I AM a high-functioning autistic teenager. At 18 months old, I was diagnosed with moderate autism disorder, which hindered my ability to talk, and build social interactions with others.
My parents started exposing me to early intervention programmes when I was two years old. I was lucky to have a mentor named Khor Soo Nee, who taught me basic self-care skills like eating and bathing, and communication skills. Without her guidance, I wouldn’t have been able to communicate with my parents.
Having received continuous intervention, I was able to enrol in a mainstream primary school. Before I was granted admission, however, my parents were required to submit a supporting document from a doctor to prove that my literacy level was satisfactory.
We successfully obtained the letter, after the doctor had me recite the letters in the alphabet and also some numbers.
Throughout my schooling years until now, I have faced challenges in integrating myself thoroughly into society. One of the main challenges is connecting with my peers.
I do not take interest in the topics that usually pique the curiosity of my peers. Instead, I like paying close attention to issues that I relate to, such as education and social welfare.
Though I am not able to connect with my peers, I can connect better with adults. For example, on the subject of supporting national unity in schools, I could discuss the issue with my teachers at length because I am deeply concerned about it.
Such discussions helped prepare me for the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) 2022 Speaking tests because I could apply my knowledge to the topics raised.
While others may take me to be a self-centred person, I see this characteristic as helpful to maintain a longer focus on the tasks at hand.
For example, whenever I was in my school library, I liked to sit by myself, rather than with my friends, because I wanted to put my full effort in finishing my homework.
Due to the independence I have developed over the years, I am also able to fight for my needs and rights whenever necessary.
On the flip side, my ability to not be easily distracted by others can lead me to misjudging social cues and interrupting conversations.
To mitigate this and to interact with my peers more effectively, I made an effort to understand their interests such as online games through their daily conversations, as well as to join youth organisations.
I also took part in a cadet journalist programme run by a Chinese daily from 2021 to 2022. Through the programme, I learnt how to communicate and cooperate with my coordinators to compose news articles.
I can be very emotional at times. People who suffer from autism like me have difficulty regulating emotions, especially during certain situations.
I also carry with me memories of being bullied in primary school. I was mistreated because I sometimes unintentionally interrupted lessons with irrelevant information, and because I had certain quirks. My peers avoided me whenever I walked near them and I felt a sense of distrust.
To cope with the situation, I learnt relaxation techniques, and also corrected my quirks whenever prompted by my parents and teachers.
Although the traumatic experience is still fresh on my mind, I have been able to overcome it. I am proud to say that I could build trust with my secondary school classmates. Over the years, I have also developed resilience and am able to face complex situations.
As I am passionate about creating solutions to solve community problems, I decided to take part in research activities in 2020. I am indebted to a dedicated teacher named Audrey Low, who guided me through doing the research, writing a complete report on my findings, and presenting it with confidence to the public. I won the “Best Presenter” award as the sole persons with disabilities (OKU) representative from Johor at the Insan Junior Researcher International Conference 2020.
My achievement serves to create awareness of autistic people’s place in an inclusive society. I proved myself to be capable of competing with other contestants during the programme. I even interacted with some of the participants at the conference and others throughout my research journey.Even though there is no cure for autism, autistic people can function and perform almost as well as a normal person with early intervention.
I have been able to create a path for myself with autism, and I hope everyone will continue to support every autistic person who wants to create a meaningful life in an inclusive society.
Aaron, 18, a student in Johor, is a participant of the BRATs Young Journalist Programme run by The Star’s Newspaper-in- Education (Star-NiE) team. For more information, go to facebook.com/niebrats.
Now that you have read the article, test your understanding by carrying out the following English language activities.
1. If you could write a letter to Aaron, what would you say to him in response to his reflection on his journey? When you are done composing your letter in not less than 150 words, read it out to an activity partner. How does he or she feel about your letter?
2. In what way can we better support special needs individuals? Discuss with your partner.
The Star’s Newspaper-in-Education (Star-NiE) programme promotes the use of English language in primary and secondary schools nationwide. For Star-NiE enquiries, email firstname.lastname@example.org.