Zayn Rayyan's Tragedy: When the heartbreaking realities of autism hits too close to home

08 Dec 2023 01:34pm
A photo of the writer's son playing at the playground at 4.30am after wandering around. (PHOTO BY ILI LIYANA MOKHTAR)
A photo of the writer's son playing at the playground at 4.30am after wandering around. (PHOTO BY ILI LIYANA MOKHTAR)

The newsroom was buzzing on a typical Tuesday as the news of the disappearance of the late Zayn Rayyan Abdul Matiin circulated. As I digested the news, I took note that he was autistic and non-verbal like my son and shared a second name with my eldest daughter.

The six-year old autistic child was last seen at noon at Block R Apartment Idaman Jalan PJU 10/1 Damansara Damai, Petaling Jaya.

In a video shot while speaking to reporters at her flat in Block R, Apartment Idaman, Zayn’s. mom showed the place where Zayn went missing. She said Zayn had been walking a few steps behind her when they were heading towards the staircase to go up to their unit before he vanished.

They were returning home after she had fetched her son from school.

"My hands were full, as I was carrying some things back to the house, so I could not hold his hand to keep him close. It was a very short distance from the parking entrance to the staircase. When I took the first flight of stairs and turned around, he was missing," she was heard saying in the video.

His mom and police had pleaded for the public's help to find him, and he was reported as missing at about 6pm the same day. News travelled fast, as his picture started circulating on social media and major news outlets.

I made a silent prayer that he would be found soon, as I knew the distraught mother’s feelings all too well, having lost my son Aydan three times in total in the middle of the night due to his autistic wanderings.

I knew what it feels like to lose a child, albeit temporarily. Your world stops. And nothing makes sense until your little one is safe and sound in your arms.

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The first time it happened, I ran out the street in my kaftan screaming his name. We changed locks to the door multiple times, as Aydan had figured out how to unlock it and would creep out while we were asleep.

Every time I relate the story, I laugh make it a joke to ease the pain. I do not know any other way to have dealt with it.

As an autism parent, the pain lives with you. There is no way to escape it.

As the hours dragged on in the newsroom, I kept wandering where the little boy went, and was more distraught to learn that he lived nearby a creek.

I kept discussing with my colleagues, probably annoyed my desk mate more than necessary as I wondered out loud

“Where do you think he wandered off to?”

While he reassured me continuously that Zayn would be found soon and that he was probably nearby.

Somewhere in the middle of the day, we received an update that search parties scouring the area had found no trace of him.

Even with the police K9 unit’s aid.

My heart sank further.

My motherly instincts held hope, my reporter instincts told me that if he was not found soon, it could be bad news.

I sent text messages to my friends who lived in the area, look out for this boy, look out for him.

And cried on the phone to my husband endlessly. It was like I lost Aydan all over again.

Autistic kids usually adore being in the water, and my heart sank to think if he by any chance decided to play near any water, or big drains.

You see, autistic kids usually have pure hearts. They would not be able to tell if anyone had any ill intentions at all towards them. Which makes this particularly heart wrenching.

I followed the case all throughout the day and bugged colleagues about updates. When the search happened, I was optimistic, I held high hopes I clung on to every update I could hoping for a miracle.

A party from the search team shared that they were doing a door-to-door search, as Zayn sometimes would randomly enter neighbours houses.

By 6pm, hundreds of Idaman Apartment residents gathered to aid the police with the hope of finding Zayn.

The search was led by Petaling Jaya district police chief Assistant Commissioner Mohd Fakhrudin Abdul Hamid.

Throughout the search, when anyone mentioned negligence, I gritted my teeth and held my tongue. I knew the challenges of raising someone autistic, what could have happened in a split second, and the all too familiar feeling fatigue of hyper vigilance.

I often do not know how to articulate clearly the challenges of being an autistic parent. There is no way anyone could ever understand if they have not walked a day in our shoes.

We appear strong, because its the only way to be. We have to. How else are we to survive the judgemental views, the stares, the endless therapy sessions, the draining of our savings.

How else do we keep going? Sheer will power. And the love we have for our child.

As night fall inched closer and the heavy rain became relentless, I paced my living room hall. They should have found him by now, I thought to myself.

At almost 10pm, I received news that he was found. I breathed a sigh of relief. I texted my colleague who was covering the case for confirmation.

“Dah jumpa?” (He has been found)?

She answered simply: Dah (yes)

My journalism training taught me something was amiss.

Alive? I asked.

She took a few minutes to answer.

The reporter at the scene was in front of the body. He drowned.

Instantly the tears started falling as if on cue.

A resident aiding the search had found Zayn’s remains in the shallow waters of the riverbank at about 9.30pm.

The boy was fully clothed in the school uniform he was last seen in. His body was found was just 200m from where he had been last spotted by his mother.

I thought of Aydan and how he was sleeping soundly in my arms. The unfairness broke my heart.

Sometimes the mental toll of this job, destroys me. I think about how just nearby, Zayn’s mother was preparing to bury him.

The next day, when we received news that the postmortem results show ligature marks on his neck and body and that police had reclassified the case as murder, it took me a while to digest further.

Who would be cruel enough to harm an innocent child, a special needs child? A child of heaven.

I thought of Zayn’s mom. And the pain. No parent should have to bury their child. The pain is like nothing I think anyone can imagine.

In my line of work, I see children dying often enough. Often in unfathomable ways. We write about it, package it into stories you would read and probably would forget. Every case I ever wrote about or was privy to I remember. Every single one. You would think I was immune by now. But it breaks my heart every single time. Or whatever is left of it.

Zayn’s story hits a little too close to home. I am used to the sadness, sometimes I get through the day with it just hanging by the side. But somedays, somedays absolutely and thoroughly shatter me.

Al-Fatihah to Zayn Rayyan Abdul Matiin, may you now be free of worldly pain and play in the gardens of heaven. And to Zayn’s mom

Maybe I have never gone through what you went through. And you know not of me. But from a mother to another, I feel your pain. My heart aches for you, grieving for your loss; thinking if I feel this way, how much more painful it might be for you. I pray that Allah enfolds you in these difficult times and that you are surrounded by the comforting love and kindness of family and friends. May Allah raise your rank in the Hereafter.