SINGAPORE - Three days ago, Manhunt Singapore 2014 (senior category; 30 years old and above) finalist Andrew Ang's heart swelled with joy when his eight-year-old son passed him his car keys.
This may seem run-of-the-mill to most parents but, for Mr Ang, it was a clear sign that his child Alex wanted to communicate with him.
Six years ago, the boy was diagnosed with severe autism.
Autism is a neuro developmental disorder characterised by impaired social interaction and verbal and non-verbal communication, and by restricted and repetitive behaviour.
Since then, Mr Ang, a 41-year-old businessman, has been worrying for his son.
He hopes his son, the middle child of his three children, can one day lead an independent life.
His oldest child, a daughter, 10, has had open heart surgery for congenital heart disease, which is a problem with the heart's structure and function that is present at birth.
Mr Ang, who is 1.73m tall and weighs 65kg, said he joined Manhunt this year to be an inspiration to his children.
His message to them: No matter how tough it gets, don't ever give up.
He told The New Paper: "When Alex was diagnosed, it was very difficult for us. We had no idea what was going on, so we had to seek help.
"The one-to-one therapy, which has cost us $4,000 every month for the last six years, has helped a lot."
Mr Ang recalled that three days ago, he had left his house only to realise he had forgotten his car keys.
So he went back to get them and Alex, who was there when he opened the door, passed the keys to him.
Said Mr Ang: "I was stunned. I didn't know that he could communicate with me. To other parents, this is such a simple thing. But to me, this means he's actually seeing some light and knows what's going on.
"I hope my son can take of himself when I'm gone.
"I joined Manhunt also with the hope of raising awareness of autism, so that Singaporeans will be more tolerant of people who have it."
This determination to overcome adversity comes from the fact that he grew up poor in a kampung in Jalan Ulu Sembawang where, at a young age, he had to help his parents protect their livestock from pests such as rats and snakes.
As a child, he had to feed the ducks and pigs, as well as water 300 lime and durian trees. On some days, he had only soya sauce and plain porridge for meals.
His family moved out of the kampung years later and it fuelled his determination to succeed.
He juggled several jobs: as a newspaper delivery boy working at the break of dawn, as a street and telesurveyor on weekdays and as a drinks and tidbits vendor on weekends. This was on top of his electrical-engineering diploma studies at Singapore Polytechnic.
Said Mr Ang, who was a finalist in Manhunt Singapore 1993 but did not win: "Living in the kampung is about being open, caring and sharing.
It's never about wealth or status. I'm a kampung boy."
The Manhunt Singapore 2014 finals will be held at local nightspot Neverland II on Sept 11.
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