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World Autism Awareness Month: No Dream Too Great

World Autism Awareness Month: No Dream Too Great

In honour of Autism Acceptance Month, CinemaWorld is spotlighting an Italian film Copperman (2019), which tells the story of Anselmo, a man with autism who aspires to fulfil his childhood dreams of becoming a superhero.

An endearing and uplifting film for all audiences, Copperman reveals thepower of dreams and the importance of communal support. In the film, Anselmo’s hardy, copper armour is constructed by the town’s blacksmith, gifted to him out of kindness and faith in his dreams. 

In our efforts to spotlight the stories of persons with autism, CinemaWorld has reached out to two individuals, Daniel and Danish, to share more about their interests as well as hopes and dreams for their future.

What is Autism:

A study done by Singhealth on showed that 1 in 150 children in Singapore are on the autism spectrum, a higher rate than the World Health Organisation's global figure of one in 160 children. According to Autism Resource Centre (Singapore), autism is a “lifelong developmental disability that affects a person’s ability to make sense of the world and relate with others” and it is characterised by “difficulties in socialisation, restricted or repetitive patterns of behaviours and interest” (HealthHub Singapore).

Beyond its technicalities however, many individuals in the autistic community assert that being on the spectrum simply means that they think and perceive the world differently from others. As the term Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) implies, no one autistic person has the same symptoms and quirks, and each is unique in themselves – all with their own thoughts, beliefs, and dreams.

To better understand persons with autism, we must therefore be open to ideas different from ours and learn to listen to their stories. 

Interview with Daniel

During our short conversation with 13-year-old Daniel over a video call, his enthusiasm and positivity certainly shone through amidst his shyness. 

A Chinese-Australian student at Brentwood Secondary College in Melbourne, Australia, Daniel’s favourite subject at school is Mathematics. He is also bilingual and is fluent in Mandarin despite having lived in Melbourne for the majority of his life. To ensure he stays rooted to his mother-tongue and Chinese roots, Daniel attends a Chinese learning school after his regular curriculum at the college.

On top of his interest in Mathematics, Daniel also revealed his passion and talent for the arts through his creative endeavours. He claimed that he had only recently started learning the piano, before bringing us over to his piano and stunning us with a live performance. At school, he is also learning the flute, which he brought before the camera to present his rented instrument to us.

When asked about his hobbies, Daniel’s father revealed that Daniel has a Youtube account where he uploads his own videos. “I learnt everything all by myself,” Daniel declared proudly. A dedicated filmmaker/Youtuber, Daniel loves to record his everyday life, including himself playing the piano. Overtime, he has picked up video editing and dubbing through watching tutorials online. Of course, like every veteran Youtuber, Daniel did not forget to remind us to “Subscribe!” to his channel.

Daniel also aspires to become a pilot in the future. A curious explorer at heart, Daniel wishes to visit many countries around the world. Likely to please us, his Singaporean interviewers, he even said that Singapore would be his first destination. Having visited the country several years back, Daniel loved frog porridge the most amongst all the unique and unfamiliar food he tried. Needless to say, he has an adventurous palette as well.

Interview with Danish

20-year-old Danish, whose days are typically packed with school activities and time for his own hobbies, found a slot in his schedule on a Wednesday morning to speak with us over a video call. He shared that his curriculum at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) starts late on Wednesday, and that he would have to go for classes later.

With a knack for hands-on learning, Danish’s switch from the textbook-heavy curriculum at his secondary school to the practical-focused lessons in the Design & Precision Engineering course at ITE catered better to his learning experience. During his time at school, he has also learnt how to work with 3-D printers, and he gladly shared his newfound knowledge about the materials, equipment and its mechanics. 

He carried a sombre air as he recalled his secondary school days, voice dropping at the unpleasant and difficult memories. “I was bullied a lot in school,” he admits quietly and adds, “The start of ITE was rough too.” Danish’s mother, Indriati, agreed solemnly. “Being an autistic person, he is prone to being bullied,” she lamented. “I was very worried when he first entered ITE.” Despite these traumatic experiences in his youth, Danish still pushed through, focusing on the things important to him – keeping loved ones and true friends close, working on himself, and pursuing his interests and goals.

During our conversation, Danish shared his love and talent for music. Having discovered this unexpected interest in his previous school, Danish has since picked up the ukulele, the piano and the kalimba. A lover of Electronic Dance Music (EDM), he has also been on the hunt for a good software where he can experiment with EDM. “I want to be a DJ,” Danish declared. “I like Avicii… My favourite song [of his] is ‘Wake Me Up’.”

“EDM moves me,” he smiled, “and I dance to it.”

Beyond EDM, Danish also loves the musical score from The Greatest Showman. “My favourite song from the movie is ‘This is Me’. It is so uplifting,” he explained.

In 2018, Danish, who was 14 then, was diagnosed with recurrent brain tumour. Despite this life-altering revelation, the young and determined Danish remained hopeful and optimistic. Today, the young adult already has plans to go to Republic Polytechnic upon graduation from ITE to pursue Sonic Arts.

A budding musician, Danish also wrote his own song back in 2020 in collaboration with The Sam Willows for the Children Cancer Foundation, titled “Still I Survived”. The song’s lyrics are simple yet immensely powerful and heart-wrenching. It offers a glimpse into Danish’s deeply personal story about his fight against cancer and conveys a striking message about resilience in the face of adversity.

Through our conversation and Indriati’s TikTok videos, the importance of having external support on top of one’s own resolve becomes evident, such as having close family and friends, and an accepting wider community. At school, Danish has also found a group of like-minded peers at Buddy-In, a co-curricular activity where students can befriend special needs students in Special Needs Schools and ITE, where they often interact and bond through board-games.

Despite the limited time that we spoke over the video call, Danish made sure to emphasise his heartfelt appreciation for his unwavering support system throughout the conversation. He thanked his mother for her presence and love, the kind guidance of his past social worker whom he loved well, and also mentioned that he once gifted 3-D printed flowers to the people he cared for. 

Danish’s mother, who often shares about her son's life with autism and his cancer diagnosis on her Tik Tok account, said that Danish has always been strong-willed and that though he has faced many obstacles, both internal and external, since young, his optimism makes it easy to motivate him with some “pep talk”. “As an autistic person, he just thinks differently from other people. His autism actually helps him focus and work on his interests,” Indriati says with a laugh. She emphasises that as a mother, she does what she has to do for him as well as her other children – by supporting and encouraging them the best she can. With sufficient support around him, she is confident that Danish will do well on his own terms.

When we asked him if he had a special skill, Danish gave us an unconventional and profound answer,

“My special skill isn’t physical – it’s my perseverance.” 

With his tenacity, positivity and forward-looking mindset, Danish’s dreams are undoubtedly well within his grasp.

A special thank you to both Daniel and his father, Zou Xin as well as Danish and his mother, Indriati for sharing their stories with us for this special month.

If you would like to learn more about ASD or find out how you can support persons with autism in Singapore, check out these sites:

St Andrew’s Autism Centre

Autism Network Singapore 

Autism Resource Centre

Here are some websites from our neighbouring countries (though not limited to this list) that you can visit for more information:

National Autism Society of Malaysia (NASOM)

Masyarakat Peduli Autis Indonesia (MPATI)

Autism Society Philippines (ASP) 

Vietnamese Family Autism Advisory Board (VFAAB)

India Autism Center (IAC)

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