Every day, countless individuals around the world embark on their journey home via public transportation, a routine task for many. However, for people with autism and their dedicated caregivers, this seemingly simple trip can be a complex and emotionally charged experience. In this article, we will explore the challenges faced by individuals with autism and their caregivers when using public transport in Singapore and discuss how society can offer support to make this journey more manageable.
The Inner World of Autism
The journey begins with an understanding of the inner world of individuals with autism. Take Cheryl, a 20-year-old person with autism, for example. For her, even entering a train station can feel like entering an unknown dungeon. Autism often brings a need for predictability and discomfort with change. The daily two-hour train ride between her Day Activity Centre (DAC) and home presents a significant challenge.
Sensory Overload and Social Stares
Inside the train station, Cheryl’s anxiety escalates. The crowded environment can lead to sensory overload, making her feel overwhelmed. To regulate herself, Cheryl may make sounds and rock her body, but this sometimes attracts hostile stares from strangers and even verbal scolding. It’s essential to remember that these actions are not intentional but rather coping mechanisms for her. Cheryl just wants to go home, like everyone else.
Now, let’s shift our perspective to the caregivers, like Esther, who accompanies her 14-year-old son, Sean, with autism. Esther’s mind is always racing with doubts: What could trigger Sean? What might trigger the public? She must be constantly alert and plan ahead for any unexpected challenges that may arise during the journey.
Esther has taught Sean to listen to the announcements made at MRT stations, which can make the journey more manageable for him. However, she wishes that bus systems would also announce approaching stops to enhance accessibility for individuals with autism.
One critical aspect for caregivers is equipping their loved ones with the skills to travel independently. This lifelong learning and guidance are essential to helping individuals with autism achieve a level of independence that suits their abilities.
Tips for Supporting Individuals with Autism and Caregivers
In interviews conducted for this article, caregivers and individuals with autism shared their experiences with other commuters who reacted insensitively. To foster a more inclusive and empathetic society, here are some tips for supporting fellow commuters and caregivers on public transportation:
Be empathetic: Recognise that individuals with autism may display behaviours or actions that are beyond their control. Show understanding and patience.
Avoid judgment: Refrain from making unhelpful comments or taking photos. Instead, offer assistance or a kind gesture if needed.
Look for “May I Have A Seat Please” cards: Be observant and considerate of passengers who may require a seat due to invisible medical conditions or disabilities.
Supporting organisations in Singapore
Fortunately, Singapore has various support organisations dedicated to improving the public transportation experience for individuals with autism and their caregivers. These organisations provide resources, assistance, and guidance to help them navigate the challenges they may encounter.
The journey home on public transportation for individuals with autism and their caregivers is a daily challenge filled with unique hurdles. By fostering a more understanding and compassionate society and implementing accessible measures, we can transform public transport into an inclusive space for all. Remember, every individual, regardless of their abilities, deserves a safe and comfortable journey back home. Together, we can make this possible for everyone in Singapore.
At SG Assist and CareConnect, we believe that every act of kindness counts. Whether you’re a caregiver in need of support or a volunteer looking to make a difference, we’re here for you. Visit SG Assist and CareConnect’s website to learn more about our services, download the SG Assist app or sign up as a volunteer for our Caregiver Resource Centre, and together, let’s create a community of care and support. Don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter here for updates on how you can help.
Story was adapted from Mothership, https://mothership.sg/2022/11/autism-perspective-public-transport/