Building Familiarity through Food
SOCIAL INTEGRATION PROJECT
Empowering Persons With Autism
Feed 52 is a project to empower people with autism (PWAs) by equipping them with culinary skills, allowing them to provide for the community. The food cooked will be given to the underprivileged, allowing PWAs to learn valuable skills, interact and grow together with society.
Social isolation is a pertinent problem that Persons With Autism (“PWAs”) experience in society.
This issue is no secret, and many solutions to facilitate social integration are correspondingly present today—from institutions training PWAs to be career-ready by equipping them with employable skills, to multiple social enterprises taking on high numbers of special needs workers, to even the various programmes and schemes implemented by the Singapore government to increase employment opportunities for PWAs.
Yet, over the years we also observe that both educators in institutions for PWAs and entrepreneurs in social enterprises who actively try to integrate PWAs into society by providing employment, are facing burnout. This led us to question how successful and sustainable we have been in our efforts to create an inclusive society.
PWAs are often stuck in a vicious cycle of social exclusion. This creates less opportunities that a PWA has, negatively impacting their daily life.
A lack of opportunity also perpetuates a cycle of social isolation, a lack of skills and the inability to contribute meaningfully to society. The consequence of social isolation is an increased mental strain on both the individual as well as the caretaker.
Our insights led us to identify two key problem statements:
1. Taking a holistic approach to skill acquisition is necessary to facilitate social integration for PWAs—including those looking at obtaining and maintaining a job, or those looking to improve their self-sufficiency and quality of life.
Simply having the right technical skills may not mean that businesses would want to employ PWAs over neurotypical individuals. Job training and placement agencies feedback that potential employers are inclined to focus on what persons on the spectrum cannot do, instead of their strengths. Some employers are also resistant to redesign jobs. Persons on the spectrum also report that their conditions continue to be stigmatised in society and workplaces: disclosure of their autism condition can often result in fewer callbacks for interviews. Since work options are limited, underemployment continues to be an issue even for cognitively able adults on the spectrum who have low support needs.
2. Public perception of PWAs affects how people treat the PWAs they encounter.
However, having general awareness of an autistic individual’s condition may not necessarily aid in a compassionate and reasonable perception of them to facilitate social integration. At times, awareness can even lead to an opposite outcome. For example, in a series ‘Growing Up with Autism’ portrayed by Straits Time, we see how a girl growing up with autism still struggles to navigate ‘weird stares from the public’ as she displays certain actions that are considered ‘abnormal’. From expressing love in a playful manner with her domestic helper that may seem a little rough, to sitting in public impolitely, this in turn causes an opposite perception towards her, despite being aware that she is an individual with autism.
Hence, driven by the vision of a ‘new society’ with less of a divide between the community and PWAs, we hypothesise to facilitate social integration for PWAs via a two-fold approach:
Technological assistance can facilitate a holistic education and make skill acquisition more accessible for PWAs
Personal familiarity with PWAs can facilitate understanding and social integration
Through innovative engagement methods and technology, the learning process can be made more holistic for PWAs across the spectrum. Thus, providing more opportunities for personal development and skill acquisition.
With familiarity, an enriched relationship is present, distinct from merely being aware of their needs. As Dr. Stephen Shore, an autistic self-advocate and a renowned professor, once said, “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” There is great diversity within the community, each individual having their own sets of liking, preferences, and needs. Would perception change, once someone becomes a friend, and not merely a ‘Person With Autism’?
Feed 52 x SAAC
We developed a Proof-of-Concept for the first hypothesis through a six-month pilot project with Saint Andrew’s Autism Centre (“SAAC”). The purpose of doing so was to establish the contextual application of Feed 52 within SAAC, while retaining the applicability and consistency of Feed 52’s broader hypothesis. To read more about our Proof-of-Concept report for our Feed 52 x SAAC collaboration, click here.