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.

05 August 2010

The Curious Incident of Living with a PWA

By: Amaris Grace M. Cabason, ASP Marikina Valley Chapter

It’s been almost nine years since my brother Vinz was diagnosed with autism. But until now, the process of coping with his condition continues. I guess “normal” people like us can never really fine-tune our brains to make it in sync with the way he perceives the world.

Amaris, the author (left) with PWA brother Vinz (right)

This disparity will remain for years to come, and that is one bitter pill to swallow. His condition is permanent, and so are the frustration, the misunderstandings, and the coping. Our relationship with my brother is a gruelling, drawn-out process.

The book “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime” by Mark Haddon provides us (the so-called “normal” people) with a view of how a person with autism sees the world. I concentrate so much on how my brother can’t see things the way I do, that I don’t even bother to think about how he perceives our world. And that’s what the book gave me, a peek at how a person with autism’s mind operates.

Some autistic people have a hard time understanding idiomatic expressions and would interpret them as literal. For example, when you say “I’m so hungry I could eat an elephant,” they’d probably expect an elephant to be your next meal! It’s easier for us to dismiss this as a stupid interpretation of an idiom and laugh at it.

But the book explains how they have a difficulty seeing this as just a figure of speech - since eating an elephant is impossible, and there are a million other things you can eat besides an elephant and they wonder why you can’t just eat those. What we dismiss as a dim-witted understanding actually makes sense to them, and that it is not just a one-dimensional statement but something that actually involves analysis—even if this analysis is not the way we do it.

Some autistic children bang their heads on the wall or hug their legs and rock back and forth. While we may see this as a reflex or something they do involuntarily, Christopher, the main character, says that he does things like these to cope with the heavy feeling in his chest that he can’t understand.

Some autistic children have difficulty reading emotions, including their own. They can’t detect sarcasm, lying, double entendres, or other figurative speech because again, they view the world literally. The diagram of emoticons that Christopher always carries with him shows this. He consults his diagram to know what the facial expression of the person he is talking to means, and he associates only a single meaning to an emoticon. When he sees a smile, he thinks it means, "I am happy," and never "I wish you could just drop dead right now."

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime is an enlightening read for anyone, especially for those who live with a person with autism. It provides us with a different perceptive about various life experiences that are both funny and endearing and occasionally, liberating, that if we only see the world for what it truly is, then we’ll realize what life could really be—simple and carefree.

Amaris Grace M. Cabason is an AB Social Science 2008 at the Ateneo de Manila University. She is the daughter of Alex and Marivi Cabason, President and First Lady of ASP Marikina Chapter. Be an Angel for Autism. Donate now and help ASP Chapters with their programs and services. Log on to ASP Community Website. Call us at 7-903-5496 or write to


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