serve in WACS or to undertake leadership training will have to go through this course. Not only will this support their own mental wellness journey, it will also act as an assessment of their suitability to work with peers in terms of ethics, commitment and competency. Trainees can opt to take up expressive arts therapy and other modalities to enhance their ability to support the autistic community, perhaps via scholarships. Whenever possible, funding will be obtained to provide basic allowances for competent and committed Peer Befrienders and their supervisors.
The first few stages of this non-profit will also see it organising social outings. Unlike the outings by typical leisure clubs for autistics, we eventually aim to:
- Provide a wide variety of novel and fun events (e.g. clubbing, art therapy, photography, yachting) by partnering with changemakers and allies
- In a family-friendly and wholesome manner, with options for caregivers to observe and participate
- Facilitate opportunities for bona fide non-autistic people to understand and befriend autistic people
- While developing leadership skills (e.g. confidence, resilience and teamwork) of autistic people through carefully selected responsibilities and activities that bring out their strengths
WACS already has an autistic-only private group named “Standing In The Gap” (SITG) which occasionally organises informal outings. This gap refers to autistics with low support needs who could not blend into both mainstream and “inclusive” social groups (containing autistics with high support needs who have disruptive behaviour and provide inappropriate role modeling).
Even after receiving feedback, some disability organisations are unwilling to serve autistics according to their different levels of support needs for fear of being accused of ableism. Hence, autistics with low support needs remain engaged in unhappy tugs of war with their caregivers while sinking into spirals of depression and apathy.
SITG wishes to liberate these trapped autistics from the confines of their homes, as well as their war against caregivers, so that they can look forward to a bright future as supportive community leaders and productive citizens.
After the first few steps have borne fruit, the non-profit aims to formalise and provide a structured training programme for the roles of a Peer Support Leader (PSL):
- Ambassador: Connects stakeholders of different backgrounds and interests with each other
- Changemaker: Proposes & implements win-win solutions
- Mediator: Resolve conflicts between stakeholders amicably
- Mentor: Support stakeholders in their growth journey
- Trainer: Provide stakeholders with the necessary skills to be effective
- Researcher: Provide situational awareness and support research efforts into the autism community
Many autistics naturally have difficulty translating theory into practice and applying ideas into reality – shifting from the classroom into the community will help them learn both the realities on the ground as well as how to work in a team to execute plans.
Peer Support Leaders (PSLs) must meet the following requirements:
- Be intellectually capable of understanding the peer leadership concepts
- >1 year experience serving the autism community
- Accept Inclusive Equality (e.g. Competent, Reliable, Trustworthy, Proactive, Win-Win Mindset)
- Actively participate and engage in Peer Leadership Training
- Be openly autistic & willing to be on mass/social media
- Have no history of criminal, dangerous, deviant or aggressive behaviour
- Does not exhibit dishonest, manipulative, defiant, disagreeable or irresponsible behaviour
Peer Support Leaders (PSLs) must also make the following pledge:
- I am Neurodivergent
- I support Neurodivergent people
- I embrace Neurodivergence as part of myself / of Humanity
- I endorse efforts promoting Neurodivergent self-determination & welfare
- I support Neurodivergents having their safe space and celebrating their culture
- I respect the experiences & needs of all people including Neurodivergents
- I strive to do my best to improve myself & support others to do likewise
- I pledge to do my best to unite people to build a better world for all
What will PSLs do for autism advocacy?
This non-profit organisation will not be involved in advocacy work; it will remain a neutral platform for bridging and supporting different groups of stakeholders within the autism community. PSLs are free to undertake advocacy in their personal capacity or under other organisations, as long as they make it clear that this is not related to their work as PSLs.
As a service provider, the non-profit will provide advocacy training and mentoring as part of basic leadership training. PSLs are an apprentice learn-on-the-job community leader role that can be a bridge with multiple benefits (e.g. learn basic life skills to provide freelance services, learn communication skills to do effective advocacy).
Is this paid work or free training?
If funding can be secured, PSLs will be paid positions. If funding is unavailable, then a scaled-down version of it can be deployed as a leadership training course where the course fee is paid for with community service.
- Neurodivergents (together with caregivers and other allies) can receive allowances between $10-$50/hr
- Neurodivergents can convert lived experiences & community service into jobs
- Provides more affordable & closer support than professionals
- Transparency & accountability with direct results
- Can be a pathway for becoming professionals with lived experiences
- To ensure Quality Control, only qualified people (i.e. PSLs) can join
This is an incentive for autistic people to invest in becoming more competitive
- A gamification system where leadership choices are rewarded and counterproductive behaviour is penalised
- There will be different tiers with different salary payment rates
- As trainees climb the tiers, they get paid more for their work
- Once trainees reach the last tier, they graduate and are ready to work competitively both for their professional careers and personal causes
How can the leadership training work?
In this training, each member will be guided by people more mature than themselves, while guiding members who are less mature than themselves.
In addition, a group of caregivers and other non-autistic allies will be invited to provide mentoring. Autistics will learn practical skills and be exposed to the situation on the ground by undertaking outreach efforts under the mentors’ guidance. This can include volunteering for mentors’ autism activities, engaging in panel discussions with mentors’ autism network, and inviting mentors to be part of the autistics’ initiatives so the mentors can demonstrate how to get things done effectively.
What are the types of problems that PSLs can fix?
Advocacy (communications, persuasion, networking)
- Coach autistics to speak/write clearly
- Write books promoting Inclusive Equality for typical/autistic teens
- Organise autistic-led autism talks/forums/exhibitions
- Represent Singapore at major foreign autism events
Technical (programming, mechanical, analytical)
- Create chatbots for autistic companionship
- Build apps to help adult autistics schedule tasks
Mentoring (work/social/life skills, coaching, befriending)
- Conduct life coaching class/sessions for adult autistics
- Research on Applied Drama system for Leadership Training
- Coach autistics to self-learn useful skills (e.g. photography, programming)
Welfare (research, enabling initiatives, services)
- Create a co-op to provide alternative insurance for autistics
- Organise Regular Activities / Outings / Events / Support Groups
- In-depth survey + interview on improving the quality of life of autistics
- Train and establish befriending / para-counselling / mediator support teams
How about autistics who have high support needs?
While this organisation does not focus on providing support to autistics with high support needs, it does encourage autistics to mentor autistics who are less mature or have higher support needs than themselves.
The strongest mentors/supports the second strongest, the second strongest do likewise for the third strongest. This will form a chain where autistics can support each other all the way through the entire spectrum.
How about other disabled/disadvantaged people/communities?
The same concept can be utilised for other communities. After the prototype is shown to work with the autistic community, it can be expanded for other communities. While they may use different logos, colours and names, they will all come under same movement of Disadvantaged Leaders who commit to change the world – something so cool that everyone will want to identify with.