Tag Archive | "Autism"

And the winner of the writing competition is…

And the winner of the writing competition is…

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I don’t know how the Booker Prize and Nobel Prize judging panel do it, but picking a winner is hard stuff.

By Belmont Lay

THIS year, something farcical will happen within the literary world again.

Out of thousands of books published, only one will net the Booker Prize and another will bag the Nobel Prize in Literature.

And get a load of this: At last count, in 2007, more than 50,000 works of fiction are published in the United States alone.

God knows how many more are inked throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, Middle East, prisoner-island Australia and Lord of the Rings film set, New Zealand.

So it is fairly obvious that with so many books lying around, not all will be read by the five judges on the Booker Prize’s panel or the 18-member committee at the uber-prestigious royal Swedish Academy who bestows the Nobel on only the worthy.

Even if they were all read, how does any one judge chalk against cheese against verisimilitude against literary merit?

Yet, here I am, reduced to scratching my head and rubbing my chin incessantly trying to judge between two submissions, where the winner shall be awarded the $60 grand prize for New Nation’s first-ever writing competition.

It is an unenviable task.

Conform or be whitewashed, by Syafiqah Omar is about how the politics behind graffiti is undermined and elevated at the same time.

It puts authorities in a classic Catch-22 situation: Outlawing it through hard or soft sanctions will only bring to bear the implicit message of the graffiti.

Inaction in dealing with it is to evoke the belief of silent complicity.

Therefore, I like graffiti, especially in Singapore, because it makes the authorities look stupid. I still don’t understand why the authorities cannot just allow graffiti, in this case regarding the Palestinian cause, but distance themselves from that particular political or social message the graffiti champions?

Maybe, that’s another article in its own right.

However, here’s a red flag alert: I have read extensively before about Kalle Lasn and his Adbusters campaign and Naomi Klein’s sociological anti-corporatism spiel, No Logo.

Without a doubt, I appreciate subversion.

Like “hell on earth” is by a 23-year-old Singaporean male who has Asperger’s Syndrome and is writing under the pseudonymous Aaron Kok.

The last time I read anything about Asperger’s Syndrome was in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, a work of fiction by Mark Haddon.

It was hilarious in a tragic, twisted way. And of course, not very real, I must add, in case my detractors think I am into mocking disabilities.

The story’s protagonist, who has AS, introduces the reader to his emotionally dissociated mind and explores his behavioural difficulties.

But based on your effort, Aaron, you deserve to win. You’ve made a poignant point. In a non-fiction kind of way.

Your piece started a lenghty discussion that even had MP Denise Phua chipping in.

And here’s the irony: The Curious Incident was longlisted for the Booker Prize in 2003. That’s why I heard about it in the first place.

A note from Terence: Either writer could easily have walked away with the $60 cash prize. Syafiqah’s entry on graffiti art censorship is fresh, insightful, and pleasant to read. We are all well aware of the government’s touchy sentiments regarding sex and politics, but to hear from graffiti artists themselves about being watched by ISD agents really drives home the point. A decent piece of journalism.

Aaron’s piece on autism, at first glance, doesn’t qualify as reportage. It sounded more like a letter fit for the forum pages of a newspaper. But considering his background, circumstances, and lack of media training, the piece is an excellent effort in describing lucidly his personal experience as an autistic Singaporean.

He scored brownie points among the editors when he unexpectedly generated a furious discussion that got MP Denise Phua involved (she did not read our letter when she wrote the comment). In that sense, Aaron’s article is journalism: it educated Singaporeans on the plight of their autistic countrymen; it facilitated dialogue between different parties; it presented a point of view in a raw and honest manner. That is why he is the first winner of our writing contest.

Congratulations, Aaron. You will be hearing from us soon. Thanks also to Syafiqah for a well-written piece of journalism which sets the standard for the rest of us. Readers, do keep the entries coming for our weekly contest!

New Nation writes to MP Denise Phua

New Nation writes to MP Denise Phua

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Dear Ms Phua,

I am Terence, editor for newnation.sg, a brand new online magazine for young adults covering current affairs, personal finance, and lifestyle.

Recently, a Singaporean, writing under a pseudonym, described on our website his experiences as an autistic person, which were, how shall we say, rather pessimistic.

The article can be read here: http://newnation.sg/2011/01/like-%E2%80%98hell-on-earth%E2%80%99/, and has generated a good discussion.

As a non-autistic, it is an education for me to peek into the life of an autistic Singaporean, and I do wonder if the situation is as grim as it seems?

As such, I hope you will seriously consider contributing a letter to our website to address ‘Aaron’ and the issues he face. You may want to highlight some avenues that are out there for autistic people.

I note your previous comment that 85% of comments online are anti-PAP, but I would like to assure you at newnation.sg, we have a balanced approach towards online engagement.

Our humble website is new, but it has drawn an average of 200 unique visitors a day for the past two weeks.

Your letter would provide some much-needed balance to an online discourse that is decidedly skewed against the government. I’m sure our readers will appreciate your response.

Hope to hear from you soon.


Terence Lee
Editor, Newnation.sg

Like ‘hell on earth’

Like ‘hell on earth’

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An autistic Singaporean describes what he feels is the despondent situation that people like him experience daily.

By Aaron Kok, for the writing contest.

The Autism awareness ribbon. BLW PHOTOGRAPHY / Creative Commons

The Autism awareness ribbon. BLW PHOTOGRAPHY / Creative Commons

IT’S A hard life being a Singaporean and autistic at the same time. We have to live through a lifetime of disappointments, pain and discrimination.

Our parents do not have the money, the time, or the know-how to give us a full and comprehensive treatment that could maximize our potential. We have to go through speech, play, exercise, and whatever therapy, just for a silver lining of hope.

But hope? In what way is there hope?

I only know that our parents’ hope of an early, well-deserved retirement is gone – because they’ll most probably have to work harder and much longer, to take care of us even if we are high functioning (which I am). Some parents even divorce as a result.

In school, we suffered greatly. We do not have the social skills to get around attacks: verbal, physical or mental. Bullies see us as the lower species, judging our intelligence from our behavior, which we have no control over. This is made worse by the media who portray autistics as people who will never be on par with normal people.

We autistics eventually develop low self-esteem, or a “me against the world” attitude. Unfortunately, the anti-bullying campaign started very late. But even now, some schools do not implement it.

Hearing stories from other autistics, I say the anti-bullying program was a failure. Thus Singapore has several generations of kids who will grow up into teenagers and adults and end up in jail or the Institute of Mental Health. Most of these are not even autistic!

I still wonder why did our country’s leader sent his autistic son to an international school that normal Singaporean can never attend. It’s simply not fair that he goes to some international school where they have facilities to accommodate autistics, while WE suffer so much in the mainstream counterparts.

He claims that our mainstream school cannot facilitate his son’s education. Then he, as leader of the country, should implement change in the mainstream education system to accommodate both his son and us! I say it’s only fair that all of us autistics should be allowed a part in the mainstream life.

School was living hell for us. They instituted compulsory co-curricular activities which we are neither interested nor up to the task. There should be a more choices for all, normal and autistics.

I am lucky to have survived NS with the help of supportive superiors. But lots of autistics are not that lucky. They are bullied, harassed, and even beaten up while traveling home.

Autistics can contribute to society by doing what they are talented in, from art and science to even obscure interests like stamps or chess. (Very few schools outside the elite schools have such CCAs.) So our teachers hammer us, trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

The system forces Singaporean students, autistic or not, to do Project Work at both polytechnics and Junior Colleges. This is where we are victims of political maneuvering. They gang up on their autistic classmates to take credit for their hard work and to falsify their peer appraisals against us.

Despite their disability, autistics are hardworking and dedicated in their work. It’s not fair for our classmates to do this.
For males, life is worse. All of us are subjected to two years of brainwashing and physical torture; National Service. I bring the reader’s attention to male autistic Singaporeans because males constitute three quarters of the autistic population globally.

I am lucky to have survived NS with the help of supportive superiors. But lots of autistics are not that lucky. They are bullied, harassed, and even beaten up while traveling home. To think the perpetrators are grown men, who behave like school children who don’t grow up. One autistic, who also survived NS like me, even told me that there are many gang members in the SAF. All these are telling signs that NS is not for us autistics, definitely.

Our society does not allow flexibility in autistics serving our country. Hence, there is a tendency that some autistics may not be able to withstand the rigors of NS. They either serve NS dutifully, whilst suffering in the process, or be exempted, or even expelled like a few of my friends.

When one is expelled or exempted from NS, he will be at a disadvantage. Society discriminates against people who do not serve NS, labeling them ‘chao keng’ or ‘wuss’. These derogatory remarks do not serve any purpose, other than showing society’s ignorance and nonchalance towards the challenges we autistics have to face, day in and day out.

Our employment situation is dire. I do not have objective statistics myself, but to my own estimates, no autistic I know is gainfully employed in a job that makes full use of his or her capabilities to the fullest.

We are mostly either stuck in dead-end jobs, or are not promoted to positions at the same pace neurotypicals, or non-autistics. One autistic (whom requested not to be named or identified) told me that he is in his line of job for nine years, and yet there’s no prospects of further training or career advancement. As such, he is in despair.

I believe other adult Singaporean autistics, who have the ability to work, also feels the same.

In addition, the civil service has no clear public indication that autistics like me, even with their sub-par social skills, have a place to contribute to them. Where can we find our jobs?

Our society has to be more gracious and more sympathetic not only autistics but to those with disabilities. Until then, I have put in motion plans to leave this tiny island that some call home.

But I call it Hell on Earth.

The author is a 23-year-old Singaporean, diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. He is out of NS and looking for a job. ‘Aaron Kok’ is a pseudonym.

Editor’s note: We will be inviting Denise Phua, MP for Jalan Besar GRC and supervisor of the Pathlight School, to respond to this article. Readers who would like to share their experiences and insights can also contribute to the comments section below or they can write to us at .

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