In the eyes of a mother
“Autism is a developmental disorder that causes difficulties in communication and social interaction. There are different degrees of severity, ranging from very mild to very severe. In cases of mild autism, the individual can go to school and even work – however he/she will have difficulties in understanding other people’s expressions, body language, and often say and do the wrong things in a social situation,” was what Catherine, mother of Ian Wong, said when asked to describe autism.
“We noticed that Ian was different as a baby. Unlike his older siblings, he never cried even when he was hungry, wet or when he went for immunisation.”
“He did not make the usual baby sounds and did not speak at all, so we thought he was deaf and brought him for hearing tests at the age of 3. He was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) at the age of 4, and went for early intervention.”
“Thank God he learned a few words, and finally was able to speak at the age of 6,” she added.
Ian struggled in Year One as he could not understand what the teacher is teaching. He was bullied by other students when they found out that he was super sensitive to touch and would lie down on the floor if he was touched. He spent most of the time hiding under his desk and became fearful of school.
Learning to cope with autism
In 2000, Ian attended the Early Intervention Programme by Sibu Autistic Association (SAA) where he learned self-care skills, personal hygiene, attention and learning skills, group play skills, social and communication skills which helped him improve greatly.
“Communication is difficult, even for someone with mild autism. In moderate to severe autism, speech is often very limited. They may have words, but are unable to speak in sentences, and have difficulty finding the right words to say. Some have no speech at all. They often prefer to be by themselves, as they find it very stressful to interact socially. Noisy environments, and unfamiliar places can be stressful, too. However, with early intervention, one-to-one training and lots of patience, love and understanding, children with autism can improve.”
Introduction to art and Ian’s proud moments
After moving to Kuching in 2006, Ian attended Kuching Autistic Association’s (KAA) Educational Programme, where he continued to progress. When Ian was 14 years old, KAA started the Pre-vocational Programme, where students were trained in work-preparedness, for example, packing skills, baking, cooking, laundry, car wash, photocopy and printing skills.
Ian was introduced to art, craft and bead work in the Pre-vocational Programme, and discovered that he was quite good in art and bead work. He started producing designs for greeting cards, with his first set at the age of 14 years. Since then, he has produced many sets of greeting cards, which have been well received by the public.
“I first started learning to draw when I was at KAA’s Pre-vocational Training programme,” said Ian.
“I was 14 years old. I like cats, so my teacher taught me to draw pictures of cats. I have 4 cats at home. But it’s hard to draw cats, because it’s hard to get their fur colours right. You know, cats fur moves and changes colour with the light. I can’t get my art to look exactly like the real cat,” he added.
“I really like the KL Bird Park, especially the colourful parrots. I like drawing colourful birds. People like my orchid artwork and trees, so I will draw more. People ask for Sarawak designs, so I draw Sarawak vases, sape, Sarawak bags and hats. I am happy to draw and make beads at the Gallery.”
“I am happy that people buy my work, and I earn some money. It makes me feel that I have achieved something, when people like my work. I know I am not as good as others in art, but this is my style,” Ian added humbly.
Moving forward with his art
In October 2018, Hilton Kuching hosted KAA’s Second Art Exhibition at its lobby and offered a shop lot in the hotel for use as an Autism Art Gallery featuring merchandise such as mugs, coasters, bags, cards and t shirts with the students’ artwork designs including artworks by Ian. All profits were channelled towards conducting training programmes at KAA’s Educational Centre.
This year in conjunction with the Rainforest World Music Festival 2019 (RWMF) happening this weekend in Kuching, the Autism Art Gallery will be displaying artwork and merchandises by Ian and other artists living with autism at the lobby of Hilton Kuching.
We wish Ian the very best in his artistic journey!
Autism doesn’t have to define a person. Those living with autism are defined by their hard work and individuality!