Whether it is playing Frisbee, bowling, kicking a football around or a walk in the park, Hongshin, Xinyu and Oliver can always be found doing some sporty activity on their outings. They hardly hang out inside a shopping mall, because Oliver feels most comfortable outdoors.
Hongshin, an illustrator and children’s book author, said it was his first brush with a youth with special needs, despite regularly collaborating with Superhero Me and working with young children. It was during the Peekaboo! art residency that opened his eyes to how tough it is for graduating youths to integrate into the outside world, let alone make friends. Xinyu, on the other hand, was looking to volunteer while in between jobs and wanted hands-on experience in the social sector space. Before this, she only had brief encounters with people with autism.
(from left to right) Hongshin, Oliver and Xinyu enjoying the sunset view at Sentosa Boardwalk.
From things like communicating with Oliver through a whiteboard, being very observant to non-verbal cues and building trust, the pair said they have learnt a lot from each other and from Oliver as well.
One of their favourite moments was when they played football at the field at Buona Vista before a sudden downpour wrecked their plans and they had to race to the nearby Star Vista mall.
Oliver liked to imitate their actions – he would copy how Hongshin ducked under a tree branch, the way he ran and even chuckled when Xinyu laughed. “It was very funny and memorable, I think it’s a way of saying he’s connected with us,” said Hongshin.
Over time, Oliver has grown more comfortable with them. Once, while sitting at a quiet staircase at Vivocity, Oliver doodled over Hongshin’s portrait of him. “At first, I was a bit stunned. I thought he was trying to erase my drawing, but I realised that maybe he wanted to make it collaborative,” said Hongshin.
Another time, they noticed that Oliver was fine with the younger kids joining in their game while at Botanic Gardens. “That’s when I saw he really opened up,” said Xinyu, a programme coordinator at the Alzheimer’s Disease Association.
The pair see these outings as a way for them to connect youths with special needs to society. “We are a bridge,” he said. “Often we are quick to avoid someone who looks or behaves differently but these can be opportunities to approach, accommodate and even engage them.”