Muhammad Aqram Bin Mohd Yazed
Why I wear combat boots every day
Instead of Netflix dramas, Muhammad Aqram Bin Mohd Yazed watches YouTube videos of the Malaysian Royal Malay Regiment in their full-dress drills as a pastime – admiring their smart uniforms, complete with elegant sarongs and headgear.
And rather than sneakers, the 24-year-old prefers his trusty pair of combat boots, which he wears daily and describes as “my treasure”. “In Singapore, I see army boys wearing boots. I am also wearing such boots,” he said with a tinge of pride.
But Aqram is not in the same shoes as his male peers, for whom National Service is a rite of passage. As a person on the autism spectrum, he was exempted from serving in the army.
“When Aqram was diagnosed with autism, I was okay with it and just faced the fact. Yes, he has this condition, but life goes on. I will always look on the positive side. So what if he is autistic? He is independent, can still learn and is developing well.”
FINDING HIS FEET
Before he was diagnosed, Aqram struggled to cope in school. His teachers, who were unaware of his condition, thought he was not trying hard enough and often reprimanded him.
“When his teacher asked him questions, he would give answers that were off-topic and irrelevant,” said Aqram’s father, Mr Mohammad Yazed M Affandee, 57. Aqram was diagnosed only in Primary 5, when a teacher noticed something was amiss and advised his parents to seek professional help.
“To this day, he still has difficulties answering questions and speaks in short phrases,” said Mr Yazed.
Aqram was then transferred to Eden School, a school for persons on the autism spectrum, which gave him the care, attention and education that mainstream schools could not.
After graduating from Eden School in end-2016, Aqram was sent for employment training at Enabling Village, an inclusive facility for persons with special needs. He was trained in hydroponic gardening and grew vegetables, like kai lan and tang oh, which are sold to restaurants.
He was then hired by Edible Garden City in Queenstown, where he has been working as a Junior Urban Farmer for the last four years.
DILIGENT, DISCIPLINED AND DEPENDABLE
Like the plants that he tenderly cares for, Aqram has blossomed and is now an independent, responsible and disciplined young man.
Every weekday at 7am, he takes an hour-long MRT ride from his Marsiling home to his workplace on his own. Though he has long memorised the route, he always stays vigilant, standing throughout the journey in his precious boots with eyes glued to the MRT map.
“Even though I have travelled many times independently along this route, I will try to be alert so that I do not miss my stop,” he explained.
At work, Aqram is equally meticulous and boasts a strong work ethic. “Work is sometimes very stressful, and I have much to do, but I definitely enjoy it,” he said with a smile.
“I make sure to follow the instructions given to me. When I am unsure, I will ask questions and communicate, which is important – I do not want to do things wrongly and disappoint my colleagues.”
“So far, he is doing well at work,” added Mr Yazed. “There has not been any negative feedback from his supervisor.”
Aqram, who makes $700 a month, is proud of his independence. “I now earn a salary and give it to my father,” he said. “I also occasionally treat myself when I go shopping at Geylang Serai once a month, buying things that I like.”
CONQUERING ADVERSITY WITH LOVE
When his workday ends at 12.30pm, Aqram would have lunch on his own and visit the nearest public library to read and unwind before returning home at about 2pm. There, other responsibilities await him.
“My three brothers do not do chores, so I have to take care of the house,” said Aqram. “For instance, I will wash the dishes and sweep the floor.”
Of Aqram’s three brothers, aged 25, 19 and 14, only the youngest is neurotypical. His eldest brother has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and his younger brother is also on the autism spectrum, with higher support needs.
The siblings do not interact much. But Mr Yazed, who has a background in IT, makes it a point to take the family out for lunch every weekend.
“Even though we have three children with special needs, my wife and I stay positive and are coping well because we love them,” said Mr Yazed. “Neurotypical or not, they are still my children and deserve unconditional love.”
EXPLORING NEW INTERESTS
Bolstered by the nurturing home environment, Aqram gives his best in all that he does and enjoys exploring new pursuits. A year ago, for instance, he became intrigued by word search puzzles.
“I have a talent for doing such puzzles,” he said enthusiastically. “I am the first person in our family to have this talent. I got increasingly better at it and am now solving advanced levels.”
He is also keen to explore public speaking, a skill which is challenging even for most neurotypical folks. His interest was sparked after a brief emcee stint at Eden School, for which he put aside his fears and poured in his heart and soul.
“I was selected by the school to emcee together with local celebrity Eunice Olsen. It was a very good experience, and I received a lot of praise,” he recalled. “If I have the chance, I would like to do more public speaking.”
He might not have had the chance to serve in the army. But Aqram clearly has the grit, guts and gumption that any military commander would value in his troops.