Autistic teen artist Alister Sim finds his voice through art

Sim showing his artwork called Mount Fuji.

By Wilfred Pilo

ALISTER SIM, who has autism, has only taken up art for a year but what he has produced on the canvas is nothing short of mesmerising.

Sim’s mother Diana Leong, believed that her 19-year-old son has an artistic gift. Over the past year, Sim managed to shape his thoughts and vision into beautiful and intricate pieces of artwork that could match those done by professional artists.

“His remarkably bright artworks mesmerised the eyes, it is so immaculately done that it is almost a replica of an object he saw. I always find him so amazingly intrigue and that he can express himself as ‘normal’ people do.

“We do not know what the autistic world is and what autistic person does. They seem to be able to focus on something and put their minds to it and do something that we cannot do,” Leong told DayakDaily when met at her son’s exhibition booth here recently.


Sim at his exhibition booth at Merdeka Plaza Christmas Bazaar.

A quick look at Sim’s artwork does make one wonders if the special teenager can become Sarawak’s very own renowned British autistic artist Stephen Wiltshire.

Leong said her son never fail to amaze her daily: “I’m bewildered and mesmerised almost everyday to what he has done this one whole year, especially considering what is further encrypted in his mind.”

She added that Sim loves landmarks around the world and that they often talk about it. Apart from arts, the son loves world history and geography, the two topics the mother and son often talk about.

Sim would discuss with the mother on the size of the canvas he should use when starting on his project. He also asked whether it is difficult and that he could do it.

Leong said the son would take between a few days and a couple of weeks to finish a piece.

Sim’s artwork entitled Untamed.

Relating Sim’s learning process from his early childhood, she said that her son started on a computer programme called JumpStart when he was six years old.

“His first module was JumpStart Kindergarten, then JumpStart Preschool and later on JumpStart 1st Grade to 3rd grade, where by then, the series had upgraded to adventures.

“He was non-verbal until he was eight years old, so the programme was a really big help in starting him on his reading, typing skills and academic subjects like arts, geography, science, elementary mathematics, music and of course the understanding of English language.”

While conversing in English came quite naturally to Sim, as the family constantly talk to him in English at home, Leong was delighted that the son had shown much talent on the computer.

She recalled that Sim loves to draw things and people he saw on the television, videos and pictures. He started to use Microsoft Paint to sketch buildings and anime characters.

“He even build a roller coaster theme park that works, when you click start and all, from the School Information Management Systems (SIMS) series software,” she said on how Sim developed his creative foundation.

Items like t-shirts and postcards featuring Sim’s artwork on sale at his booth.

Growing up, there were always ups and downs in Sim’s growth towards adulthood and self-dependent.

Leong said the learning process is continuous, as they both continues to learn from each other. The biggest challenge is the difficulty to tell whether the son is happy in doing certain things, she continued.

However, she is content to note that once Sim set his mind on doing something, he always finished the task. She cited doing the laundry and feeding the dogs as among the son’s daily chores.

“There was a time when Sim even refuses to step on the grass in the garden or go to supermarkets but now that he is 19, with the biomedical programme, it helped so much.

“I could say the programme rescued him from his challenging younger years. With intense guidance, we could ease his integration into society and live a fairly normal life.”

Bottle openers and refrigerator magnets featuring Sim’s artworks for sale at his booth.

On other projects, Leong said her son is currently writing a second book.

She advised other parents and family of children with autism to always be patient.

“Autistic individuals are not like normal people, despite them able to do things normal like others. In Sim’s case. We have taught him patiently to take care of himself.

“Now, when strangers meet him, many could not believe he has autism with serious non-verbal issues as a child before. We are very proud of his abilities. He still has a long way to go but with the right guidance, he has a bright future. We have to show them all the love and patience,” she said.

She expressed hope that the son will inspire others.

Sim’s artwork and other merchandise are now on display and for sale at the foyer of Merdeka Plaza Christmas Bazaar until Dec 31. — DayakDaily