Stories

Autism and creativity

From NST Online
By Jennifer Rodrigo
23rd Nov 2012

I KNEW Zoee from the time she was born. She was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder when she was 3. Today she is 18. Through the years, whenever I socialised with her parents, I also learnt to "socially interact" with Zoee.

Autism is a general term used to describe a group of complex developmental brain disorders. Asperger Syndrome, Rhett Syndrome and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder are also under this group known as Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Today, it is estimated that one in every 110 children is diagnosed with autism. An estimated 1.5 million individuals in the United States and tens of millions worldwide are affected by autism.

US Government statistics suggest the prevalence rate of autism is increasing by 10-17 per cent annually. What causes autism? There is no absolute answer to this.

The Autism Speaks website attributes ASD to "multiple genetic components that may cause autism on their own or possibly when combined with exposure to as yet undetermined environmental factors." Each individual with ASD is unique and may demonstrate markedly different behaviour and skills.

The autistic child often avoids eye contact, resists being picked up and does not seem to "tune in" to the world around him/her.

This apparent indifference is often misunderstood and is often wrongly judged as rudeness as an ASD child looks normal from a physical standpoint.

Fishes III.The management of a child with ASD falls into two areas:
1) Providing understanding, training and consultation for parents, teachers and service providers as they seek to deal with the child's atypical and problematic behaviour.
2) Providing a highly structured environment, including trained personnel, in which the child, adolescent or young adult can learn.

PR4A is the acronym for Parents' Resource for Autism, Malaysia, a support group that was informally established more than 13 years ago by a group of parents because of the limited choices and options in the country.

PR4A (www.pr4a.org.my) endeavours to empower parents as they are the primary caregivers, spending the most time with their children. The group was formally registered as a society in August 2005.

Zoee's mother, Ong Bee Yang is an active member of PR4A and a vocal and passionate believer of pushing for more public awareness of autism.

Ong told me: "When Zoee was about 3, she was fascinated with sounds. Once in a supermarket, she pulled down an elderly woman with a pottu (traditional Indian beauty mark) on her forehead and "knocked" on the pottu."

She added: "I apologised, explaining that my daughter was 'special'. I am sure if she was 12 and did the same, it would have been taken as an act of intimidation."

And so my education continued through the years. I learnt that ASD children cannot form social bonds.

I learnt how important it is to make eye contact with Zoee and relate to her as a person.
Indeed, we (supposedly "normal" people) take social contact so much for granted. The need for sameness and routine is crucial to an autistic child. Once I sat on Zoee's usual seat in the car (unknown to me) and was pinched all the way as she protested loudly through various sounds.

An ASD child can throw a tantrum that lasts hours just because the seating is changed in the family car. The child who has ASD may have strong peak skills in areas such as computations in math, drawing, music or memory of data, whether trivial or important.

Today, Zoee is emerging as a talented artist.

Ong told me: "When Zoee first painted at 8, she was not interested. She used to eat the paint! Sometimes, she bit the teacher! When she turned 16, she started to really enjoy painting with a brush. She has an art teacher who guides her. But at least 80 per cent of the effort is hers."

Her canvases are described as vibrant with colours, shapes and textures. Her artworks are full of dragonflies, butterflies, fishes and flowers, a spin on her fascination with insects and nature.

Her work is spontaneous and free form with uplifting primary colours and simple themes of bird, butterflies and the sea. Looking at her work, the term "happy" immediately comes to mind.

PR4A together with gamelan ensemble Rhythm in Bronze are currently holding a Happy Colours Arts and Craft Showcase in conjunction with the Bites of Delights children's music theatre production.

The exhibition features more than 100 artworks created by young people with ASD.

Today is your last chance to check out Happy Colours and Bites of Delights at the Temple of Fine

Arts in Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur.