“This is Me” – See Me in a Different Light
An Autism Awareness Month campaign
Autism Network Singapore
Autism is a condition that the general public has heard of, but many do not truly understand what it means to live with the condition. This is why people on the autism spectrum are often still expected to abide by the social constructs created by “neurotypical” people. This includes keeping still and quiet in crowded places despite suffering from sensory overload. The Autism Network Singapore, as part of Autism Awareness Month 2022 in April, wanted to raise the level of empathy in the community, by sharing how the condition impacts lives through stories of individuals on the autism spectrum.
In Singapore, an estimated 1 per cent of the population has autism. In 2016, the Singapore government’s Enabling Masterplan revealed that the condition affects one in 150 children. Yet, the fundamentals of autism are still not well understood by the wider community – that it is a neuro-development condition that is not caused by a child’s upbringing and social circumstances, and that symptoms vary from person to person depending on various reasons such as age, developmental level, and severity. This makes it difficult for persons on the autism spectrum to have their condition recognised and to access the support they need.
Negative perceptions and misunderstandings of autism also persist, which can lead to persons on the autism spectrum being isolated, and in worse cases, abused or bullied. Caregivers too feel helpless and alone
Where we are
Myths and misconceptions about persons on the autism spectrum persists, such as that they avoid social and eye contact, cannot lead independent lives and that they can be “cured”.
Where we are
Caregivers feel unseen and unsupported, and are worried about the future of their children who are on the spectrum, especially after their death.
Furthermore, Autism Awareness Month came on the back of a tragic murder of twin boys, who were later reported to be on the autism spectrum. Their father was eventually arrested for the crime. This brought the issue of caregiver burnout and the need for stronger community support to the fore, with local social enterprises such as SG Enable urging caregivers of children with special needs to seek help when they are stressed.
Where we are
80% of students on the spectrum in Singapore are in mainstream education settings where their learning needs may not be met. Potential employers and job coaches report that they are underprepared for work.
How does a person on the autism spectrum see and experience the world? What does it mean to care for someone who may perceive the things around us differently? How do you communicate with someone who does not engage in the same way you do? These were the questions we asked ourselves, and which framed our approach to the campaign.
We wanted to highlight these differences through raw stories – not just from the perspective of persons on the autism spectrum but also from those around them, from their caregivers to their teachers.
We wanted to uncover hidden experiences, ones that were deemed too sensitive or emotional or which were withheld because “other people would not understand”.
And we wanted to, most importantly, create empathy, by putting people in the shoes of someone who is on the autism spectrum or who is caring for someone on it.
This Is Me is a social media campaign aimed to show Singapore the real stories of persons on the autism spectrum – their challenges, aspirations and dreams. It was a visceral campaign to understand, support and accept “Me” for who “I” am. The “Me” includes the different individuals involved in the effort to give persons on the autism spectrum, from their perspective, a good life. It was also Autism Network Singapore’s first full-fledged campaign, backed by an end-to-end communications strategy.
The tagline “See Me in a Different Light” played on the word “spectrum” and encompassed our goal for the campaign – that is for the general public to see people on the autism spectrum as well as the people who care for them in a different light. Do not only see the struggles and sacrifices, but also the love and support.
At the heart of our campaign were 10 feature stories of 10 inspiring individuals – persons on the autism spectrum, caregivers and professional staff – shaped by in-depth interviews. They shared with us their worries, challenges and sacrifices, as well as their hopes, aspirations and dreams for the future.
There was the story of Jacqueline Yeo, a mother of twin daughters on the autism spectrum and how she has come up with a detailed plan to help them navigate life and even the dating world; of Darius Koh, a 5-year-old trapped in the body of a 14-year-old and his parents’ fears for the future; and of Sarayanan Mariappa, a professional staff who has been bitten and even attacked by his clients, but who has never stopped learning to build meaningful relationships with them.
On top of the stories, we created a series of comic strips that highlighted several little-known aspects of living on the spectrum, in an accessible and more light-hearted manner. They aimed to show the irony of situations or even to highlight how persons on the autism spectrum may have a different sense of humour.
The stories and comics were shared over Facebook and Instagram over the month of April, and amplified through owned, paid and earned media. Eventually, the stories were compiled into an e-book that was launched at the end of April.
The runway was short – our team had just one month to prepare for the launch of This Is Me. In just two weeks, we conducted 10 in-depth interviews and wrote 10 feature stories, each filled with colour, details, and quotes aimed at bringing the reader on a rollercoaster ride of emotions. Our goal was simple: to bring the reader closer to what autism really is. We knew we were dealing with a sensitive topic, so we worked closely with the client to get the nuances right.
At the same time, we searched for little-known facts about autism, sifting through our interview notes and ploughing through autism resources online. They would make the foundation for the narratives of our comic strips. Eventually, we settled on the following comic strips below. Each one was drawn and coloured digitally by hand. Humour was a medium to deliver harsh truths about the difficulties of persons on the autism spectrum. Every single panel was based on real-life experiences shared with us.