Sunday July 1, 2012
21-year-old autistic lad with a map in his mind
By YVONNE LIM
PETALING JAYA: Twenty-one-year-old Vincent Wong has autism but to those who know him, he is a “walking GPS”.
He has memorised every public bus route in the Klang Valley, including the bus numbers and number plates, and can spell out the exact names of the streets the buses ply, which his father, taxi driver Wong Kee Fuen, finds helpful.
Asked how he knows the routes, Vincent said: “My mother used to take me on buses and we would travel around KL.”
However, despite his remarkable sense of direction and extraordinary memory, Vincent is unable to hold down a job due to the limitations of his disorder a short attention span and inability to respond to normal social cues.
Since his mother died of cancer in 2001, he has been left in a hostel except for the occasional weekends when he gets to go home.
Although Vincent is now being taught basic interactive skills and trained to work in a normal setting at the National Autism Society of Malaysia (Nasom), his teachers say it is difficult due to his age.
Nasom chairman Teh Beng Choon said that if autistic children like Vincent were given the opportunity to develop their remarkable memory and trained from a young age to overcome the disorder's limitations, they could be very successful in life.
“Many autistic children are gifted in certain areas, such as music and drawing. However, about 30% of them lose' these gifts as they grow older,” he said.
Health Ministry's statistics showed that one in 625 children in the country is born with some form of autism.
Teh said autistic children, who have been placed in an environment where they were given support and opportunities to learn how to adapt, showed quick progress in their education and development of social skills.
“It is crucial not just for their parents but for the society to understand and provide them with such opportunities and exposure,” he said.
Hidayati Basri, 45, has two autistic sons, aged 12 and 16, who have achieved exceptional grades in their UPSR, PMR and school exams.
The bank officer said it was all about finding out what worked for them and tapping into their strengths so that these could be developed.
“They respond best to mind maps. So, I sit with them at the end of each day and draw out mind maps to discuss their progress,” she said.