KUALA LUMPUR: Hands down, it was the happiest of festive holidays for Selangor state swimmer Adam Jeffrey Dillon.
Not only was he thrilled that grandma was back after six years in Myanmar, but he is also “adulting” well, enjoying a sports coaching internship after graduating from high school.
Adam, 20, is a medal-winning competitive swimmer who represents Selangor in national meets and his swim club in local and international events.
His achievements are even more remarkable once people discover that Adam has autism.
As a young boy, he would have a meltdown if his toes touched the water. It took many long months of persistent exposure to get Adam submerged in the pool.
“Swimming not only makes me fit physically, it also helps me mentally; it gives me confidence to know that there is something I am really good at,” said Adam, who publicly disclosed his disability three years ago to raise funds for autism, a neurological developmental disorder.
He described graduating from high school last year as a “very big deal”.
“I was barely passing subjects earlier on,’’ said the Mont’ Kiara International School (M’KIS) graduate, who comes from a family of medical professionals.
“I can’t believe I received Honour Roll awards!” he said, crediting family and friends – and the switch from a more conservative education system to an American programme – for his success.
Adam’s mentor and teacher of many years, Candace-Louise Crosbie, said he felt brave enough to disclose his condition to his new classmates after he switched to a more inclusive school.
“This was a brave decision because he was the new kid. For his Grade 10 personal project, he raised almost RM6,000 for an autism awareness campaign and talked about Autism Spectrum Disorder and his challenges.
“His project was a success and was a huge boost to his shaky teenage confidence,” said Crosbie, M’KIS Head of Admissions.
With April observed as World Autism Awareness Month, Adam’s mother, Datin Seri Dr Theingi Sakina Han Dillon, said it was timely that the family shared their story.
The paediatrician of Myanmar descent, who is practising in Kuala Lumpur, spoke about the importance of early diagnosis at age three in her son’s case to enable early intervention.
Adam received occupational therapy to improve motor coordination, speech therapy, ABA therapy, and gymnastics before swimming became his primary focus.
“If you saw Adam during the first 10 years of life with his frequent meltdowns, you would know how remarkable it is to see who he is now,” she said.
She has some advice for parents whose children have been diagnosed with autism. “Accept it, though it’s hard. Don’t give up. There’s always hope, and an early start gives your child more room to improve.”
The next most important thing is family support, and Adam has plenty of that with mum, dad, his elder brother, extended family, a team of therapists, and close friends to count on.
Dr Han Dillon said it was easier for parents to take advice from her because “I am not just talking to them as a paediatrician, but as a mother as well”.
“With an autistic child, everything must be taught. Skills that typical kids learn by observation, you have to teach. And with social skills, anger management, and emotional regulation, you need to be very persistent and patient,” she added.
She said Adam’s coaching internship was a step in the direction of adulthood and a job in the future. “He is now adult Adam, not kid Adam.”
Hearing mum’s words, Adam responded: “In 10 years, I am going to have a successful job in fitness. I am going to make my own money and have good relationships with family and friends.”
“I won’t live off my parents anymore. I will be independent, and my life will (focus on) helping others,” he declared.
This is a news article published by The Star, you can also view it here.