Former IT vice-president Roland Tay set up a café which hires people with autism to help them better integrate into society.
When I became a father, 19 years ago, I had big plans for my son, Jun-Yi, such as enrolling him in a good school, taking him to sports meets and seeing him start his own career. But everything changed when I found out that he had autism when he was three years old then, I had to review my expectations.
Nonetheless, my wife, Denise, and I have learnt so much bringing up Jun-Yi, and we wanted to do something meaningful for others like him. So, in 2009, after 30 years in the IT industry in a senior corporate position, I mustered the courage to quit my job to start a café that hired people with autism. My aim for starting the café was to provide people with autism with sustainable employment, and to help them integrate into society.
Hence, Professor Brawn Café (www.professorbrawn.com), whose name was inspired by a strong, kind and scholarly superhero created by Jun-Yi, was set up.
I started by employing two graduates from Singapore’s first autism-focused school - Pathlight School. They are Huang Kai Song, who worked in the kitchen, and Loh Qian Jing, a part-timer then, who handled backroom operations.
To train my staff, I also sought the help of non-profit organisation Autism Resource Centre, which conducts training programmes to prepare people with autism for the workforce. Therapists and job coaches from the centre guided my staff and helped them to build their self-esteem and confidence.
Now, more than half of my 27 staff members who have autism are helping to run the café. Kai Song has gained enough confidence to move from working in the kitchen to join the service crew. He has also since graduated from polytechnic and is currently fulfilling his National Service.
Qian Jing is now working at the café full-time, handling backroom operations work.
My café has shown that people with autism can adapt well to a normal working environment with proper training and moral support.”