People with autism experience more intensely what they hear, see, smell, taste and feel. They have more difficulty with changes and social contact. It can also bring strengths: children with autism are more likely to be creative and good at logical thinking and precise work. You have various forms of autism. Children with autism can be very different from each other. Every child has a different mix of strengths and weaknesses. For example, some have a good eye for detail, are honest and straightforward. These same children may also have difficulty with social contacts, keeping an overview and have remarkably few and different interests. Some children with autism have difficulty looking at others. Others have difficulty with change. Autism can be associated with an intellectual disability, but it also occurs in children with average to high intelligence.
One such special child is Tim Ng A Tam. He is the first autistic student to graduate from the Nola Hatterman Art Academy (NHAA). Tim speaks very difficultly. His parents understand him fine. He also has difficulty making new social contacts. But despite this, he has achieved exceptional goals. Despite his limited communication skills, he successfully completed the Lower Technical School (LTS) and the AMTO (Higher Vocational Technical studies), in electrical engineering. Tim has enormous perseverance, but it was even greater that his teachers and parents were willing to accommodate his disability and therefore also his adapted way of learning. Because it’s not that Tim can’t learn, on the contrary he is very intelligent.
His parents discovered that he had a talent and a love for drawing. And they wanted him to develop his talent in that area. They brought him to the NHAA and after some conversations and introductions, he was signed up for the 4-year art study. The teachers at NHAA, who had never had an autistic student before, started the training but soon noticed that he could not keep up with the regular curriculum. According to one of his teachers Sunil Puljhun, they soon did see the talent Tim has but also that he had a great imagination and his own fantasy world in which he lived. The teaching method was adapted, and Tim was a dedicated pupil at the HNAA for four years until his graduation exhibition in February 2023. “As supervisors, we are happy that we have been able to achieve this milestone for and with this special young man,” says Sunil Puljhun, also the coordinator of the NHAA. It wasn’t always easy because communication was often a barrier, but as time went on Tim and the teachers started to understand each other better. Peter Ng A Tam, father of Tim, is happy with the good guidance his son has received at NHAA. “When we dropped Tim off at the Fort Zeelandia complex, he was clearly happy to be there. He was at home. And when he talked about his teachers, it seemed like he was talking about his friends. They treated him very well and he felt safe and valued at NHAA.”
Nature and humanity are central to the work of this young artist. His works are colorful and have a degree of naivety, but they are certainly not childlike. There is order, and it is clear that thought has been given to it because a clear pattern can be recognized. Tim is proof that everyone, including people with disabilities, can develop their talent. According to the vision of the NHAA, everyone should have the opportunity to develop themselves creatively.
There is no doubt that people with disabilities can create art. So, it goes without saying that you can paint or make sculptures without hearing. A well-known artist within the autism spectrum is the Afro-English Stephen Wiltshire, who practically does not speak, but can capture images on canvas in the most minuscule detail from his immense photographic memory. Henriette Seth from Hungary, also autistic, has difficulty communicating and having social contact. Yet she graduated from high school and makes beautiful paintings that can be admired in American and French museums. It is therefore entirely possible that Tim is also destined for success as an artist.