The Inner Voice of a Boy on the Autism Spectrum
On this Autism Awareness Day, we'll like to share an excerpt from our new release Open: A Boy's Wayang Adventure by Eva Wong Nava that brings you into the inner world of Open, a 10-year-old boy on the autism spectrum. Although Open has a strong love and curiosity for the life around him, it goes unnoticed sometimes, masked by his unfamiliarity with recognising emotions and expressing himself.
Four years ago, Papa had been given a teaching job at the school. He teaches art. He had asked permission from Mr Chua to let me stay because he needed to be close to me at all times. I heard him tell Mr Chua that I was special and that I don’t make friends easily and that sometimes, I just needed to be by myself. My speciality was drawing, Papa had said, and that I am especially good at drawing monkeys.
Mr Chua listened and then stroked my head and said that I could stay at the school as long as I was good. When Mr Chua said that I could stay, Papa showed me this picture:
I know that this meant ‘happy’ and that Papa was happy. I don’t really know if this is what ‘happy’ feels like but I was happy too. I know this as my stomach feels warm and my heart beats faster than usual when Papa shows me this picture because he always smiles from ear to ear when holding up the ‘happy’ picture; happiness is the taste of kaya butter toast and seeing Papa’s big smile. This means that things are alright.
Papa keeps a pack of these pictures in his pocket. They are drawings he made himself and the paper is lined with plastic. When I run my fingers on them, the surface is smooth. All the faces are different. Next to ‘happy’, I know what ‘sad’ looks like.
Sad feels slow and heavy; empty and tasteless.
On the more difficult ones, he wrote the names of the emotions under the round faces.
This meant ‘surprised’, I know. Except that I don’t get ‘surprised’ at all. What does it mean when someone is surprised? Papa explained that ‘surprised’ means that you weren’t expecting something to happen and it does, which makes you surprised, like when I am not expecting Mama to give me a present and when she does, I am surprised.
Mama doesn’t often buy me things. She buys herself lots of things though. Last week, she came home with a luggage and some shopping bags. The luggage was for her to travel with; she travels a lot. She was happy that it was on sale, she said. She surprised Papa with a blue shirt and then she gave me a box. Inside the box was a car. I tried to remember what ‘surprised’ looks like on the picture. I opened my eyes wide and stared at her.
“Oh Ben!” she sighed.
It is not always easy for me to understand how other people feel most of the time. Papa says that if I looked at their faces and into their eyes, I can tell their feelings. But people’s faces change so fast that I am often confused and I find it hard to look into someone’s eyes. Now if I don’t understand what someone is saying or how they’re feeling, I will ask them. I will say “What do you mean?” and usually, they will try to explain what they are feeling but sometimes, they just laugh. If I still don’t understand anything, I walk or run away just like when Mama tried to hug me.
About Open: A Boy's Wayang Adventure by Eva Wong Nava
Open is a 10-year-old-boy with a curiosity for life and the things that happen around him. He is on the autism spectrum, loves to draw and is especially good at drawing monkeys.
When his class is chosen to put up a Chinese Opera based on the Monkey King and the Journey to the West, Open must find it in himself to overcome his obstacles and boldly step on stage. A heartwarming story about friendship beyond barriers, Open is a gift calling to the largeness of our hearts.
Open is inspired by the local film "The Wayang Kids" by Brainchild Pictures.
The book is now available at all Popular Bookstores islandwide. Find the nearest Popular outlet to you here.