From failing school to full-time job
For most people, visiting relatives and friends during Chinese New Year is something to look forward to. But not for one man with borderline-low IQ, who used to dread such occasions
Chinese New Year was not always a happy occasion for Mr Eng Xuan Ping, 25.
Just four years ago, Mr Eng, who has borderline-low IQ, suffered from low moods and low self-esteem and avoided social settings.
Visiting relatives was a challenge for him and he shied away from people.
His mother, who declined to be named, was concerned because Mr Eng had stopped schooling after failing his N-level examinations and he stayed home most of the time.
She told The New Paper: "As a parent, I was very worried about his future and (his) ability to take care of himself without me."
But things changed in 2012 after Mr Eng enrolled at the Touch Centre for Independent Living, a day activity centre at Ubi Avenue 1.
Mr Eng was taught social and vocational skills and is now able to interact confidently with his relatives and strangers.
He also works full time as a waiter at Saizeriya, an Italian restaurant in the eastern part of Singapore.
Said his mother: "I am very thankful (to Touch) for helping Xuan Ping find his goals in life and have friends to communicate with now."
Last Thursday, TNP visited Mr Eng at the centre and spoke to him and his social worker, Miss Chloe Liew, 26.
Mr Eng said he was very excited about meeting his relatives during Chinese New Year and was looking forward to his reunion dinner.
He was not always the cheerful person he is today.
He was retained three times in primary school. In Secondary 2, he was often bullied by classmates and isolated by his peers.
"They called me 'stupid' and other names. I was very sad and angry," he said.
As a result, he had trouble sleeping, had low energy levels and even harboured thoughts that others were about to harm him.
He failed his N-level examinations and could not qualify for the Institute of Technical Education.
For about a year, between 2011 and 2012, he stayed home, mostly playing video games.
In addition, he suffered from depression and went for treatment at the Institute of Mental Health, which referred his case to Touch Community Services in 2012.
Said Miss Liew: "When I first met Xuan Ping, he was very anxious about everything and had low self-esteem.
"He would not listen to anyone. We had to sit him down and try to connect better with him."
At the centre, Mr Eng was taught to cook, count and manage money, and manage time. He also picked up some art and craft skills.
Miss Liew said they worked with external psychiatrists as well as Mr Eng's family members to help deal with his mental condition.
Mr Eng said: "Being able to chit-chat with my friends made me happier."
He worked part-time as a cashier at a thrift store in the Touch Ubi Hostel before going on to work part-time at fast-food chain KFC, and then restaurant Han's in 2013.
In December 2014, he secured a full-time job at Saizeriya as a waiter.
But the transition into a full-time job was not easy.
First, Mr Eng struggled to adjust to a new work environment.
He said he was criticised by some customers for being slow.
"I would go to my manager when I couldn't (handle the situation). I was very stressed.
"When I got home, I would become very moody and then end up getting angry with my parents," he said.
Within a week, he requested to go back to his old job at Han's.
But with the help of his job coach from Touch, Miss Betty Tan, and his colleagues, Mr Eng eventually settled in and adapted to the job.
Today, he is able to operate the cashier, clear and clean the tables, take orders, serve food and work the dishwasher.
Said Miss Tan: "People with special needs tend to take longer to adjust and adapt to new environments and people around them.
"It helped that his employer was understanding and supportive as they focused on his strengths and paced him with the new tasks."
Mr Eng, who lives with his mother and younger brother, mostly works the night shift, from 6pm to 10pm, and he travels to and from his workplace in Simei on his own using public transport.
He still attends courses at the centre in his spare time and is preparing to transit to the Continuous Support Programme, an alumni club for those who graduated from the centre.
Said Miss Tan: "We are extremely proud of his achievement and he is also an encouragement to the staff at the centre and an inspiration to many of our other trainees.
"He has grown in confidence and I am happy he has integrated into the community."
They called me 'stupid' and other names. I was very sad and angry.
- Mr Eng Xuan Ping on being bullied in Secondary 2
More centres to teach everyday skills
Caring full time for an intellectually disabled family member can be emotionally, physically and financially draining.
This is where day activity centres come in.
These centres, which are run by voluntary welfare organisations and operate during office hours, teach the intellectually disabled simple skills such as feeding and bathing themselves.
This helps lighten the load of caregivers at home.
Last Thursday, The New Paper visited one such centre - the Touch Centre for Independent Living in Ubi Avenue 1.
The centre has 54 trainees with mild intellectual disabilities.
The trainees, who are aged between 18 and 55, are taught functional knowledge and skills so they can live independently.
For example, a class of about 10 trainees was taught how to count and pay using coins and notes.
TNP sat in on a cooking class where traineesprepared fried rice.
Miss Chloe Liew, a Touch Community Services social worker, said: "The biggest worry their parents usually have is: Who will care for their children when they are no longer around?
"That's why we hope to empower and allow their children to be as independent as possible with the necessary day-to-day skills.
"At the same time, while they are here in the day, it allows the caregivers some respite at home."
Miss Liew, 26, who has worked at the centre for seven years, said it was vital that those with special needs not remain at home.
"If they do, their condition could regress and they may not pick up the necessary functional skills to care for themselves," she said.
Singapore has eight homes and 21 day activity centres for adults with disabilities.
This year, two new centres will be opened for adults needing high support and another five centres will be opened over the next five years.
By 2021, there will be 1,700 day activity centre places, said Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin last month.
Touch Centre for Independent Living
Bishan Home for the Intellectually Disabled
Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (MINDS)
Metta Welfare Association Day Activities Centre
Bizlink Centre Singapore Day Activities Centre