Autistic boy wonder in Penang gets letter from Obama
BY LOOI SUE-CHERN
Published: 22 August 2014
Gifted 11-year-old Delwin Cheah with the letter from US President Barack Obama. – The Malaysian Insider pic by Hasnoor Hussain, August 22, 2014.It is not everyday a boy receives a letter from the President of the United States. Let alone if he is an 11-year-old who lives halfway across the globe.
But Penang boy Delwin Cheah Wien Loong did, when he received a letter from President Barack Obama.
Delwin is no ordinary boy. He is the Malaysia Book of Records' "Youngest Artist To Hold Solo Visual Art Exhibition (Autism Spectrum Disorder)" and the United States' Record Setter's "World Youngest Savant Artist (ASD) to hold a Solo Exhibition".
Delwin is autistic but his achievements had previously earned him and his family the chance to meet and rub shoulders with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and his wife Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor.
Now, he has a letter from Obama, thanking him for his "gift", a book of his drawings titled "I Can Draw".
In the July 14 letter, Obama wrote that "the world needs young people like you who are trying hard in school, serving your community, and dreaming big dreams".
"We face many challenges, but with your help, we can build on what we have already achieved and forge a brighter tomorrow," the US president wrote.
Delwin's parents Lawrence Cheah and Erina Law said they never expected a letter from the president and were surprised to learn that Obama had recently received the book.
"The book came out two years ago when Delwin had his first art exhibition," she said.
Her husband Lawrence said they had no idea who gave the book to Obama.
"We are also trying to find out who is this person," he said.
The couple and their son have been in the news many times because of the boy's talent in drawing.
Banking on what Delwin can do, the proud parents have been trying to reach out to other parents with autistic children, reminding them never to give up.
Often, they try to inspire others with Delwin's story, from the time they discovered he had Asperger's Disorder at age five but also an IQ of 114, making him the world's youngest Savant artist today.
Lawrence and his wife advocate early detection and early intervention, and they stress on the importance of teaching and training children with autism from young to help them develop their talents.
"Once you have the diagnosis, you can only accept (that your child has) autism and start seeing to your child's training and education to develop his or her hidden talents," he said, stressing that waiting for the child to grow up to be taught would be too late.
He said Delwin had started drawing when he was just over three years old, and even then he had been drawing wild animals especially Safari animals.
"I sent Delwin to art classes after we discovered that he liked drawing. The teacher came to me and said my son was the worst student and he can never be an artist.
"Delwin could not take instructions. He just drew whatever that came to him. So the teacher did not know how to deal with a student like that.
"But we never gave up and we kept encouraging him to develop his skills and his art. Delwin is where he is now because we persevered together with him as a team," Lawrence said.
When it comes to art, Delwin is not like kids his age, who would normally use pencils to draw so they could easily rub off mistakes. Delwin uses pens and draws his animals so well there are no mistakes.
Law said it is important to understand how autistic children learn and do things differently, and be supportive instead of regarding them as disabled.
Delwin, she said, does not hold a disabled person's card and goes to a normal school with normal schoolmates.
He is enrolled in Lighthouse Academy Penang, a private school with an American syllabus in Tanjung Bungah that uses a homeschooling approach with its students.
"Delwin attends school like other children his age. He just learns differently," she said.
The family's hardwork with Delwin and their belief in his abilities paid off when the boy began making waves in recent years.
On Christmas Day 2011, Delwin was recognised by Stroke of Genius, an American organisation that educates and empowers people with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) by promoting their abilities.
In April 2012, he took part in the organisation's art exhibition at the United Nations Plaza in New York and in February last year, he had his first solo show.
In April last year, Delwin made the Malaysia Book of Records as the youngest artist to hold a solo visual art exhibition with 60 art pieces.
Later in November, he was officially named the world's youngest savant artist to hold an exhibition by the Record Setter.
In April this year, he again made his mark with the Malaysia Book of Records for winning the "Most Outstanding Personality (Art Category)" award.
The latest feather on Delwin's cap is of course the letter he received from the White House.
Savant syndrome is a condition in which a person with a mental disability, such as an autism spectrum disorder, demonstrates profound and prodigious capacities or abilities far in excess of what would be considered normal.
Some people with Savant syndrome demonstrate exceptional skills in areas like rapid calculation, art, memory and musical ability.
Asperger syndrome or Asperger disorder (AD) is an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) that is characterised by significant difficulties in social interaction, non-verbal communication, restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviour and interests.
People with Asperger's do not have a learning disability and most go through mainstream school, pursue higher education and enter employment, and some would excel in areas like mathematics, science, language, memory and concentration. – August 22, 2014.
- See more at: http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/malaysia/article/autistic-boy-wonder-in-penang-gets-letter-from-obama#sthash.5OMXzS8S.dpuf