Awakening Minds© : Autism, Special Education and Mental Illness
My name is Choo Kah Ying. I am a writer/educator and a homeschooler of Sebastien, my autistic son and my inspiration. I am also a recovered sufferer of manic-depression. Both of these conditions have shaped the trajectory of my life and sculpted the landscape of my character. Most significantly, they have influenced my perspectives in my work and inspired me to create Awakening Minds©.
A Mother's Wish
(Launching date: Jan 12, 2013)
"The day when we won't be around..." is the oft-unfinished phrase that we parents and caregivers of special needs children are all too familiar with. Once these words are spoken, they linger with an oppressive weight that cannot be easily dispelled. For within the pregnant silence lies is the tacit query that we dare not articulate, for fear of tearing up:
Who will be there to love my child, as I have loved him(her)?
This oft-unspoken reality is one that we often push to the back of our minds, as we get caught up in the daily grind and challenges of our parenting journey along the road less travelled. Much as I would have wanted to put off my confrontation with this prospect, I have now reached the crossroads of my homeschooling journey with Sebastien, my moderately autistic son, who is heading into his 17th year of life…
OCTOBER UPDATE *NEW*
After a month’s break, “A Mother’s Wish” campaign is back! Sadly, but predictably, the Ministry of Social and Family Services has decided not to collaborate with me for the campaign in any way (more information about its response in the next update).
Despite this setback, “A Mother’s Wish” campaign is pressing on, thanks to the incredible support that we have received from family, friends, and members of the general public.
1. “A Mother’s Wish” Campaign Fund (as of October 16, 2013)
The fund stands at $14,057.72 (thanks to our receipt of the payment from the “Joy Truck” show, as well as the sales of my picture book and paintings by Sebastien, my autistic son).
We have updated Sebastien’s painting portfolios. Sales of Sebastien’s paintings have constituted the most steady source of income for us. In our November update, we will share our fundraising ideas and hope that you can help us make them come true.
2. Announcing Our Very First “A Mother’s Wish” Inaugural Holiday Programme 2013!
With the help and support of a fledging community made up of friends, caregivers, service providers, and volunteers, I am excited to launch “A Mother’s Wish” (AMW) Inaugural Holiday Programme with 50% subsidy from the AMW fund.
The holiday programme constitutes the first baby step towards our ultimate vision of creating a community that will provide affordable quality programmes for individuals with intellectual disabilities (IDs) requiring lifelong support.*
We have chosen to shift our focus beyond autism to focus on individuals with intellectual disabilities (moderate to severe) and work with younger beneficiaries starting from age 6. To learn more about about our change in focus, please read the “Evolution of “A Mother’s Wish” Concept”.
In adopting the holiday programme approach, we will be ‘test-running’ the AMW community on a small scale, which matches our limited resources, while stretching them on a longer-term basis.
Concise Overview of Holiday Programme, Dec 2013
Targeted Beneficiaries (End-Users): Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities (Moderate–Severe, aged 6–18, 6 end-users in total, only 4 spots available)
Dates and Timing: Dec 16–20, 2013 (10:00 a.m. –1:30 p.m.)
Monday, Dec 16: Academic Learning: Literacy & Vocational Training (Ang Mo Kio)
Tuesday, Dec 17: Creative Arts: Art (Ang Mo Kio)
Wednesday, Dec 18: Fitness: Functional Training (near MacPherson MRT)
Thursday, Dec 19: Vocational Training: Cooking (Ang Mo Kio)
Friday, Dec 20: Creative Arts: A Musical Experience (Turf City)
Costs (after 50% subsidy): $200 (includes screening)
Deadline for Application: November 10th
Contact info (for application form): email@example.com or 8163-4509
It's been another busy month...
Special Thanks to Larkspurs!
And this time around, I would like to give special thanks to Larkspurs, a group of Hwa Chong students who initiated the "Opening Hearts Changing Minds" campaign to help raise awareness and funds for "A Mother's Wish" campaign. Apart from inviting me to talk at the school, they helped to organise an exhibition of Sebastien's paintings, sold my books, and created badges, and sold iced gems to raise money. I am also grateful for the support of the Hwa Chong faculty who bought Sebastien's paintings (please check out his portfolios).
Thanks to these efforts, as well as a generous direct donation to "A Mother's Wish" campaign, the fund now stands at $5,487.02 (as of this update we still have not received the $8,000 cheque from the "Joy Truck' show).
Purpose of the Fund
At this juncture, I still have not heard back from MSF or other related agencies. If nothing transpires from these negotiations, I plan to seek grants from the NVPC. Please write me if you have ideas for raising more funds.
In the meantime, in order to stretch out the use of "A Mother's Wish" fund, while we still have no sustainable funding,I will likely begin with the rollout of a five-day, 3.5-hour holiday programme during the school holidays in December (Dec 16–Dec 20). 50% of the costs of this programme targeted at 6 end-users (individuals with moderate to severe autism aged 6 and above) will be subsidised from "A Mother's Wish" fund.
This small rollout will enable us to test out "A Mother's Wish" podular model that involves paying caregivers, assistants, and small-scale, but experienced, service providers for running group programmes. Moreover, we will be taking our end-users on public transport to cultivate their lifeskills and mingle with mainstream society.
More details will be provided in early October, as the planning will commence in the latter half of September...
"A Mother's Wish" Spoof Video
Each year, for Sebastien's birthday party, Jerome (my boyfriend) and I put together a recap of Sebastien's past year. For this year, we created a light-hearted spoof of "A Mother's Wish" campaign: a 10-minute film comprising video footages of Sebastien in action within the context of our comical 'speculations' of potential careers for Sebastien....
I will be taking a much-needed break (August 26–September 17) from the campaign. In the meantime, please forward this web page to others and help to keep this campaign alive.
Thank you, MediaCorp Channel 8's "Joy Truck"!
What a month it has been! Our biggest surprise was being contacted by Media Corps to appear in Channel 8's "Joy Truck" programme, Episode 8 (if you are in Singapore, click here; if you are overseas, click here).
Through this opportunity, Sebastien and I got to share our autism story and homeschooling journey, which led us to "A Mother's Wish" campaign that seeks to provide affordable quality programmes for individuals with moderate to severe autism.
- We would really like to thank the simply awesome "Joy Truck" TV crew and the artistes who organised the exhibition, celebrated Sebastien's birthday, and ultimately put together a heartwarming narrative of our lives, as well as Media Corp, the volunteers, the Musa Abode gallery, and Skateline. Hats off to you all!
- Through the fundraising game app, TV viewers of "Joy Truck" gave "A Mother's Wish" fund a big boost of $8,000 (it will take one month to process) — thank you to those who played the game. Five paintings were also sold during the exhibition featured in the TV programme (of which 70% of the sales went towards the campaign).
- Singapore, you rock! I would also like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the outpouring of encouragement, support, and love from friends and the general public, who viewed the programme — your words and actions have really strengthened my faith in the goodness of humanity. Many purchased my published books and Sebastien's paintings (30% goes towards the campaign fund). Thank you all — we are truly moved and surprised by this heartwarming response.
Sebastien's "Raw Art" Updates
As Sebastien's art is our principal source of fundraising, I would appreciate you all spreading the word about Sebastien's art and the key role he is playing in "A Mother's Wish" campaign. He is doing his part for his future!
We appreciate your support in helping a moderately autistic young man to be both an artist and a philanthropist who is donating 30% of the sales of the paintings to "A Mother's Wish" campaign! You guys are making this 'little miracle' happen!
Here are the latest additions to Sebastien's portfolios. For all the updated portfolios, all the latest paintings are inserted at the beginning of the slideshow.
- Petits Tableaux II
- Humanity Series: Updated
- Nature Series: Updated
- Artism Series: Updated
- Colours, Textures, Temperatures Series: Updated
- Sold Portfolios: Updated [A very special thanks goes out to all the people who have purchased paintings — this slideshow is an acknowledgement of your contributions to "A Mother's Wish"!]
Sebastien's art can also be found on the covers of notebooks that has been produced by a wonderful non-profit organisation called The Everyday Revolution (featuring art done by artists with autism), which can be purchased at: http://www.hipvan.com/collections/the-everyday-revolution. Sebastien is receiving a flat royalty fee of $200 for his art work in this project; he will also be contributing 30% of this amount to "A Mother's Wish" campaign.
Online customised card option (for just $10): This service is inspired by what I already do with Sebastien's artworks — inserting them into templates to create a unique online card for your loved one. Check out a sample here. I am certainly open to other creative ways that you would like to utilise Sebastien's art such as creating a poster. Do let me know.
Finally, for those of you working for large corporations that engage in CSR, please keep "A Mother's Wish" campaign in mind. We can explore different ways of raising awareness and funds for a good cause. Together, we can make Singapore a more equitable society for all.
Thank you! High-Fives! Hugs! Kisses!
Update on Meeting with the
Ministry of Social and Family Services (MSF)
One of the interesting developments for “A Mother’s Wish Campaign” (AMW) — to promote affordable quality programmes for individuals with moderate to severe autism — was the dialogue that has commenced with the Disability Division of the Ministry of Social and Family Services (MSF).
In engaging the government in a dialogue about AMW, I am addressing a fundamental flaw in its approach towards organisations that provide programmes for the less fortunate, including individuals with special needs. Essentially, the government requires such organisations to be self-sustainable after 3 years, by which time all grants of any kind would no longer be provided.
Such as a system clearly has NOT worked, as it has led to the following adverse outcomes:
- Inadequate services;
- Emphasis of organisational survival over quality, with loss of quality solutions and wastage of grants;
- Inability to attract quality personnel due to low pay.
In order for the government to genuinely do its part to promote the dignity of individuals with autism (and all end-users), it needs to recognise that service delivery in this sector is a SOCIAL SERVICE, not CHARITY.
Here were the four central and interrelated messages that I conveyed in my presentation on May 6, 2013:
- To champion the worth of autistic individuals;
- To confront the divisiveness of Singapore’s meritocratic mentality and the resultant stigmatisation;
- To propose alternative perspectives, resources, and options; and
- To highlight potential social crisis in the long term (due to slow rollout of services)
- Thus, I am asking the government to consider providing 70% of the funding indefinitely to cater to quality programmes for youths and adults with moderate to severe autism, so as to ensure that they are affordable for the families.
- To learn more, please check out the slideshow presentation that was presented at the meeting.
At the end of the meeting, I was asked to submit some figures for the costs of the programme (please check out the 24-page proposal that encompasses the current vision of AMW, which was emailed to the government on May 14).
This division visited me at my home on June 4th to learn more about my homeschooling programme as an exploration of AMW community’s concept. As a dialog develops, I will continue to provide updates on the situation.
For a shorter version of the latest vision of AMW, please click here.
Objectives of "A Mother's Wish"
What lies at the heart of “A Mother’s Wish” is the uphill endeavour to create a long-term AMW community that can provide quality programmes for ALL youths and adults with moderate to severe autism, which are affordable to their families:
For those of you who do not have time to see the slideshow and/or read through the proposal, please check out my interim vision of “A Mother’s Wish”.
Calendar of Events
July 6-7 (Sat & Sun), 2–9 pm: Learn more about "A Mother's Wish" at SCAPE's "Share it! Community Service weekend": http://www.scape.com.sg/shareit/
I will be 'manning' my interactive booth: Take part in the 'game' that will help you to understand the campaign and reflect on how you feel about people with autism. The grand prize winner stands to win one of Sebastien's paintings and 3 honorary mention winners will receive a copy of my picture book, All About of the Hummingbird... Or the Horse. It seeks to encourage children to understand and treat those who are different from the norm with compassion.
Tuesday, July 23, 6:30 p.m. (until July 25): Opening of "Everyday Action" Exhibition organised by The Everyday Revolution (TER) at the Marina Bay Financial Centre
Paintings by two artists with autism and products featuring the artwork of other artists with autism (Sebastien's artwork is placed on notebook covers).
A Mother's Wish past updates:
- February 2013
- March 2013
View it on Vimeo at https://vimeo.com/user16240190/speakingincolors
Taking Stock: Our Homeschooling Milestones and Reality Check
Over the past seven years of homeschooling, I have been an intimate witness of Sebastien’s transformation from an insecure, reserved, and withdrawn boy into a confident, expressive, and dynamic youth with a passionate appetite for life. Despite his deficits in abstract learning and language, Sebastien has learnt to take on his academic learning tasks with maturity and initiative. In addition, he has also been performing various household chores. Just as significantly, Sebastien has created his own sanctuaries in the lateral universe of inline skating and the world of colours.
Despite all that we have accomplished, together with the help of our loved ones and a handful of wonderful professionals, Sebastien is still held back by cognitive deficits; compulsions that few could understand; and occasional (decreasing in intensity and frequency) bouts of aggression. In a nutshell, Sebastien is simply “not good enough” to function independently in most mainstream settings.
However, this does not mean that Sebastien and other low-functioning individuals with autism should be banished to the fringes of society. What we neurotypical people often fail to realise is that it is not easy for them to live in a world that barely understands them. For we often perceive much of what they deem to be logical and natural to be socially inappropriate and unacceptable. Far too often, we are quick to label them as crazy monsters that should be locked up — out of sight, out of mind — when they hit out in frustration. Thus, we fail to see that they are also extraordinarily courageous people who can transform us with their unique sensibilities and perspectives.
Given a conducive environment, characterised by firm, but compassionate, guidance, low-functioning individuals with autism can astonish us with what they can achieve. As a homeschooling mother who has experienced firsthand the hardships, heartaches, and even the joys of raising Sebastien, it strikes me as morally unjust that my son and others like him are not given the opportunities and support to lead a fulfilling life.
How Sebastien and I Will Contribute
In recent months, Sebastien’s water colour paintings have generated some interest among people in the art world. We are hopeful that they will be able to produce some income for Sebastien.
At the same time, with Sebastien’s blessing, I will also be incorporating Sebastien’s Raw Art series (his water color paintings) into “A Mother’s Wish” in order to promote:
- Public awareness about low-functioning individuals with autism; and
- My vision for the Awakening Minds Community.
He will also be donating 30% of his income earned from the sales of his paintings and related products (art prints and other products coming up) to “A Mother’s Wish”.
I will be spreading the word about “A Mother’s Wish” through my networks and the media (both old and new); contacting interested parties, who could make the Awakening Minds Community a reality; and giving free talks about this campaign.
Along the way, I will be posting monthly updates on the progress of “A Mother’s Wish”:
- My perspectives and “wish list” for the Awakening Minds Community (which will be fine-tuned through my interactions with interested parties);
- Information on related events and activities for targeted groups including caregivers, professionals, and the public;
- New products that will incorporate Sebastien’s art and story to raise funds for “A Mother’s Wish”.
As a start, I will be donating 70% of the proceeds of the sales of my picture book, All Because of the Hummingbird or the Horse, to “A Mother’s Wish”.
What You Can Do
For now, the path towards the Awakening Minds Community remains to be defined.
What I possess is the knowledge and experience on diverse aspects of teaching and interacting with autistic learners, particularly low-functioning individuals. I am in the process of creating comprehensive training systems and organising affordable workshops to educate and empower caregivers and educators. But this is not enough…
Sebastien and I cannot do it alone.
Thus, we are seeking your collaboration AND/OR support for this cause. Whether you are a caregiver, an educator, a therapist, a policymaker, or a concerned member of the public, please:
- Spread the word about “A Mother’s Wish”;
- Share your ideas and feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Contact me for discussions on collaborative endeavours and/or
- Purchase some of the products that are of interest to you, family, and friends.
Thank you in advance for your interest and support! May you also have a rewarding and fulfilling 2013 !
celebration of colour
What is Awakening Minds© ?
Awakening Minds© is a social enterprise that strives to debunk stereotypical conceptions about autism, special needs and mental illness/mental wellness. Through affordable original books, articles, learning materials, talks, workshops and consultations, Awakening Minds aims to:
- Empower sufferers and caregivers to adopt a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) approach to supplement professional treatments;
- Inspire and motivate people to think outside the box about strategies and solutions for their conditions;
- Encourage the pursuit of a physically, mentally and emotionally healthy lifestyle; and
- Combat stigmatisation of people with special needs and mental illnesses.
What does Awakening Minds© offer ?
Awakening Minds© offers the following products and services:
- Inspiring books with personal and practical perspectives on autism and manic depression.
- Innovative learning materials that provide fun scaffolding and hands-on learning for children with special needs.
- Informative talks and workshops on:
- various aspects of autism and special needs – learning strategies, curriculum design and implementation, social and communication approaches, sensory regulation, behavioural management, etc.
- mental illness/mental wellness – practical lifestyle strategies on treatment and recovery; addressing life issues; stigmatisation; creating a programme plan for recovery, etc..
- Individualised on-site/in-home consultations to provide targeted services – creating a programme plan for recovery and training individuals/caregivers to execute the programme.
Who is Awakening Minds© for ?
Awakening Minds© seeks to reach out to:
- Individuals with autism, special needs and mental illnesses (particularly those with manic depression or depression)
- Helping Organisations and Community Agencies
- Members of the Public.