The Autism Society Philippines (ASP) is a national, non-profit organization dedicated to the well-being of persons with autism spectrum disorder. The ASP has been in the forefront of providing services and training to families living with autism.

25 October 2010

Stormy Stories of Children with Autism

(Preparing for Super Typhoons)

By DANG U. KOE, ASP Chair Emeritus


I was frantically texting and calling Gio’s yaya. While my youngest son and I were dry and comfortable in my mother’s QC house, the water in our Cainta home reached eight feet high during Ondoy.


Gio and his other brother were trapped on our second floor, together with our household helpers. I was so nervous how Gio would react if they had to climb up our rooftop should the water reach our second floor.

September 28, 2009. Tropical Storm Ondoy left the country with some 250,000 affected families. One of the hardest hit cities was the city of Marikina. Many residents were left stranded in their homes due to floods, some reaching up the second floor. For several days, there was no electricity. Some had no food nor water and desperately went up the rooftops hoping for rescue teams to recover them.


Tropical Storm Ondoy left the country with some 250,000 affected families
(photo courtesy of Certified Autism Angel John Chua


While the country was preparing for Tropical Storm Juan, Angel Talker Tiffany Tan interviewed three moms from ASP Marikina Valley Chapter how they were able to cope with Ondoy and their child with autism. She asked them to tell their stories and give advice to our readers.


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ASP Marikina-Valley Chapter’s First Family, the Cabasons, was stranded inside 14 feet of water inside Provident Village. Dad Alex and three of their kids were with him inside the house, while Mom Marivi was stranded in Ateneo de Manila University where she works. Marivi was worried sick for the family.


Meanwhile, another family, Mom Chyrill and son Bennie were also trapped in their home. “Bennie thought our house became an instant resort. Water was inside the house. He was so excited he wanted to take a dip on the murky water. We explained to him so many times that the water was dirty and he cannot swim in it.”


Maya’s son JC is not scared of rains is bothered by thunderstorms. He adjusts by covering his ears. Occasional blackouts were tolerable and he would make do by playing with his sister.


But Ondoy was a traumatic experience for JC. The thunderstorms, continuous rain, and the long blackout made a very big impact on him. “He saw the water rising up to the garage. When nightfall came, he was agitated, cried and walked around the house.”


Water in Marivi’s home reached almost the top of the house. Her son Vinz, with autism, didn’t complain when they stayed on the rooftop for four hours in the rain. He didn’t complain about the food they had, and might have even enjoyed the bit of novelty experience. “It was such a relief for me that Vinz didn’t pose any problem to his Dad Alex at that time.”


HOW DID YOU COPE WITH YOUR CWA DURING THE HEIGHT OF THE STORM?

Marivi: “When all were rushing to save things from the rapidly rising floodwaters early afternoon of September 26, Vinz had the sense to save his schoolbag, which his siblings failed to do with their own school things. For me, that’s foresight! But he left all his clothes and shoes, so he had to wear his uncle’s huge shirt when he had to change from his wet clothes.”


According to Marivi, Vinz has overcome most of the symptoms of autism, even the sensory difficulties.


He must have noted the panic-ridden seriousness of the Ondoy situation and went along with all the instructions and with everything that was happening.


Vinz was generally quiet and obedient the whole time during typhoon Ondoy. He didn’t fret a bit. When asked by his mom if he was OK during the typhoon, Vinz just said he was worried of not being able to swim.


Chyril: “We were supposed to be evacuated by a relative who works for a shipping company, but I was hesitant because it was raining hard. Bennie might get sick and he might be too excited to ride the boat. He loves riding boats and he loves water. But he has a tendency to put water into his mouth and spit it out.


He seemed to try to understand, but still kept saying “swim”. When we showed him the flooded water outside the house, he kept saying “swimming pool.” So we distracted him by going out the fire exit to see the helicopter flying around. He was happy to see that.”


Maya: “The following day, there was still no electricity. JC was very upset and cried, but he would stop. I brought him outside to the terrace to see daylight. We then set up a folding bed, where he had fresh air. He did activities there, read books, played and took naps.


CONSIDERING THE NEEDS OF YOUR CWA, WHAT AND HOW WILL YOU PREPARE YOUR FAMILY IF THERE WILL BE ANOTHER ONDOY?

1. DESENSITIZATION AND THERAPY

Maya: After Ondoy, when rains come, JC will close all the windows, start crying and cover his ears. One time when he was in therapy, I accidentally leaned on a switch. The light fluctuation upset him and he started crying. He also kept looking outside side the window to check for rain.


We consulted his speech therapist Teacher Joanne of Milestones and Teacher Jon, SpEd teacher of Children’s Therapy Hub. Teacher Joanne told us to tell JC it is alright to be scared and to comfort him, to ease his anxiety. We were also advised to make him “enjoy rain” by making him walk under the rain. (We actually tried this to desensitize him). She also advised us to do family activities together whenever there is a brownout.


Teacher Jon on the other hand, practiced with him by switching the light on and off during therapy sessions, to help him get used to the flickering lights. He also made drawings of rain and children playing in the rain to make JC understand and not fear the rain.


2. PROVIDE ACTIVITIES TO OCCUPY TIME

Chyril and Marivi: Everyone should really be prepared for any activities for our special children in emergency situations such as typhoons. And kids with autism should have something to do to distract them while they are waiting for the storm to pass, or while waiting for rescue.


If your kids know how to read, prepare lots of books. Have story-telling with parents or siblings.


Coloring activities, crafts or puzzles and maybe play board games with them like dominos or snakes and ladders. Listen to music and sing with them.


Chyril: Bennie played with his PSP (portable play station) during Ondoy which kept him busy.


3. PREPARE EQUIPMENT AND FOOD BEFORE THE STORM

Maya: JC has his own flashlight for brownouts. (He hugged his flashlight to sleep during a recent brownout.)


Chyril: For food, I didn’t have much difficulty. Thankfully, during Ondoy Bennie’s cabinet was stacked with different snacks, like biscuits and drinks. He requested for fried chicken several times, but we couldn’t go out of the house. Good thing we had canned goods like Vienna sausage, luncheon meat, corned beef and pork and beans. Since our house was flooded, life vests can come in handy, just in case.


Marivi: During typhoons and emergency situations, there should be briefing for the whole family beforehand; what to do, where to go, what to bring, what precautions to take. Prepare items such as candles and matches, flashlight, some food stock and water, radio with batteries. A whistle, to signal to rescuers that there are people in that area who need help.


4. MIND CONDITIONING TECHNIQUE

Maya: When my husband and I knew that another super typhoon, Juan, was coming, we were prepared already. We used a mind conditioning technique by repeating to JC of the coming storm, and that there will be rains, thunder, and brownouts. But after the storm, will come the sun and then we will go to SM City Marikina.


We repeated this scenario to him over and over for four days before and during Storm Juan. I think it kind of worked because he would say the sentence on his own, “After the storm, sun. Then, SM.” This conditioning helped JC to learn what to expect, and made him calmer.


When it started to rain Monday night, he was not as agitated as before. He just closed all the windows. Surprisingly, he was in a pleasant mood. He however cried a little and covered his ears, but he was able to control himself as he would repeat to himself the mantra “Storm, then rain, then sun, then SM”.


I am glad the storms didn’t hit Metro Manila too much as I wouldn’t know if this chant will be enough to calm him. However, I know it has lessened his fear, somehow. We know it takes time to help JC adjust and we are hoping that he will outgrow this. We just have to be very patient and supportive.


Source: Manila Bulletin, Stormy Storiesof Children with Autism
Uploaded With Permission

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ASP brings back to the country Bimal Rai, one of the first Relationship Development Intervention (RDI) Program Certified Consultants in Southeast Asia on Nov. 27. For more details, visit autismsocietyphilippines.blogspot.com.

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