Doran Oon

"I see that (Aspergers) as a part of myself rather than a problem"



Doran Oon describes himself as being quite friendly and has a few friends whom he is close to. He maintains contact with friends from secondary school and made new ones easily upon joining LaSalle College of the Arts in 2018 where he is working towards a Diploma in Music. They hang out together, sometimes have jamming sessions and play League of Legends together. Doran sounds like any other ordinary guy but it was not the case in school. He was called the “weird guy” and felt socially awkward.

When he was in Primary 5, Doran was diagnosed with Aspergers, a condition on the mild end of the Autistic Spectrum Disorder. His mother decided not to hide the condition from him and shared the finding with teachers when he went on to secondary school. This proved to be the right move as the school provided support through sessions with the Counsellor. Doran learnt and practised skills in making friends and how to work his way around during arguments that arose from his inability to read between the lines in social situations.

Doran went online to find out more about the Aspergers condition and accepted that it was part of his make-up even if he appeared “strange” to others. “I see that as a part of myself rather than a problem…” Recognition and acceptance coupled with a determination to deal with the condition allowed him to make fresh starts. When he joined LaSalle after his GCE “O” levels, he used the skills he learnt to make new friends and found that this was not so difficult after all. Making conversations became more natural to him although he still had to consciously refrain from being repetitive.

At LaSalle, Doran enjoys hanging out with a good friend with an attention deficit disorder. His friend plays the guitar and has a habit of repeating a certain musical motif but Doran accepts his friend’s peculiarity. They get along quite well with a common interest in music and enjoy chilling out together. He also enjoys being in the company of friends who are recipients of the Dare to Dream scholarship as there is a special camaraderie because each has a special needs condition. He feels that he is in a safe space and enjoys opportunities to go on outings with them.

Coming from a close-knit family also helps as bonds are fostered through the common love for music. Dad is Alvin Oon, a well-known local composer of Peranakan songs, mum used to play the piano and violin, Grandma can play a bit of the piano and elder brother Darius completed his Diploma in Music at LaSalle specialising in electric guitar. With Doran on the keyboard, father and sons would band together to play during the lunar new year and on special occasions. He is grateful that his family accepts his Aspergers condition.

Doran hopes that others with Aspergers will be socially accepted and have opportunities to learn to interact. He wants to encourage others with Aspergers that socialising may be challenging at first but, over time and with effort, it can be fun and enjoyable!

August 2020


DISCOVER HIS ACHIEVEMENTS      HIS CONDITION

Achievements


Doran, with guitars he built for brother Darius and himself. The bass, which took him a year to complete, has a cool, distinctive and ergonomic design.

The guitar is a Fender Jazzmaster based semi-hollow, commonly used for the genres shoegaze, surf and indie rock. He made it semi-hollow for a warmer, lighter tone than for solid guitars. It was made in 2019 as a 21st birthday gift for Darius using a design that is one of Darius' favourites.

The Oon brothers play in a band "The New Modern Lights" with Doran on the keyboard and Darius, on the guitar. You can catch the brothers on https://www.facebook.com/thenewmodernlights/

ASPERGERS

Asperger syndrome (AS) is a developmental disorder on the autism spectrum disorder. Some professionals term AS as a milder form of autism and individuals with AS have been described as “having a dash of autism1.” Unlike persons with autism who have significant speech problems, those with AS have less difficulties with speech but may still have difficulties with understanding and processing language. While those with autism are aloof and uninterested in others, those with AS usually want to fit in with others but do not know how to do so as they are socially awkward and do not understand social conventions. This often leads to inappropriate behavior and the inability to interact successfully with peers. They may also suffer other specific learning abilities, for e.g., delays in motor development as well as motor 'clumsiness'. Another characteristic is repetitive or restrictive patterns of thought and behavior leading to an almost exclusive and obsessive interest in a single object or subject and this can occur from early childhood.

Symptoms

The characteristics of AS vary from one person to another. The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) in 1994 specified that the individual with AS must have “severe and sustained impairment in social interaction, and the development of restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests and activities that must cause clinically significant impairment in social, occupational or other important areas of functioning.”2

Impaired language & comprehension

Children with AS frequently have good language skills but language is used in different ways. For e.g., speech patterns may be unusual in that they have a rhythm but lack inflection or may lack rhythm and be formal. Often, the subtleties of language, such as irony, sarcasm, humor are not understood and the conversation is taken too literally resulting in confusion and frustration.

Poor eye contact

They may have limited eye contact and seem unengaged in a conversation.

Poor social skills

A lack of social skills, for e.g., missing social cues and a tendency to talk only about their singular interest can lead to isolation, aloofness and withdrawal thereby making and keeping friends will be challenging.

Issues with proximity

People with AS may find it hard to know how close to stand to another person and close proximity with others, even during conversations, can be unsettling.

Delays in motor development

Poor coordination may result in difficulty carrying out tasks that require fine motor skills, such as tying shoelaces. The person’s gross motor skills can appear either stiff or bouncy and they may not swing their arms as they walk.

Obsessive interests

Interest in a particular subject could be through the obsessive collection, numbering and listing of categories of objects, e.g., rocks, to the exclusion of all others. They may be proficient in knowledge of certain fixed items, e.g., dinosaurs, the galaxy. Often, they may have good rote memory skills but struggle with abstract concepts.


Imagination

It can be hard to imagine alternative outcomes to situations, so role-playing and make-believe games may be challenging. Topics based on logic, memory and systems are more interesting to them and they may be exceptionally skilled in math, computer science and music.

Routines

People with AS can become anxious or upset with a change in their routine so they may have rules and rituals that they methodically maintain to reduce confusion.

Causes

The exact cause of AS is unknown but it may result from a combination of genetic and environmental factors that causes changes in brain development. AS tends to run in families, suggesting that some cases may be hereditary. There is no known way to prevent or avoid it.

Treatment

There is no medicine to treat AS. Most medicines treat the inability to focus, anxiety, depression or stigma that is often associated with AS. Therefore, early and sustained support, at home and in school, is important in helping persons with AS to cope in school and prepare them to live more fulfilling adult lives. It helps them and their families, teachers, friends and eventually employers and colleagues to understand why they may experience certain difficulties and what they can do about them. Therapy will be based on an assessment of the particular needs of the person with AS and usually includes a combination of speech, physical, occupational and cognitive behavioral therapy.

  • Social skills and speech therapy: These skills include learning to take turns, making eye contact, showing interest in what the other person says and learning to talk about a variety of topics, following rules and being more socially aware of others around them.
  • Physical therapy: This works at developing a person’s core body strength to help with running, jumping, pedaling a bike, walking up and down stairs and other physical movement activities.
  • Occupational therapy: The therapy works at helping with fine motor skills, e.g., handwriting skills, hand-eye coordination, and sensory issues, e.g., noise, touch, smell or visual stimuli.
  • Cognitive Behavior Therapy: It teaches people with AS how to conduct themselves in social situations and cope with their emotions, e.g., managing tantrums, fears, anxiety, obsessions and controlling impulses.

Many adults with AS are able to work successfully in mainstream jobs, although they may continue to need encouragement and moral support to maintain an independent life.

Understanding Persons with AS

Persons with AS often do not 'look' disabled but children are usually misunderstood and labelled as being naughty while adults are described as being eccentric.

AS is not an illness although it will be a lifelong condition. Often, people with AS come to accept that it is a fundamental aspect of their identity. They just see, hear and feel the world differently to other people.

Some people with AS say the world feels overwhelming and this can cause them considerable anxiety. Therefore, understanding and relating to other people, and taking part in everyday family, school, work and social life, can be harder for them. While other people appear to know, intuitively, how to communicate and interact with each other, they struggle to build rapport with people with AS.

Gaining information and knowledge to understand how persons with AS are different and making deliberate efforts to support them will go a long way to help in mutual adjustment to the different realities.

Useful links

1Uta Frith, Professor at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience of University College London and Editor of Autism and Asperger Syndrome
2Quoted in https://www.autism-society.org/what-is/aspergers-syndrome/