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Lina's Café – A homely respite for caregivers and special needs children alike

Updated: Dec 10, 2021

Hey everyone! We’re excited to introduce the very first article in our directory, where we review restaurants, activity centres and more, to help you explore more inclusive spaces in Singapore.


Welcome to Lina's Café chalkboard at entrance
Lina’s Café aims to educate and raise awareness about Autism

The first up on our list has been highly recommended to us, and also known for being a “Friends of Autism” café. That’s right, it’s the Muslim-owned Lina’s Café, which Lina, a mother of a child with a ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) herself, opened in 2017. Lina started the café after recognising the need for judgement-free zones for the special needs community and their caregivers. “People in Singapore still didn’t understand the issue that well,” Lina explained. She and a group of friends started the café to raise awareness about Autism and advocate for people with special needs.


Lina's café menu 1
The menu contains a wide variety of options, combining tradition and innovation.

Food review

Lina’s Café offers a wide selection of halal food, ranging from Asian to Western fare. Their menu also has a smattering of vegetarian and gluten-free options that cater to those with dietary needs.


We tried their signature Mee Rebus Special Mak Timah ($4.50), Nasi Goreng ($7), and Mee Goreng ($6.50), all of which were hearty and authentic. It had just the right amount of spice which satisfied our taste buds, although those with a lower tolerance might want to take note to avoid spicier dishes, like the Nasi Goreng. The food is also priced very affordably for café standards, and is definitely value for money!


Their signature dishes include the Mee Rebus Special and Mee Siam Mak Timah.


Following is some information that we detailed, that caregivers might find useful before heading down. If you would like to read a quick summary of these points instead, skip down to the end of the article!


Accessibility

Lina’s Café is located at 7 Jalan Pisang and is easily accessible by public transport. It’s approximately a 10-minute walk from Bugis MRT, and there’s also a bus stop nearby.


Keep an eye out for the beautiful mural and round signboard that juts out from the building.


Physical environment

The walls of the café are intentionally painted a light nude colour that’s calming to the eyes, and the main colours present in the cafe are pastel and neutral colours, to reduce the possibility of sensory overload. The plants and nature elements found around the café aren’t just for aesthetic purposes, but also specially selected for the special needs community to feel more at ease here. Lina shared that based on her knowledge and experience, special needs children and youth feel more comfortable with nature, which then informed the design of the space.


The café is cosy and small with a narrow layout. The space can only fit approximately 14 people, with 2 4-seater tables and 2 3-seater tables indoors and 1 2-seater table outside. When we visited Lina’s, it was after peak lunch hour, and relatively empty. However, since the café is small, we imagine that it could get pretty crowded during peak lunch or dinner times, and you might want to arrive a little earlier or later to avoid the crowd. One tip: If you require a bigger seat, do call in advance to make a booking. The café will do their best to accommodate and ensure you have a great experience dining out.


The inside of Lina's Café
The cost café interior

A table lined with a plastic sheet
The 4-seater table is lined with a plastic sheet to facilitate easier clean up.

There aren’t many physical obstructions, other than the narrow space, and corners are rounded, with no glaring potentially hazardous items around. Menus and the cashier are easily visible and accessible the minute you enter the café. The toilet however, is hidden at the back, so simply ask the staff for assistance should you need to use it.


Lina purposely lines the tables with plastic sheets, so cleaning up after any spillage is easy. So don’t worry too much about making a mess! While the standard cutlery provided are made of porcelain, ceramic, or glass, families can request plastic cutlery if needed. But even if something breaks, don’t fret - Lina has shared that families will not be blamed for it, as it’s café policy to accept that things like this can happen, especially with special needs children.


Sensory Environment

While the lighting cannot be adjusted, we observed that the space is basked in warm light, that is easier on the eyes. Lina has also explained this was purposefully chosen over white light, which can be too harsh and glaring, to minimise possible sensory overload.


As the space is small, it could get pretty loud when there’s a crowd. There’s also music playing in the background of the café for ambience. If you find it too distracting, you can request for it to be turned down or turned off. Just approach Lina directly! Also, as the café’s not facing the main road, you don’t have to worry about excessive noise from cars or trains outside the café as well.


The café is well air conditioned, and the cooling temperature provides a nice respite from Singapore’s sweltering heat, without being too cold to the point you need to layer up.


Overall, if there’s anything about the environment that you feel you would need to be altered for you or your child to feel more comfortable, feel free to let Lina know, and she’ll try her best to accommodate your requests.


Service

For those curious about the ordering process, the staff will approach the table to take your order. However, if it’s crowded and they’re busy, you can go to the cashier. The café is also small enough for you to talk from your table if you’re unable to leave your child, and they would be able to hear your order.


As Lina is a caregiver of an autistic child herself, she knows of the many challenges faced by the community. The café is hence very accepting and understanding of the Autism community, and families with special needs children. The café places emphasis on creating a safe space for special needs children and youth, as well as their caregivers. Lina herself has said she doesn’t blame families and caregivers of special needs children for anything that happens- including broken cutlery or louder, inquisitive children.


In fact, customers of Lina’s Café are expected to also accept and understand that behaviours outside of the social norm can happen in the café, and those who don’t will be asked to leave. Lina explains, “These are the kind of stares we get outside, we don’t want the same thing happening here.”


Summary


Accessibility

  • Accessible by public transport

  • 10 min walk from Bugis MRT

Physical Environment

  • Cafe is filled with neutral, calming colours with nature motifs

  • Small space, with narrow walkway, but little obstruction

  • No potential safety hazards observed around the space

  • Can request for plastic cutlery

  • TIP: call in advance to make a booking if you have a larger group; or avoid peak lunch and dinner hours

Sensory Environment

  • Warm lighting that’s suitable and not likely to trigger sensory overload

  • Volume of ambient music can be requested to be lowered, just approach Lina directly.

  • Minimal noise from traffic or other surroundings.

  • Space is air conditioned well, but it’s not too cold

  • TIP: Approach Lina for any requests and she will try to make you feel more comfortable

Service

  • Staff will approach to take your order, but you can approach the cashier or signal for help if they’re busy or it’s crowded

  • Café is very accepting, and places an emphasis on creating a safe space for the special needs community, other patrons are expected to be understanding


Final Review

Overall, we found the place to be very special needs friendly, and caregivers can go alone with special needs children, as the café provides the space and support that you would need. Lina’s Café is truly a judgement-free zone that caters for the special needs community, especially those with hidden disabilities. Feel free to chat with Lina, as she is willing to provide support to other caregivers, being one herself.


“When we say it’s a judgement free zone, that means when they come here with their kid, that’s what we encourage.”, Lina said. “Many families I speak to, they no longer bring their kid out. Bring your kid out, it’s okay if they break something, we’re okay.”


As for neurotypical patrons, it’s a great chance to patronise Lina’s Cafe for a good cause, as part of the proceeds go to funding the Friends of Autism Trust that Lina has set up to empower the Autism community. It’s also a great space to learn more about the community and what inclusive spaces can look like.


Lina’s Café

7 Jln Pisang, Singapore 199074

Opening Hours:

Monday 11am-7.30pm

Tues-Sat 11am-8.30pm

Phone: 91872094


Learn more about the Friends of Autism Trust here:


You can make a donation to the Friends of Autism trust below:


If you have more to share about your experiences with Lina’s Café, or if you wish to recommend any inclusive spaces you think we should visit and review, do let us know in the comments below!

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