“There needs to be a lot more emphasis on what a child can do instead of what he cannot do,” said renowned scientist and autism spokesperson Dr Temple Grandin. And two Malaysians are set to show what that’s all about at the Autistic Talent Gala 2017 in Hong Kong on Dec 18.

Joshua Danial Johnson, 23, and Salvador Augustine Ling Jun An, 16, are excited to be finalists at the international competition. “It’s a dream come true,” says a cheerful Johnson, beaming. “We’re proud to have qualified and represent our country. But it’s only natural for us to be and it keeps us going.”

Johnson was diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) when he was four. But as a musician, he has performed with pop stars like Jaclyn Victor, Zainal Abidin, Juwita Suwito and the Aseana Percussion Unit.

The Autistic Talent Gala 2017, organised by AnAn International Education Foun­dation, aims to convey the “acceptance messages” of social equality, integration, public understanding and respect, and to encourage autistic people to freely express themselves through music.

For their preliminary round entry, Johnson and Ling recorded an original song that Johnson wrote. For the finals, “We’ll be performing a rock ballad entitled Short And Sweet,” says Johnson. “Salvador is the lead singer. I’m accompanying him on guitar and backup vocals.”

Salvador Augustine Ling Jun An, Joshua Danial Johnson and and Edwin Nathaniel at rehearsal. | Autistic Talent Gala 2017 | Star2.com

Salvador Augustine Ling Jun An, Joshua Danial Johnson and Edwin Nathaniel at rehearsal.

Percussionist and drummer Edwin Nathaniel, 59, serves as their manager, technician and driving force. “When I see potential in someone, I am sure to nurture and develop them thoroughly and get them publicly recognised,” he says of the double act.

Ling, who says he’s loved singing since he was a young boy, admits that one challenge they’re facing now is time for rehearsals. “But we’re enjoying the practices and are happy with the outcome,” he adds.

Johnson says the artistic duo are thrilled about their first trip to Hong Kong. But Nathaniel also laments the lack of opportunity for the differently-abled to show off their talents. “This is an opportunity for people to see what young adolescents with autism are capable of,” he says.

Meanwhile, Johnson and Ling are still trying to raise the money to get them to the final competition, either though crowdfunding or sponsorship. Anyone or any company that would like to help them out, you can contact Nathaniel at edwinnathaniel@yahoo.com or call 012-209 8849.