He turned to origami to get him through
Adjusting to life in Jurong Pioneer Junior College (JPJC) was not easy for Hady Amani Santo, a student diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. When he first entered the college, he came across as socially awkward to his classmates who were not aware of his condition. His diagnosis had affected how Hady perceived others. In turn, this had an impact on his interactions with his peers. He preferred to be alone and did not like speaking to others. “It was a new environment for me. Not knowing the people around me well also made it difficult to initiate conversations.”
As the pace of JC life was fast and challenging, Hady was overwhelmed and unable to cope at first. “It was very different from secondary school as there was now different venues for lectures and tutorials. Moreover, the pace of topics covered was very fast. I had difficulties adjusting to so many changes.”
In his first year, when he could not complete the tasks for a Physics practical lesson, Hady remembered how he felt so upset that he threw a tantrum. Project Work – a new subject – further brought new challenges as his struggles with communications had created tension with his groupmates who were unaware of his diagnosis. “Feeling overwhelmed, I had forgotten to attend a group meeting. To make matters worse, I did not know how to approach the matter to address it, causing them to be upset with me.” Noticing the tension, teachers kindly offered their assistance to sooth the matter. His Civics Tutor, Mr Pang Kang Ming recalled, “I spoke to his father and sought his views and permission on letting his classmates know about Hady’s medical condition. This way, peers can be more understanding and can even serve as an additional channel of support for Hady to better adjust to college life.” Hady's father readily consented to it after discussing with his son and offering his advice. Recalling the incident, Hady said, “My dad advised me to be open and humble so that people can be more aware. I agreed as I was going to spend two years with my peers and this would be for the better.”
Despite his dislike for public speaking, Hady mustered up his courage. Bravely, he stood in front of his classmates, revealed his condition and apologised for his tantrums. With a newfound understanding of his condition, his classmates were empathetic and took Hady under their wings; some offering guidance to improve his academic work. They also took steps to forge closer friendships with Hady. “A few of my classmates would help to remind me of the tasks we need to see to. One of them was especially helpful we were in the same Co-Curricular Activity (CCA). I could talk to her about issues that I faced both in the classroom and in our CCA. This helped me to cope better with the new environment.”
Hady turned to origami to calm him down during stressful periods. “I was drawn to origami since I was a five-year-old boy. I had chanced upon a book in the library and was drawn by the step- by-step instructions of the craft. It never failed to guide me towards a very precise goal – which is a calming process. Since then, I always have a pack of origami paper with me and I fold theminto structures during my breaks.” In between the gruelling Project Work training sessions for Oral Presentation, folding origami certainly helped to reduce his stress of public speaking.
He proudly showcased some of the complex structures that he has built, including a horse and airplane, some of which were impressively constructed without any instructions due to his flair for spatial visualisation. When Hady was given the opportunity to lead his class in an activity during Civics Tutorial, he volunteered to conduct an origami tutorial to share his passion. He led his class by giving them step-by-step instructions to fold paper cranes and his classmates enjoyed the session. “It was the first time I got the chance to stand in front of the class and lead them and I was happy to share my interest with them.” Indeed, Hady has come a long way from a boy who grew anxious and shied away from speaking to a crowd. Looking back on this good experience, Hade reflected that this opportunity was something he held dear to his heart. Not only was he able to further hone his communication skills, he was able to bond with his classmates and share his love for origami.
Bolstered by the support and encouragement from his peers, he also volunteered to be part of a Values in Action (VIA) project to teach students from Gan Eng Seng Primary School about the importance of cyber-wellness through an online Zoom session as part of his Co-Curricular Activity (CCA), the Infocomm Club. Having a keen eye for aesthetics and design, he also volunteered to design the CCA T-shirt and help in the design of the CCA website. These opportunities further allowed Hady to develop his communication skills and work together as a team. “I enjoyed the sense of camaraderie within the CCA as we played virtual games together as part of CCA sessions for bonding. I think this CCA allowed me to tap on my strengths and build closer bonds with my peers.”
“I feel like a new man!” Hady exclaimed as he reminisced his days in college, realising how far he has grown as an individual. With the college being situated quite a distance from my home, I learnt to be more independent, taking public transport regularly on my own for the first time.” When asked what attributed to his transformation, Hady credited his teachers for providing a nurturing environment to develop his strengths. “I was given the opportunity to build better relationships with my peers in both my Civics class as well as in my CCA. My computing teachers really helped me a lot. They spent one-to-one time with me to improve my performance in my weaker subjects. I am also grateful to my Project Work tutor, who stayed long hours in school with me and my group to improve my Oral Presentation skills as I have difficulties articulating my words.” A combined Science student, Hady had faced initial difficulties adapting to H2 Physics. However, support and encouragement from his Civics and Physics Tutor, Mr Pang motivated him to do better for the subject. “Mr Pang is very entertaining. He brings a more enjoyable learning environment to the class. He helped me in every step of the way by giving me step-by-step instructions.”
Hady’s family was a great source of strength and motivation during challenging times. Whenever he faces difficulties in communicating with others, he turns to his parents for support. His father mentioned “many people do not understand the challenges faced by people with Autism and how they interpret things. I always tell Hady to be humble. Only when he is first able to help himself and others understand his condition, will he be better at communicating to others. Hady’s father further added, “Hady has many strengths as a person. He stands up for any injustice that happens in front of him, he can’t lie, he has a fantastic memory and he reads widely. If you ask him anything related to History, Geography, culture, movies or current affairs, he can engage in a good discussion with you as he has varied interests and opinionated. I am really proud of him and I hope other people can see all these wonderful qualities in him too.”
Indeed, these two years have seen Hady transform into a more confident and mature young man. Hady hopes to pursue design related courses in University and dreams of travelling the world after graduation. “I enjoyed seeing different cultures and lifestyles when I went on holidays with my family. I want to go back to Japan, where origami originated and learn more about it.”