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Autism didn't stop him from performing and he now organises talent shows for those with special needs

Autism didn't stop him from performing and he now organises talent shows for those with special needs
PHOTO: AsiaOne/Trini Ng

Being on the stage and making others happy with his singing, dancing or even doing magic tricks.

This has given Muhammad Arshad Fawwaz much joy and built his self-confidence over the years and he is now advocating for others like himself with special needs who enjoy sharing their talents with others.

Since May, the 23-year-old has organised several talent shows by himself, from editing videos to getting hosts, and in October, he was given an award for his efforts at this year's President's Volunteerism and Philanthropy Awards.

Overcoming ADHD and autism with his passion for singing

Growing up, things didn't always go smoothly for Arshad and when he was in primary one, he was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). When he was 11, he was nearly expelled from school after throwing a classmate's bag down from the fourth floor.

"That was when I thought he probably did not belong here," shared his mother, Meharoon Nisha and soon after this, they discovered that Arshad had autism as well.

Hence 50-year-old Nisha decided to transfer him to Pathlight School as she felt it would be better for him. That's when things changed for the better.

At Pathlight, Arshad found avenues to express himself in other ways. "Pathlight was where I discovered most of my passions, especially music," Arshad quipped. "They had a mini talent competition called Pathlight Idol where I sang for fun."

This led to him taking up a role in the school's musical. "That's when I started to like music."

And with each performance he did he gained more confidence in himself and his abilities, no longer feeling nervous and needing to look for his mother in the crowd before performing, and he soon sought to perform on a bigger stage.

From rejection to organising talent shows

Over the years, he has taken part in many auditions, including The Final One and Asia's Got Talent, but never made it into the finals for these shows.

And while it has never been explicitly told to him, he has thought it was because he had declared that he had autism in his application forms.

"I wondered if other people with autism or other disabilities had the same experience as me. So I wanted to create a platform for them to showcase their talent," explained Arshad.

"When we watch the President's Star Charity, we only see performers with special needs do it once a year. But what about other variety shows? Why are they not included at all? This was a question he also asked me," Nisha added.

With the encouragement of his mother, who has been his biggest supporter, Arshad started Inclusivity 4 All, an online show designed to spread awareness about people with special needs through talent showcases.

With the help of the Singapore Autism Spectrum Disorder Group, Arshad and Nisha were able to reach out to people with special needs and invite them onto the show.

"There were many people who sent us their videos," Nisha said, but then came the issue of who would host the shows.

Arshad then reached out to more than 20 celebrities and was disheartened when he did not get any responses. But Nisha continued to encourage him, telling him, "whoever is meant for you will be there".

Eventually four agreed to do it, and for his first show, his hosts were Gurmit Singh, Fauzie Laily, Vadi PVSS and Lily Goh. Arshad was particularly touched when Fauzie agreed to record his segment within a day just a week before his first show was due to go live.

Hosts aside, Arshad found himself fighting against time to put all the video clips together for his first show.

After receiving all the clips he needed, he only had a week to put everything together and did it all on his phone as his computer's keyboard wasn't working. Hence during that period he only "slept for two or three hours each day".

But his hard work paid off and his first show aired on May 24 on various social media platforms, including YouTube and Facebook.


Receiving advice from Gurmit Singh

Though it was a tiring couple of weeks, many of the participants were very appreciative of Arshad's efforts. The parents in particular were glad that their children were able to showcase their talents.

Others have also come forth to give Arshad pointers on how to make his subsequent shows even better, including one of his celebrity hosts.

"[Gurmit Singh] gave me advice and told me that maybe next time I can do this and what to improve on, including the good and bad things of the show," Arshad recalled.

The local actor even said that Arshad could run his own production company in the future, and offered to help him for any upcoming events.

A popular overseas Twitch streamer Pokimane also gave Arshad some tips, advising him to adjust audio levels and add a teaser for the next show.

Arshad has taken in all the feedback and applied them to his subsequent shows and while doing all these, he has discovered a new passion: hosting.

This has come as a surprise to Nisha, as according to her, Arshad has always had difficulty expressing himself and because of his anger management issues, sometimes things got so bad that the police have had to intervene.

Buoyed by his success thus far, Arshad hopes to start a mentorship programme for celebrities and performers with special needs. He is also working on another show slated to premiere in December.

As for his mum, she is humbled by how far he has come and it's not just by his own efforts but from the support of people around him. Both mother and son pair hope that others will realise that no dream is too big. "If you set your mind to it, just pursue it all the way."

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