By Siti Salwa Shaari
KUANTAN: It was literally a journey in retrospective for the parents of autistic children who watched the movie ‘Redha’, the first local film to highlight the struggles of families in raising children with this condition and the community’s ignorance on autism.
Wiping his tears after the film ended, Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB) employee Ismail Abdul Halim, 53, lauded the brilliant piece scripted by Tunku Mona Riza and Azril Hamzah.
Ismail who hails from Indera Mahkota 15 noted that those involved in making Redha had done their homework well to understand the lives of autistic children and their families.
He was among the 150 parents and autistic children invited by the national Autism Malaysia Association (Nasom) to watch the film at a theater here recently.
HITS CLOSE TO HOME
“As I watched Razlan (the main character acted by Namron) apologise to a family for his son Danial’s (acted by Harith Haziq) behaviour at a restaurant, the scene reminded me of a similar situation that I had been through.
“At the time, my son Muhammad Akhtar was reproached for taking a ball from a woman. The annoyed woman said I was an irresponsible parent although I apologised profusely and offered to pay compensation,” he recalled.
The film also directed by Tunku Mona Riza, which hit the silver screen on April 14 and stars husband and wife team Namron and June Lonjong, Harith Haziq and Izzy Reef, highlights the real dilemma faced by parents with such children.
He pointed out the movie’s message on the lack of knowledge on autism among Malaysians also hits home as he too was at a loss when he first realised in 2003 that his son Muhammad Akhtar, 18, was not like other children.
Worried about his son’s condition, he consulted a doctor, only to be told: “Your son is normal, he isn’t sick.”
“By coincidence I read about autism on a notice board while waiting at a hospital. Only then I realised my son has some of the characteristics stated, so I quickly brought him to a specialist,” he added.
Just like how the character Danial’s obsession with dolphins, Ismail noted that Muhammad Akhtar also shared a similar fascination but towards dinosaurs.
Each time he spoke to Muhammad Akhtar, a feeling of awe would overcome him. The boy is nothing short of a mobile dictionary on dinosaurs, accurately identifying, pronouncing and spelling the names of all species.
Mention ‘long neck’, and the teenager would quickly respond saying diplodocus, brachiosaurus, argentinosaurus huinculensis and seismosaurus hallorum, all dinosaurs with long necks.
Housewife Nur Fazliana Mat Amin, 45, was touched by the determination of Alina (acted by June Lojong) who took Danial back and forth between Terengganu and Kuala Lumpur to diagnose on Danial’s condition despite lack of support from her husband, Razlan.
“Not many know the sacrifices we make and difficulties we face. I’ve felt what Razlan felt when he found it hard to accept his son’s condition.
“It’s important to be patient and have faith. Autistic children have their own skills, but they need to be polished and trained repeatedly to accept the orders given to them,” she said.
Nur Fazliana opted to become a full-time housewife when her only son, Wan Muhammad Zarith Wan Rosdi, was diagnosed with autism at the age of three.
She said her son’s behaviour was like that of Danial in the movie, in which he preferred to play alone, hardly spoke, does not make eye contact and often acted repetitively.
“I’m lucky, because just like Alina, I have strong support from family and friends. They are my strength in facing these challenges, especially since there are no other special children in my extended family,” she continued.
EDUCATING THE PUBLIC
Meanwhile, Nasom’s chairwoman Norazaemi Ibrahim, 40, hoped that more people would watch the movie so they at least know how to interact with families with autistic children.
“There are still people who do not know about autism. We are so used to hearing people call these children naughty, disobedient and more…hopefully the public will go out and support Redha instead of leaving it to us to fill up the cinemas,” she said.
The petite woman added that Danial’s inclination to converse in English in a predominately Malay surrounding was also experienced by her nine-year-old son Muhammad Adam Mukhriz Mohd Nor Safarol.
“Why this situation occurs is spontaneously explained in Redha…I also understand that character Razlan was in denial that his son had condition which led him to grab the picture used by Alina to teach Danial.
“In my experience, Adam’s growth was like that of his peers. He began walking at the age of one and stopped wearing diapers at the age of 30 months. That’s normal on the growth chart.
“At the age of three Adam started showing symptoms of autism when he refused to make friends despite being sent to an early education centre. I took Adam to a specialist when he was four years old.
“He showed a lot of progress after we sought help. This is why we at Nasom emphasise on the importance of early intervention,” Norazaemi concluded.