An Autistic Kid: Umar's Achievement

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Special kids sing their hearts out

Posted by Hasfizal on April 6, 2012 at 9:00 PM

THE STAR - 6 April 2012

IT MAY have been a simple evening recital at the hall in Wisma Bentley but for the fact that the performers, under the tutelage of Brian John Yim, were autistic.

 

Yim, who also organised the recital, looked on as his students took the stage to play or sing well-known pieces from Disney movies, or even classics like Sinatra’s My Way and I Will Always Love You, popularised by the late Whitney Houston.

 

The highlight of the evening was when Umar Hasfizal, 14, who was diagnosed with autism when he was three, came on stage to sing two tracks from his mini album, I Give The Best Of Me, which was also launched on the same night.

 

The two tracks, Abah and I Give The Best Of Me, were composed and produced by Yim, who has also been coaching Umar for the past two years.

 

Hasfizal Mukhtar, 37, said that when he and his wife learnt that Umar was autistic, they began with early intervention to mitigate the effects and by the time Umar was seven, he was accepted into an inclusive programme where special-needs children could study together with other pupils.

 

Singing out: Umar stands proud together with his father Hasfizal (left) and Yim after launching his mini-album.

“We discovered his singing talent in Year Three. He began performing in school first, then participated in Malaysian Special Idol where he placed second. Yim discovered him when forming his autistic children’s choir in Year Six,” said Hasfizal.

 

Yim, Umar’s teacher, said that it was not easy as Umar was often restless, but Yim had previously handled other autistic children when auditioning more than 100 autistic children for the choir.

 

“To get him to sing the notes I wanted, I discovered that it was easier to lead and play it once for him, then he immediately got the notes.

 

“I am very happy that Umar can launch this album, as I believe that music plays a therapeutic role for children with autism,” Yim said.

 

Dr Hasnah Toran, a senior lecturer in early intervention and autism from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s Education Faculty, highlighted the need for early intervention for children diagnosed with autism, as it was growing to epidemic proportions, even in Malaysia.

 

Helping out: Yim holds up the microphone for Joshua Chong during the recital.

“In the US, the cost for early intervention and special education for an autistic child is between US$3,000 and US$5,000 a year, depending on the severity.

 

“Contrast that with US$80,000 to US$100,000 for an adult.

 

“If nothing else, the economics argue for early intervention,” said Dr Hasnah.

 

More worryingly, however, is the fact that Malaysia suffers from a dearth of child psychiatrists and psychologists to properly diagnose autism in children.

 

“There are only about 300 psychiatrists and psychologists in the country, for a population of 28mil, that is a ratio of 20,000 to one specialist. Let us not even go into the number specialising in child psychology or psychiatry and supporting therapies such as speech. A lot of patients fall through the cracks,” Dr Hasnah said.

 

Nonetheless, for Umar himself, the whole process was fun despite its challenges.

 

“There was a lot of challenges, but I feel it was fun,” said Umar.

 

The event was also held in conjunction with World Autism Awareness Day, which is observed on April 2 annually.

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