SINGAPORE: Picking up his bowling ball from the conveyor rack, Para Games bowler Mohamad Rausyan was a picture of full concentration as he measured his movements with a gait similar to an able-bodied kegler.
Approaching his lane with the razor focus of a pilot about to land a Boeing 787, a deft flick of the wrist sees Rausyan’s bowling ball thud resoundingly on the waxed floor, before gliding gracefully down the middle.
The 10-pound ball then curves ever so slightly to the right, before crashing into the bowling pins with full force, knocking down every single one for a strike.
Rausyan makes a cursory nod to himself, taking mental note of the nuances of technique which worked well for him. He then repeats the same process for the length of his two-hour training session, honing his skills alongside his fellow Singaporean ASEAN Para Games bowlers.
At first glance it is hard to tell what sets the TPB 4 category bowler apart from an able athlete. The remarkable regularity of him notching strike after strike in training, also betrays the daily struggles he faces as an autistic person with severe language deficiency.
“We suspected that he had autism when he was about two years old,” said Rausyan’s mother Mdm Sumpina, speaking to Channel NewsAsia a week before he flew to Kuala Lumpur for the 2017 APG. “When he was one, he couldn’t say anything, and so when he was two we went to see a specialist and they suspected that he had autism … it wasn’t confirmed yet back then.”
“It was only when he was about four that they found out he had severe language deficiency,” she added. “In fact, his first word was ‘Mama’ when he was four years old.”
LEARNING TO BE INDEPENDENT
Like most young adults, the 23-year-old is slowly finding his way into society. Rausyan’s reduced learning capabilities, however, means that he still requires supervision by his parents to carry out daily essential chores like grocery shopping.
“We’re always thinking about how to help him cope with society, especially as both me and my wife are getting older. It’s something we constantly think about,” said Rausyan’s father Mr Mohamad Yaacob.
“There is (some) help available for people like him, but we’d still have to find a way to teach him how to survive and how to pay bills, for instance,” he added.
“For simple things like buying groceries, it’s still an on-going learning process for him. But sometimes we'd ask him to tag along to trips to the supermarket, give him a shopping list and teach him how to pay.”
“Things like that ... for now he's under close supervision.”
Employed as a baker making puffs at Hanis Bakery for now, Rausyan earns a stable amount and is able to pay for his meals. Even so, his mother Mdm Sumpina is worried about some of the issues he may face in future due to his inability to form sentences. “He still needs help to buy things, and I’m worried that he may not voice out if someone is out to cheat him.”
“For instance if he’s waiting for his change, and if he doesn’t get it back he’ll not voice out to ask where his money is, and so on.”
GROWING UP WITH SPEECH PROBLEMS
Recalling Rausyan’s formative years, Mr Yaacob said: “Growing up, he didn’t use words like ‘Papa’ or ‘Mama’. He instead made noises like ‘uh’, ‘ooh’ and ‘ah’,” said the 58-year-old. “When we went for therapy, they taught us to start with colours before going to objects.”
Illustration was one of the effective ways for him to communicate, according to his mother Mdm Sumpina. “Now, when he needs to describe difficult scenarios, we’d ask him to draw. For instance, if there was a situation in school, which will require a lot of words to explain, there’s no way he can do it."
"So we’d ask him to illustrate using drawings.”
Describing his brother’s condition further, elder sibling Mohamed Iswandy said that Rausyan verbalises singular words instead of forming sentences.
“I’d give you an example. A normal person would ask in a conversation ‘Have you eaten your dinner?’, and the usual reply would be ‘Yes, I have taken my dinner.. I had a plate of chicken rice’ and so on.”
“For him, you’d have to simplify the question to a very basic ‘Eat already?’ which involves the words “Eat” and “already” – just two words.”
“And he’d say ‘yes’.”
“Then you’d have to follow up with ‘What did you eat?’ and he’ll then explain ‘fish’, ‘chicken’, ‘rice’ and ‘tea’. Very basic and to the point replies,” said brother Iswandy, who is 25.
Despite his lack of verbal expressions, the feeling of winning in sport is something that is profoundly joyful for Rausyan, according to his brother. “He definitely feels something when he wins, even though he doesn’t express or show."
"Only after we'd prompt him, then he will say that he’s very ‘happy’.”
LATENT POTENTIAL IN SPORT
In the early days, brother Iswandy was Rausyan’s regular doubles partner during competitive games of badminton at Braddell Heights Community Centre.
According to Iswandy, his intellectually-disabled younger sibling also showed some ability in para table-tennis, in addition to bowling and badminton.
It was then up to his family to decide on which sport suited Rausyan the most. “Before bowling, there were three sports he majored in. One being table tennis, the other is badminton and finally, bowling,” said Iswandy.
“However, he didn’t excel much in both compared with bowling. So when there were more opportunities for him to play in METTA School, we decided to push him into being a bowler.”
He added: “We had a discussion with the family to make a decision, as out of these three sports, which one was it that he could most excel in?”
“After seeing many different competitions he took part in, we found that hey, he indeed has most talent in bowling.”
It is his badminton exploits that first sparked Rausyan’s foray into sports, according to brother Iswandy. “We started playing badminton in our ... dining room, which is quite a spacious area. We used to hit fast strokes and the shuttlecock will usually hit my mum’s vases, till one broke."
"Even our walls have a few scratches here and there, and that’s how we picked up sports,” he said.
“One of our best memories was when we represented Braddell Heights CC in Men’s doubles badminton. We won silver for the team back in 2014, and it was a proud moment with us taking photos afterwards,” added Iswandy.
“As a sibling, to see my brother grow as an individual is heartwarming and makes me proud,” said Iswandy. “To compare him with how he was back then compared to how he is now, is amazing. He now receives coaching from the national para coaches.”
“When I go to the CC, my friends from badminton will ask me about my brother. And I will proudly that say that he’s got some bowling game somewhere or is away at training.”
SPORTS AS A GROWTH TOOL
It is also through sports that Rausyan is now able to integrate better with his able counterparts, according to both his father and elder brother. “Sports helps his growth as a person, definitely,” said brother Iswandy.
“The reason why he’s here now is due to the support of his whole family, who has been nurturing him since young. And sports is one of the tools that drives him to where he is today, developing his motor skills, social skills and so on.”
“I do agree to a large extent that sports indeed pushes him on. Before, he was very quiet and didn't have a lot of friends,” he added. “After joining, he’s likeable by all his peers. My own friends will even ask me where he is, whenever I’m out playing sports as well.”
“He’s being accepted because of his talent in sports. Even able-bodied peers want him to come down and play, because they enjoy playing with him,” said the 25-year-old sibling.
Iswandy believes sports can play a big part in bringing together the able-bodied and those with special needs: “I believe that sports helps everybody because it helps them in terms of bonding and also the physical aspect of life.”
“In fact I’d like to encourage parents of special needs kids to expose them to the outside world as it’ll definitely help in their progress,” said Rausyan’s father, Mr Yaacob. “They shouldn’t simply be kept at home as they won’t really learn that way.”
“Let them mix with everybody, let them interact. It’ll help them a lot.”