ARC’s WeCAN Early Intervention Programme

Here’s another rather interesting programme brought to you by the Autism Resource Centre (ARC). Valerie took the opportunity to visit ARC’s recent Open House to find out more about the WeCAN Early Intervention Programme (WeCAN EIP). Continue reading to find out more!

Autism Resource Centre (ARC) held an Open House for their WeCAN Early Intervention Programme (EIP) on 17 July, Monday which aimed to provide the public with a more comprehensive knowledge of the programmes they were offering. The programme was developed to meet the needs of young children with autism and their families, and this objective seemed like a pressing need due to the high turnout of concerned parents eager to find out more about early intervention programs available for their children diagnosed with autism.

Internationally accredited by the Early Intervention Programme since 2008 (by the National Autistic Society, United Kingdom), WeCAN EIP was developed to provide early intervention for young children, aged 18 months to 6 years, diagnosed with autism. The programme’s developers strongly believe in equipping caregivers well in order to enable them to assist their children with autism achieve their full potential by being an active participant in their child’s intervention team. Therefore, parent participation is a critical component in ARC’s program where parents are highly involved in the individual educational planning of each child. This includes personal class observations and reflections, hands-on practice sessions in class, outings and parent communication nights.

The Early Intervention Programme is built on the following guiding principles:

  • Individualised – Skills that are functional and useful to each,
  • Meaningful to Child – What they look forward to when they come to school,
  • Spontaneous Use of Skills – For children to attain lesser support from adult in future,
  • Generalisation – Ability to use same skill in different settings,
  • Maintenance – To maintain current skill learnt and progressively build other skills upon it moving forward.

A walk around the school campus and taking a look at the various classrooms used for the different levels within the programme revealed various focus areas, ranging from work habits to self-regulation, functional communication to social skills, life skills to curriculum skills, with a gradual development of social relationship skills. This is to ensure effective early intervention where, after the diagnosis of the child, children are able to learn how to be with other people, learn how to learn, acquire crucial skills for pre-school, and eventually are prepared for Primary School.

Closing off the Open House with a Q&A session, it was clear from the issues raised that the most pressing concern facing parents of children with autism was the waiting list to enter Early Intervention Programs (EIPs) and Special Education (SPED) Schools. This is a matter of supply and demand where the number of students wanting to enroll, far outnumber the available teachers. Keeping in mind that in such programmes and schools, the teacher-student ratio per class tends to be much smaller than that of a mainstream school.

And this is where DPA’s work in raising awareness amongst Singaporeans comes into play. It is for reasons such as these, where students lose out on meaningful engagement and specialized curriculum, that we encourage more individuals who are looking to become teachers, develop their skills as a special needs educator.

Dyslexia Awareness Talks by DAS

This week, our Engagements Executive, Ms Valerie attended the Dyslexia Awareness Talk organised by the National Library Board, and Dyslexia Association of Singapore (DAS). This is her account of the session. Enjoy reading!

If you would like to find out more about dyslexia, feel free to reach out to us via email at .

National Library Board organised a Dyslexia Awareness Talk in conjunction with Dyslexia Association of Singapore on Friday 14 July 2017. It was a wonderful platform to raise awareness and help people gain a deeper understanding of dyslexia and the struggles that come along with having this condition.

At the session, Mr Marcus and Mr Steven of DAS shared that dyslexia is a language-based specific learning difficulty. People with dyslexia have difficulty in reading, spelling and/or writing. They may also have memory difficulties (for example, sequencing of the alphabet), and directional issues (for example, not being able to tell left from right). Dyslexia is a life-long condition that usually runs in the family. This difficulty is not due to a lack of intelligence, poor education or family background. It is an invisible learning difficulty, a hidden disability. Therefore, without better awareness and more accurate understanding of challenges persons with dyslexia face, they can easily be mistaken to be “lazy”, “stupid” or “unmotivated”.

There is no cure for dyslexia, but the  associated learning and reading challenges it presents can be overcome by skilled specialist teaching and the use of compensatory strategies. Coping with this learning difference can be a long journey, but with the right support, encouragement and understanding from those around them, persons with dyslexia can achieve just as much or more than anyone else in society.

Having dyslexia may cause difficulties in some simple everyday tasks, but it does not prevent anyone from achieving their goals. The key is not to be discouraged by the struggles, but to work on the strengths and pursue them to the fullest! Some famous people with dyslexia include the late Former Prime Minister of Singapore – Lee Kuan Yew, Movie Director – Steven Spielberg, Hollywood Actress – Keira Knightley, Hollywood Actor – Tom Cruise.

After attending this talk, we recognised even more the need to continually raise and increase awareness that disability, whether invisible or not, is only one characteristic of a person, People with disabilities do not need pity or sympathy. Instead, they benefit from greater understanding, accommodation and support in order to realise their potential and have the same opportunities as everyone else in society.  Equal opportunities and recognition of rights to education and employment are necessary to realise an inclusive Singapore.

Internship@DPA, Bukit Panjang Government High

During the first week of June, DPA held its first ever work attachment programme for secondary school students. 4 students from Bukit Panjang Government High School joined DPA for 5 days and obtained various kinds of new experiences. They came up with a Student Policy Proposal Guideline, Accessible Route Map to DPA’s office from the nearest Boon Lay MRT station and helped in the pilot phase of the Advocacy Training Programme held by DPA.

Here are their thoughts, in their own words.

On the first day, we stepped into the office with feelings of uncertainty. We did not know what to expect and what was expected of us. Ms Asha, the training consultant of DPA, was the person in-charge of the programme. To start off the whole programme, we had an interesting welcome session where we did a few activities to introduce ourselves and to get to know more about DPA. We also went through the Disability Awareness Talk Series (DATS) in order to build our foundation of knowledge of people with disabilities (PWDs) and what the organisation does.

Afterwards, we were given a few projects and every one of us had to lead one project. Ms Asha emphasised on the importance of effective communication and teamwork. Initially, we never really understood why these factors were important for project management, but as the days go by, we grew to understand how these factors would greatly affect the results/quality of the final product. When the communication amongst the team is poor, it affects everyone’s attitude and productivity, ultimately resulting in the possibility of being unable to meet the project’s’ deadlines or producing low-quality work.

Ms Asha also emphasised on the importance of aligning whatever we do to the mission of DPA; Vox Nostra – being the voice of persons with disabilities, working with them to achieve full participation and equal status in the society through independent living. By being attached to DPA, whatever we do, in a sense, is what DPA is doing and as representatives of DPA, we should not be doing things that are not focused or related to the mission of DPA. We have learnt that while doing projects of any sorts, we should always set the tone, the main message we want to convey and work towards that. This allows us to not deviate from our original goal and eventually being able to produce work that is of good quality.

We also attended an Inclusion Ambassador Training session together with three people with disabilities. This session was the first time we interacted with people with different types of disabilities and it was an enriching and eye-opening experience for us as we listened to them share with us their personal experience. We learnt how to interact with the Visually Impaired (VI), people with physical disabilities and people with autism spectrum disorder.

Something that struck us the most were some remarks from the people with disabilities. While filming a video for one of our projects, the lady with physical disability who was helping us mentioned that sometimes, even when people see her struggle with wheeling up the ramp, they never offer help or even move out of the way. Another instance was when the lady with visual impairment mentioned how she wears sunglasses to “look blind” since some people think that she was pretending to be blind. This so that she can get help more easily. These remarks got us thinking.

Why is the society nowadays so cold-hearted and selfish? Why do people simply turn a blind eye towards others in need of help? Why do people judge whether a person needs help or not by how “in need” they look? Why are people so skeptical towards giving others a helping hand?

It is not difficult to lend a helping hand. There are only two simple steps you need take to assist them effectively. First of all, approach them in a friendly manner and ask them if they need any help. If so, do ask what you need to do to help them. Do not assume the type of help they need.

We hope, that we can do something to change the general public’s attitude towards people with disabilities. We hope, that the society can move towards inclusiveness, towards less judgements and more acceptance. We hope, that one day Singapore, or even the world, can allow full integration of people with disabilities into the society and that everyone can live their lives without feeling ostracized or looked down upon.

The 5 days of attachment programme have been fruitful and enriching and definitely an experience we will all hold close to our hearts. Thank you, DPA, for giving us such a wonderful time!

Here’s a vlog done by the students on what they learnt at DPA.

Thé Sound of Silence

In today’s world where noise and chaos infiltrate our daily senses, a few staff from DPA decided to enjoy the sound of silence at Hush@Community – A social movement to bring the worlds of the hearing and the deaf together in a Silent TeaBar. Doubling up as a meditative space over a silent tea ritual conducted by the lovingly-trained TeaRistas, the movement also aimed to help busy people slow down and embrace silence over a cuppa.

In the 3rd installation of Hush@Community held on the 3rd of June 2017, “Gratitude” was the theme. Participants were led into a room where the ambiance was calm and silent. Each group was introduced to their respective TeaRistas from the Deaf community, who engaged us in a session of signing. We learnt to sign frequently-used greetings to one another, and shared a few good laughs around the table when we were challenged by the complexities of signing. We also learnt that body language and facial expressions are especially important in communicating emotions in the absence of verbal cues.

The TeaRitual began with participants being invited to take in the scents of various types of tea leaves. Before returning to our seats, we each picked out a card that had words written by past participants on it. Through an animated presentation, the TeaRistas gave instructions on what to do once the ritual starts.

Tea was served, and our time of silent reflection on various aspects of our lives began – Recall a person you are grateful for. How has this person affected you? What do you like to say to this person? Recall a challenge. What happened? What are two reasons to be grateful for, now? Think of two reasons to be grateful of yourself. What are they? The zen and the calm along with the tough questions made for a more simulated mind, but can you hush your mind in the silence?

WhatsApp Image 2017-06-03 at 15.21.25

After a quiet moment of reflection and deep breaths, we were free to express ourselves on a blank piece of paper using the materials provided on the table – Flowers, leaves, sticks and tea ink. Similar to the card that we picked out at the beginning of the session, we also wrote a nugget of our experience on a card for the next person attending the session.

Some experienced their senses being heightened when their hearing was limited, others experienced a blur of events and got lost in what is going on. Some say peace is the friend we find in silence, others say they have never heard silence quite this loudly. Some found it calming, others found it discomforting.

But in this silence, we understood the notion of how the Deaf experience their world.

While many of us appreciated the silence and calm offered in the space with the tea ritual, it also raised the question – If silence was forever, would you be able to handle it?

How Soldiers Saved The Day From A Greek Tragedy

Much like the Greek mythology of Melpomene (Tragedy), and Thalia (Comedy), our day spent at the Army Open House was one that saw us the tragedy of mankind, as well as the fortune of kindness.


Courtesy of IAC Publishing Labs

The day started off on the ugly side of Singapore. One that in the past, I’ve always gone above and beyond to make excuses for. People riding their motorbikes on the pavement? That’s just a Singaporean quirk. Cyclists blocking an entire street lane when there’s a perfectly good cycling path alongside? Oh, it’s no big deal. Cars blocking the path of a wailing ambulance? Maybe no one’s letting them change lanes.

But this day, I couldn’t make excuses anymore.

On this rather innocuous morning, much like any other, our members from the Disabled People’s Association (DPA Singapore) met at Bugis MRT Station so that their wheelchair accessible transport could take them to the Army Open House 2017.

Having to wait for the lift to descend so that our final member, David, could get in, and go up to the street level, I’m making small talk, biding the time. The lift descends, misses our level (probably cause it’s full).

“It’s fine, we’ll get it on the way up” I think to myself. The lift ascends, misses our level once again. This happens twice. We continue waiting. My small talk gets smaller, as the frustration in my mind weighs heavier. The lift finally opens its doors at our floor.

It’s packed. I hold onto the button, waiting for a few people to step out and make way. No one moves. Instead, I get back blank stares.

“Um, I’ll need some of you to take the escalators so that we can get in please”. Uncomfortable shifting, but no one leaves. Blank stares shift downward uneasily.

“Can some of you please take the escalators so at least this man can get in?”. A couple of people leave, the rest press themselves against the lift walls, but still there isn’t enough space for a motorised wheelchair to enter. I’m fuming at this point.


“Can some of take the escalators please? They’re right beside the lift.”

One bright young lady quips from the back, “He’s got enough space to squeeze in.” I stare at her, marvelling at her incredible apathy.


I turn to David and tell him to,”Go on ahead”. He hesitates because he might roll over their shoes. I prompt him “Go ahead David, they said it’s fine”, and he goes ahead. He’s barely able to fit in, with the shutting doors scraping the back of his wheels. I run up to the next level and guide him out.

The incident stays with me throughout the day. I replay the scene over and over in my mind.

But as the day progressed, and I was mentally preparing myself for more obtuse behaviour, something interesting happened.

We arrive at the F1 Pit Building where the Army Open House was taking place. We were immediately approached by a group of 5 NS men and women, who introduced themselves as our guides. And throughout the day, their kindness slowly erased the unpleasantness of the morning.

Anytime we, or our members required assistance, they would immediately get help. When it got too hot, cold drinks would magically appear before anyone said anything.  When the sun beat down on us, they gave us goodie bags and umbrellas. The day went like clockwork.

When questions arose, the interest in learning and concern was palpable. Body language is a mighty thing, and having soldiers who had spent their entire career in the army, not having much of an opportunity to interact with people from the disabled community, lean in and genuinely wanting to know how our members spent their day was heartening.


There was no hesitance when something needed to be done. It just… was done. They asked questions when they weren’t sure, and seemed genuinely interested in knowing more about our members. But most importantly, they knew that should any one of them need help getting something done, there would be three more of his buddies readily alongside him.Having come from the military myself, this was a rather defining moment, one which made me feel rather proud of my brothers in arms – of the proactivity, and the initiative. Of how they weren’t afraid to step forth and offer help just because they might make mistakes.

It brought to mind a line from the SAF Officer’s Creed, “I lead my men by example”.

And that was exactly what this was. Each and every soldier that day led by example. And in that moment, I realised that while the actions of the Selfish Lift People did have weight in how I saw us as a society, so did these group of men and women in green.

It was a day of mixed emotions. But I think at the end of it, we all went home a little calmer, knowing that maybe we can all rest a little easy, knowing our society was being watched over by people who cared about each and every one of us, disabled or not.


DPA Members & SAF Personnel at Army Open House 2017

Life After Death

As they say, “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes”. However, the bigger issue for many of us would be ensuring that our dependents are well cared for after our passing.

This was the crux of the presentation organised by Clifford Law on 5th of May. DPA’s President, Mr Nicholas Aw, who led the session on Estate Planning saw a turnout of about 250 parents and caretakers who were interested in learning more about caring for, and ensuring adequate financial support for their children with special needs upon their passing.

Nicholas took parents through the variety of options available in Singapore, as well as answered questions about various extenuating circumstances.

Below are some common questions that were raised during the session:

  1. When certifying an individual’s mental capacity, what type of doctor should the parents bring their child to?

A family GP would be best as they are most familiar with the child. However, parents are advised to use their discretion when selecting a doctor to certify their child.

  1. How and when does the Appropriate Adult Scheme (AAS) come into effect?

When a person certified as having a psychosocial and intellectual disability commits a crime, the arresting police officer will contact the AAS in order to have a representative accompany the arrested individual through their interrogation. However, parents should note that the police will only be prompted to contact the AAS if they realise that the person they have arrested has a psychosocial and intellectual disability.

  1. How does a person alert the police that they are under the AAS?

It is generally left up to the arresting officer’s discretion. Additionally, AAS does provide an identifying card to the individual with a psychosocial and intellectual disability. This card can be shown to the officer, or it might be discovered by an inspecting officer when the individual surrenders his personal belongings.


You can download a copy of the slides used in the presentation here: ESTATE PLANNING SLIDES 

Please note that all information provided in the slides are personal opinions and should not be held as fact. We make no representations as to accuracy, completeness, correctness, suitability, or validity of any information and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses injuries, or damages arising from its display or use. All information is provided on an as-is basis. It is the reader’s responsibility to verify their own facts.

If you have any questions on estate planning, or the Appropriate Adult Scheme (AAS), please get in touch with us by emailing


Champions of Create4Good 2017!

In the midst of the hustle and bustle of the city, a group of eager young entrepreneurs from Singapore University of Technology & Design (SUTD), and Singapore Management University (SMU) were preparing for a rather important time of their lives.

The Create4Good Challenge is a five-year social initiative by the late Mr Kwek Leng Joo. Mr Kwek was the Deputy Chairman of City Development Limited (CDL), and was a philanthropist as well as a supporter of youth and social development. The Create4Good initiative was a sweet marriage between his two passions, and encouraged undergraduates from Singapore University of Technology & Design (SUTD), and Singapore Management University (SMU) to work together to develop novel solutions for social good. 2017 saw Create4Good’s second anniversary and promised to raise the bar from the year before. The themes of this year’s challenge were Productivity, Environmental Sustainability, and Social Assistance.

As I approached Level 6 of the SMU Administration Building, the tension was palpable. The lift doors opened to reveal a throng of young entrepreneurs with intriguing concepts and prototypes. I made my way into the auditorium and prepared for the presentations. This would be one of my maiden experiences as a representative of DPA, and it was truly heartening to see so many young entrepreneurs dedicating their time and efforts in order to make Singapore that little bit more inclusive.

Having been given only 10 minutes for their presentations, each of the teams would be hard pressed to bring forth interesting aspects of their innovation and convince the judges why they deserved to win the grand prize – a whopping $50,000 – that will help to bring their ideas from a prototype to a self-sustaining initiative.

After 2 hours, which went by in a blur of incredible ideas, the room was buzzing as the judges deliberated the results. Then came the announcement of the winners.

Here, we now bring to you Team Mobearlize and EMMA! The reigning champions of the Create4Good 2017 Challenge!


The Mobearlize team and ‘EMMA’, their prototype.

DPA is especially proud of this moment as Team Mobearlize was had attended DPA’s Disability Awareness Talk Series (DATS) and Interaction Session with our Inclusion Ambassadors on 25 November 2016. DPA provided guidance to the team on how to use the wheelchair. During this process, the Mobearlize team understood potential problems that wheelchair users might face and began fine-tuning the EMMA prototype.

Mobearlize Team at DPA.jpg

Team Mobearlize with DPA’s Inclusion Ambassadors in 2016.

Team Mobearlize and ‘EMMA’ – A retrofitted motorized wheelchair unit that is affordable & convenient for urban environments, and can attach onto any common wheelchair.


Presenting EMMA.

The motorized unit is attached onto the front of the wheelchair to produce a 3-wheel configuration. It is controlled through a scooter-like handling and has device specifications which are comparable to current motorized solutions in terms of range and speed.

EMMA is:

  • Adaptable – Able to attach on common wheelchair designs
  • Affordable – Around half the price of other motorized options
  • Compact – No increase in floor area of the wheelchair
  • Lightweight – Total weight <8kg
  • Modular – Easy to stow for transport or storage

You can find out more information on Emma and the team on their kickstarter page here.

Or you can follow Team Mobearlize on these channels: Facebook & Instagram

Congratulations to Team Mobearlize from all of us here at Disabled People’s Association Singapore! Here’s to your continued work in empowering individuals through mobility solutions!

If you would like to be in touch with Team Mobearlize, you can email them here.

By Sumita Kunashakaran

About the author: Sumita is DPA’s new Advocacy Executive. Her background in International Relations, and interest in marginalised communities in Singapore, brought her to the Disabled People’s Association in order to understand how the organisation can further engage the disabled community in Singapore by making policies more inclusive, and individuals’ lives more empowered. She believes that a lot more can, and needs to, be done in Singapore so that we are able to be a thought-leader in the ASEAN region and beyond.

CO-HACK 2017

In March, Disabled People’s Association (DPA) took part in CO-HACK 2017, the first ever community service themed hackathon organised by Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD). A hackathon is a competition where, in a very short time span, participants are challenged to produce prototypes that can address problems posed by the organisers. CO-HACK 2017 focussed on persons with wisabilities, seeking to improve their accessibility to transportation, information, education and also their leisure life. This event brought together a total of 32 like-minded individuals with diverse skill sets and 7 teams were formed. With a time constraint of 48 hours, the teams rapidly worked through intensive prototyping, finally producing interesting, proof-of-concept prototypes that can potentially help make Singapore a more inclusive society.

DPA Consultant, Asha Karen, assisted the process by conducting Disability Awareness Talks* and facilitating discussion and feedback. DPA Executive Director, Dr Marissa Medjeral-Mills, sat on the judging panel.

DPA wanted to share with you some of the ideas and prototypes that the students came up with. With a bit of luck these ideas will go into further development and be available to the community of persons with disabilities and older persons in Singapore.



Team StepWise:

Having consulted people who use walking sticks, this team realised that descending the stairs is an intimidating challenge due to the need to stretch forward excessively. Stepwise is a walking stick that extends or retracts with the press of a button and was designed with the intention of enabling persons with a mobility disability to descend stairs in a less risky way.

For more info, email




Team Vibeats:

Vibeats is a fun game designed for the visually impaired with inspiration from Jubeat. The game relies on their reaction to catch and feel the beats from the vibrating buttons and could be used to train their reaction time. For more info, email



Team iRead:

iRead is an assistive technology wearable which aims to empower amputees & people born with only one arm by providing them the ease to be able to hold and read a book anywhere, especially where there is no surface for them to place the book on. For more info, email




Team Telolet:

Without the aid of bystanders, the simple task of flagging a bus becomes an arduous task for the visually impaired. Telolet is a system designed to be installed at bus stops to empower people with visual impairment to flag their buses independently. This would make bus transport more inclusive.

For more info, email



Team WTS:

WTS – The Wheelchair Dampening System is a solution borne out of the need to control the speed of a mechanical wheelchair’s descent down a slope. It is a modular attachment that can be fitted to any wheelchair and works by allowing users to set the speed of rotation of the wheelchair wheels via use of either an electrical Dynamo or mechanical gears. It eases the physical burden on wheelchair users such that they need not rely on physical strength to slow the rotation of the wheels. Such innovations would make life easier for wheelchair users and improve their accessibility and safety.

For more info, email


*Disability Awareness Talks (DATS): DPA runs this talk series, the aim of which is to spread awareness about disability and teach participants how to be inclusive in their language and behaviour. DATS is also relevant for organisations looking to make their policies and programmes more inclusive. DATS covers a broad range of topics from understanding the different types of disabilities to how to make your existing services more accessible to persons with disabilities. DATS is run by an experienced trainer either at DPA’s office or at the organisation’s office. For more information, please contact us at 67911134.

Flag Day with friends

On Friday 24th March, my friend Trisha and I went to volunteer at the DPA (Disabled People’s Association) to help deliver supplies such as tins, water, tables, chairs for the Flag Day the next day. We first got a quick introduction to everyone at the office and then had a very interesting briefing from Asha about people with disabilities. Asha is a consultant who gives talks on disability awareness in schools, colleges and companies. It was interesting to hear how to “act” around someone with a disability and the different ways you can offer help and guidance. As we were “buddying up” with R (who is visually impaired) the next day, Asha made sure we would know what to do. She played a couple of games with us to simulate what it would be like if we had lost one of our senses. For example, she gave Trisha a blindfold and handed her a box of coins. Her task was to try and guess the Singaporean coins compared to the rest.  She also had us practise how to guide someone who is visually impaired. For example, being on the opposite side from the cane and offering an elbow rather than taking theirs. Or when showing them a seat, lead them to the chair and let them feel it before sitting down. She told us how, in the past, one volunteer had grabbed the cane and pushed the visually impaired person into the chair!

After the briefing, we had lunch and then helped to pack up the last remaining boxes before taking them downstairs to be loaded onto the van. There were three stops, HWA (Handicaps Welfare Association), Bedok and New Town Primary School. When we got to HWA I was immediately surprised by what greeted us. The building was extremely small as I had expected it to be more modern and larger. However the equipment inside looked nice and new. We picked up tables and chairs to take to the locations where the flag sellers would collect the tins. We also picked up a few boards so that the flag sellers using wheelchairs could put the board on the wheelchair and put a couple of tins on top. At Bedok, we visited the VSA (Very Special Arts) office which is very small and slightly cramped. However their acts of kindness and patience is what matters most. It was interesting to see the various locations and meet new people who are also helping those who don’t get the attention they need because they are “different”.

The next day was Flag Day itself. Trisha and I were “buddying up” with the lovely R who is visually impaired but it doesn’t stop her from being independent. She had travelled on her own from home and she was also using her phone to contact her husband. I found this very interesting because to me, a phone is so simple to use. I noticed that when she wanted to call someone she would use the vibrations coming from her phone screen in order to know what to press and who the person was.

We stationed ourselves at Bishan where we managed to collect quite a bit of money. It was touching to see a few people dropping in $10s, $5s and $2s. Even the small change that they had in their pockets as it all adds up. I loved seeing the younger children asking their parents for their own money to give to R. However there was one moment that came as a shock to me. There was one mother and her two young sons who donated their own money. However I noticed the mother stopping one of the sons and took some of the change away from the tin. It surprised me as it was the choice of the son using his own money for an extremely good cause. However, I noticed one of the Giant (supermarket) employees pull out his wallet and count how much money he had. From what I could see I think he was debating whether to put money or not. Nonetheless he still gave money that will be put to good use. A small act of kindness that will go a long way.

I hope to volunteer for the next Flag Day and hopefully get other learners from my school to do the same. It was a great opportunity for experience as in the future I want to speak on behalf of those who experience discrimination. People with disabilities suffer from discrimination and their voice needs to be heard.

Catherine E (aged 16 years) 

About the Writer: Catherine has recently been diagnosed as having a Specific Language Impairment with severe expressive language disorder and an overall mild language disorder: Language disorders can make it difficult for people to understand what others are saying to them and to formulate appropriate responses. In the educational setting, students with such disorders may miss important points in lectures, misunderstand what the teacher is saying and misinterpret assignments and test questions. Also affected is their ability to retrieve ideas and vocabulary and express their thoughts in a clear manner.

My Fear is to be Average

(A Review of In Search of Purpose Talk #14: “The Advantage of Being Disadvantaged”.)

Ad-man Adrian Tan has reached the top of his game in spite of – he might say because of – his ADHD, Dyslexia, OCD and a “tinge of Asperger’s”. So what makes him tick?

On 30 March 2017, I attended a talk by husband and wife team, Adrian Tan and Tan Shook Wah. Adrian is the founder of Ad Planet, Singapore’s largest independent advertising group, which has collected 400 creative awards, including honours at the prestigious Clio Awards and Cannes Lions. Much of its success is credited to Adrian’s ability to “think out of the box” and to defy conventions. Shook Wah is the founder of the Dare to Dream Scholarship, which focuses on helping special needs students with limited financial resources. It is anchored on the belief that education should be inclusive, and that all persons should have the opportunity to learn and realise their potential.

The evening was hosted by Ms Denise Phua, Mayor of Central Singapore District. In January 2015, Central Singapore Community Development Council (CDC) launched the In Search of Purpose Talk Series (ISOP), a TED-style inspirational talk series that seeks to help adults and youth discover their bigger role in society. Speakers, either local or overseas, are invited to share their personal stories and experiences about various topics in order to encourage the audience members to give back and be part of a more caring community in Singapore.

In her introduction, Ms Phua quoted Rick Warren (author of “The Purpose Driven Life”), who once wrote that we can live life at one of three different levels:  Survival, Success or Significance. Living a life of Significance means living “beyond oneself”.

Pastor Warren has written, “Significance in life doesn’t come from status, because you can always find somebody who’s got more than you. It doesn’t come from sex. It doesn’t come from salary. It comes from serving.”

Adrian Tan then took the stage and it was interesting to note that, although an attractive figure, he did not employ a particularly dynamic delivery style. It was the content of what he said that made the impact.

He pointed out that Singapore has no resources yet has produced many multi millionaires. He described Singapore as “the Monte Carlo of the East”.  As in many 1st world countries there is a large gap between rich and poor and the Income Divide needs to be narrowed.  He reiterated the question at the heart of ISOP talks: “What do we do with what we have?”

My impression was that the couple’s Christian faith informed both their professional and personal lives. “Belief Creates Possibilities”, the tagline of their award-winning ad company, is based on the bible text “Nothing is Impossible with God”.

“There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception” (Aldous Huxley)

Adrian pointed out that the advertising business is all about perception.  He went on to challenge the accepted view of what is “normal” and what is “not normal”.  He redefined “normal” as “ordinary” but by the end of the evening it was clear that he regarded “normal” as rather dull. It was tempting to agree with him.

He described his various “extraordinary” conditions and, in redefining them, appeared to give them credit for much of his success. He did concede however, that disadvantages are not “immediately advantages” and that he had to learn compensatory skills.

  • People with ADHD have a high level of energy. They are physically restless but also mentally nimble and flexible. Children with ADHD can be unfairly labelled at school as “worthless”, “bad”, “lazy”, “dumb”. Adrian quoted Vikram Khanna, an editor of the Business Times and his headline “The present can change the past”: The past does not define your future. Adrian averred that the converse belief can be a danger in the education system and that we must “always believe in everybody”.
  • People with dyslexia are lateral thinkers. They are visual thinkers. Steven Spielberg, film director, was diagnosed with dyslexia at the age of 60. He said, “It was the last puzzle part in a tremendous mystery that I’ve kept to myself all these years.” One teacher wrote of a student, “He is too stupid to learn”. That student was Thomas Edison. Interestingly, Ms Phua pointed out that Edison’s mother kept the letter from him and it was discovered years later.

“The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education.” (Albert Einstein)

Albert Einstein, the famous mathematician and physicist, had a learning disability and did not speak until he was three years old. He found maths and writing difficult at school but went on to become one of the best known scientists of all time winning the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1921.

One of the most important staff members in an advertising company is the Creative Director. When a vacancy arises Adrian stipulates that the person who fills the post does not have a university degree as he wants someone who breaks the rules and does not follow the crowd. In the Q&A session, a member of the audience (a teacher by profession) asked the speakers what advice they would give to teachers, how they would like teachers to treat students with special needs. Adrian reiterated that (negative) labelling is a very big issue as it makes a person lose his/her confidence. “Kiasu-ism” pervades Singapore society – including education. People are scared to lose, so they do things that are safe, an attitude that militates against innovation and creativity.

  • People with OCD chase perfection and do not compromise that goal. They have an obsessive compulsion to conquer the new world, to set new limits and a new order. Adrian does not see OCD as a disorder and would rather the condition be termed Obsessive Compulsive Determination. He sees a world in disruption and believes that you must “disrupt or be disrupted”.

“If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.”

(Jack Welch, Chairman & CEO of General Electric, 1981-2001)

Adrian did not talk much about his “tinge of Asperger’s” (a term not clinically recognised after DSM V but which is still used by many people as it is more familiar and distinctive). He alluded to the fact that he finds social gatherings difficult and was determined to be successful in advertising without spending a lot of his free time entertaining clients. In fact, his priority is his family and he was proud that he managed to have dinner with his two sons 90% of the time during their formative years (0-21 years).

Tan Shook Wah then took the stage and described recent Ad Planet campaigns

  • In 2014, as part of Singapore Press Holdings’ “See the Big Picture” campaign, Ad Planet brought Stephen Wiltshire to Singapore. Stephen has savant syndrome and was described by Sook Wah as “a highly talented silent communicator”. He surveyed the civic district from a helicopter for half an hour or so then spent a few days sketching it from memory
  • In 2016, Singapore and Japan celebrated SJ50, 50 years of Singapore/Japan Diplomatic relations. Ad Planet presented
    • “A Stroke of Genius”, featuring Shoho Kanazawa, an acclaimed calligrapher who has Down Syndrome; and
    • “The Sound of Silence”, with classical pianist Azariah Tan, who is profoundly deaf
    • “Perception”, a video by celebrity photographer, N D Chow, features people with various special needs. Caregivers were very moved to see their charges in a different light and being presented in such a confident and positive way. Members of the production team and N D Chow himself had to broaden their skill set when dealing with people with special needs:

“We hope for a world that looks beyond disabilities, a world where disabilities are not perceived as no abilities. A world that is kinder. A world that is free of bias… “Perception” hopes for such a world.”

SJ50 Shoho Kanazawa, “A Stroke of Genius” –

SJ50 Azariah Tan, “The Sound of Silence” –

“Perception”, a video by N D Chow –

One audience member pointed out that many special needs people do not have the spectacular talents demonstrated in the course of the presentation. Shook Wah conceded that Adrian was privileged to be born to parents who had the means to support him. In 2013, in conjunction with La Salle College of the Arts, she founded the “Dare to Dream” scholarship for people who need financial help for their educational fees. One recipient, Isabelle Lim, a talented photographer, was in the audience. Isabelle has Nager Syndrome.

It was truly an evening celebrating the Extraordinary. Perhaps the unsung heroes of the evening (though mentioned in passing) are the parents who support their extraordinary children through the years and through all their challenges. On the “Perception” video, Isabelle Lim’s mother, Jacqueline, said and signed this:

“It’s always good to look at the bright side.

We try to stay positive.

Our perception is that we can still do it, despite our challenges.

Yes we can.

Cry but also laugh….”

Jan Evans

DPA Volunteer