The Autism Society Philippines (ASP) is a national, non-profit organization dedicated to the well-being of persons on the autism spectrum disorder. We envision a society where Filipinos on the spectrum become the best of their potentials -- self-reliant, independent, productive, socially-accepted citizens of an Autism-OK Philippines.

12 February 2010

SM – A Mall for All Autism Angels

Malling is a way of life for Filipino families. The daily stream of about three million Filipinos going in and out of SM malls around the country attests to this.

But for families dealing with Autism, enjoying the malls may not come that easy. It requires preparation by the family for the child.

Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how an individual interprets what he sees, hears, touches and tastes; thereby impairing his understanding and use of language, and his adaptation to his environment.

Imagine how the senses of a Child with Autism (CWA) are bombarded in a mall setting, with all the seemingly strange sights, sounds, smell, and people around them. Some of them may cry, some may throw tantrums, and others may exhibit "socially inappropriate behaviors." And some, yes, may get lost – which will be a very difficult situation if the CWA happens to be non-verbal, too.

But imagine also how a family feels when, while dealing with their CWA’s behaviors in the mall, the people around them are all staring, if not sneering. And judging: "spoiled brat" referring to the child; "hindi marunong magpalaki ng anak" – referring to the parents.

Really, it is not only the children with autism who need to be educated on malling. There is also a need to educate the mall-goers, and the public in general, on understanding autism.

SM swept a total of seven awards (for seven branches) as the Most Handicapped Friendly Establishments during the last Apolinario Mabini Awards in 2008. Hands down, the AM Awards Committee honored SM Committee on Disability Affairs for its trailblazing program to touch the lives of persons with disabilities.

They more than deserve the awards because their barrier-free and safe environment for persons with disability (PWD) includes not only their building facilities.

Most importantly, SM people – from the managers down to the front liners, understand and show compassion for PWDs who may not have physical disability requiring special ramps and comfort rooms, but need all the understanding and compassion they could get.

Autism Speaks estimated there are 67 million people struggling with autism worldwide. That is about 1% of the world’s population. Translating that to SM’s three million daily foot walkers inside the mall – there are about 30,000 Filipino mallers with autism, not to mention their families, being touched by SM’s heart.

But the heart of SM goes beyond statistics when it comes to touching the lives of families living with autism. It is hard to put a price tag on any of the following:

-Families comforted by the sincere smile and look of understanding from SM personnel;
-The excitement of families watching their children perform on stage of SM’s entertainment centers;
-The pride of families seeing their children’s artworks displayed in SM’s atriums and admired by the passing mall goers;
-The tears of joy from families coming out of their first movie dates with their children;
-The feeling of having one big family as thousands of families come together during big and small events; and
-The public’s better understanding of autism, as role modeled by SM personnel and management

One in 110 children is now diagnosed with autism. Aside from their families, their doctors, teachers and therapists… there are SM malls nearby, with Autism Angels, to love and care for them.


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