A couple of months ago, before the COVID-19 pandemic started to spike, my 12-year-old son, Mirza was involved in a model search competition. Not as a contender though, he was one of six special needs models chosen to wear designers’ outfits.
It all started when I signed him up with ARP Elite Model to attend classes on ramp walk, posing as well as grooming, in a bid for him to learn to socialize and gain some confidence. Being an English-speaking Eurasian and a special needs child to boot, Mirza doesn’t really fit well in many groups of people and I’m always looking out for opportunities for him to learn to communicate. Particularly, I would like him to socialise in mixed-race groups as well as the special needs communities as they tend to accept others who are different. While he has a brilliant mind especially in Maths and Physics, he is hypersensitive and tends to get overwhelmed easily in new environments and crowds.
Mirza, like some of his peers, has difficulty filtering out certain kinds of noises and pitches, and would often either start tearing up or be stunned like a deer caught in headlights. Being autistic with the same afflictions myself, I have taught him coping techniques, however, in the days leading up to the first class he was still quite reluctant and I had to endure his endless nagging about how I didn’t take his feelings into account.
A friend recommended this class, and I wasn’t expecting him to become a supermodel; my goal was for him to try something new and perhaps even enjoy it. Because he was still quite young, Evelyn Nadal, the Co-Director who was also the teacher, allowed me to stay in the class and watch, which I did, just in case he had a meltdown.
I was not surprised to find out that he was the youngest. What I was pleasantly taken aback by was the fact that his classmates, while young adults, consisted of a departure from the norm normally seen at talent agents, namely normal-looking people.
No doubt, some were obviously good looking and others had a certain factor. What was fascinating to me though, was the inclusion of two young tudung-clad ladies. Evelyn was very particular that her classes remain professional, and she included lessons and notes on appropriate touching and dressing (during casting or shooting) and the two ladies participated in all the sessions without issues.
There were also five other special needs students and I was quite happy to see that Evelyn was very patient with all of them. I realised that while I was trying so hard for Mirza to learn to socialise, during breaks these other young adults also exhibited the same outward manifestation, they were content to sit quietly by themselves and seemed at peace. They did not look around awkwardly for someone to talk to. Some observed others, some seemed occupied internally. Mirza, who always has a thirst for knowledge, had brought a book on ADHD and was devouring it, ignoring everyone around him.
Part of the class included a couple of photoshoots and it was eye-opening to see that the autistic models performed as well as, if not better, than the neurotypical students. Perhaps this could be attributed to the fact that unlike us ‘typical’ people, the autistic children did as they were told without complaint.
Happily, all the models were chosen to participate in the upcoming Kuala Lumpur Runway Model (KLRM) Search 2020 held on 27 September — some as competitors, others to mainly showcase the designer wear by JK Fashion Official, First Time Around, Kusai KL and Modella. Official event photographer Rudy and make-up artist Susie and her team, as well as other photographers in the industry, completed the ensemble.
Just like the models and designers as well as the competitors who represented the different ethnicities, the six industry expert judges invited were a motley mix of industry experts: ARP Elite Model Director Prakash Subramaniam; Jay Kumar of JK Fashion Official; Kusai KL’s Qif Alvarez, who hails from Sabah; Sarawak model Vin Heusen Mohamad; 2019 Mrs Elite Universe winner Ammetta Malhotra and Dragon of Rentak Sejuta, a music and performing arts news site.
The opening act kicked off with a groovy dance fashion show by the models premiering JK Fashion Official’s latest collection called Borneo Hunt. The six special needs models from ARP Elite Model were chosen to portray the designs by Abdul Ghani Salleh of First Time Around. The models were Thasraveen Chandra Segaran (Aveen) – ADHD & Asperger; Ryan Raveen Raj – Down Syndrome; Syafiqah Syahirah Binti Solas – Autism & Dyslexia; Tariq Fredericks – Autism; Mikhail Raul – Aspergers, and my son Mirza Michael Merican Nunis – Autism. The song chosen for this portion was House of Pain’s Jump Around. Initially, I was a bit concerned about it being too loud and distracting to Mirza, especially the horse sounds. However, he took it all in his stride, and remembered to breathe slowly and deeply to calm down when things became a bit too much for him.
The winner of this spectacular contest was Sunoshini Dhanabalan and the entire competition was live-streamed by Rentak Sejuta and can be viewed on their Facebook page. Pictures are courtesy of the photographers present on that day.
I was quite delighted that Mirza’s initial foray into modelling was uneventful on his part – no tantrums or breakdowns. He even managed to make friends with the neurotypical adults of other races and now is incessantly asking me when the next session will be. It was nice to see that while the stage was a competition, people of different backgrounds came together to make this event work.
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