There has been many films made about people living with autism, from east to west, such as 'Rain Man' from Hollywood, played by Tom Cruise. 'My Name is Khan' from Bollywood, played by Shah Rukh Khan, and our very own 'Sekali Lagi' from Greenwood, Gombak played by Sam and Lisa Surihani (although it might be wiser for the director to consult a doctor about the symptoms of autism first, which are persistent and life long, not episodic like in that movie). These movies were quite interesting and gives a great insight towards people who previously had no idea about autism. However, how interesting these movies might seem to me, nothing compares to the story of autism I saw last week, right in front of my eyes. It was when we organized a community project at the National Autism Society of Malaysia (NASOM) near Taman Tasik Titiwangsa. While not many of the children have the looks like Tom Cruise or Shah Rukh Khan, unlike children with other genetic diseases like Down's or Turner's syndrome, these children look perfectly normal...and adorable! Just look at them:
But looking perfectly normal has their disadvantages for children with mental disabilities. Sometime people just judge others by their appearance, just because they look normal doesn't mean that they don't have difficulties and we don't have to help them. Because they look normal, sometimes they are denied of disability privileges. Without proper diagnosis by a psychiatrist, it is quite hard to confirm that a children has autism. These children present with various symptoms, varying in severity and manner, and there is no one definite symptoms that can confirm the diagnosis. A thorough evaluation must be done. Some of the symptoms include a stand-offish manner,inappropriate laughing (they laugh at almost anything), showing no fear of real dangers (a grizzly bear might appear in front of them and they might just play with it), apparent insensitivity to pain (they sometimes bite their own arms when frustrated), difficulty with mixing with other children (these are the main problems they face in school), adverse to cuddling (they just don't want to be cuddled!), sustained odd play (they can play with a toy train for hours, just pushing them back and forth again and again), crying tantrums for no reason (you don't want this to happen while you're playing with them) and many more.
However, despite those setbacks, autistic children can have a wide range of intellectual ability. Just look at Shah Rukh Khan in the movie my name is Khan, he has an amazing ability in memorizing things. Children with autism can also have other extraordinary abilities in mathematics, mechanical skills, music and many more. Some people with autism even went as far as being world renowned and I am sure you have heard of them: Bill Gates (I know what you're thinking. No, I am not kidding, but Bill Gates is autistic, but however he is the high-functioning type. He has an obsession towards coding computer softwares. He coded day and night, and that's how he founded Microsoft Windows), Virginia Woolf, the prolific writer who only writes while standing up, Jane Austen, another prolific writer, Steven Spielberg, Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton and Vincent van Gogh (Source: http://autism.lovetoknow.com/Famous_People_with_Autism)
From my experience there, communicating with them is a hard thing to do. Taking care of them need extreme patience. They can be very mischievous, but yet very lovable. There are high hopes for these children. If only we are aware of their disabilities, understand them and give them a chance to flourish. I am glad that Malaysia has a center which involves in taking care of these children and increasing the awareness of the public towards them. NASOM has many centers all around Malaysia. I am sure that since its establishment since 1986, it has changed a lot of children with autism's life. The visit has impacted me a lot. Every time I hear about autism, I would remember the children I met at Nasom. The child who was obsessed with Ultraman, the child who tiptoes all the time, the child who was very good at puzzles, the child who just couldn't sit down...I would like to make a change in their lives. You can make a change too. How about start by donating to NASOM? You can do so by contacting 03-79843942, emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or visiting www.nasom.com.my. Let's make this world a better place for all ;)