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.

28 November 2011

Overcoming disability through recreation

By DANG U. KOE, ASP Chair Emeritus

MANILA, Philippines — The genius that was Albert Einstein did not learn to speak until he was three years old. He silently repeated words to himself until he was seven, and was bad in spelling that some thought he was a dullard. While Einstein had poor memory for things that did not interest him, he had tremendous ability to concentrate on things that interested him and could work for hours or days on the same problem.

Sounds like autistic?

Painter Vincent Van Gogh, as a child and a young man, had some autistic traits. Biographers described him as an aloof and odd child. He talked with tension and a nervous rasp in his voice. He talked with complete self-absorption and little thought for the comfort of and interests in his listeners. He threw many tantrums and liked to go to the fields alone. Van Gogh did not discover his talents until he was 27 years old.

“One of my biggest concerns today is that students who should be in gifted and talented programs get shunted off into the special education track where they do not belong,” expressed Dr. Temple Grandin, an American doctor of animal science and professor at Colorado State University, and a noted autism advocate.

Our Angel Talker this week is a pediatric occupational therapist who has been practicing for 10 years. Karen Navarro is a consultant at Able Center, Therapy Works Inc., and Therapy Works (TW) Community Enablers. She spearheaded the recreational program for children with special needs at TW in 2007. She is currently the coordinator of the leisure programs such as swimming, taekwondo, soccer and painting classes for children and adolescents with special needs.


I can write about documented studies on recreation and enumerate dozens of reasons for engaging in leisure pursuits. I can cite statistics and bore readers with data. Instead, allow me to tell you the stories of real people with special needs who succeeded in their respective fields and in life by pursuing what they love to do.
TEMPLE Grandin's fixation with cattle led her to design the cattle squeeze chute

Temple Grandin

Temple Grandin never allowed her disability to cripple her; instead she used her autistic traits to her advantage. Her fixation with cattle, her highly visual mind, and persistence have been instrumental in her success in the highly competitive cattle industry.

Her fixation on her squeeze chute (a machine she designed based on a cattle chute which has a calming effect on her), and encounter with opposing people allowed for the opening of her scientific life. She wrote, “This drove me even more to prove that the relaxing effect the squeeze chute had on me might also have the same effect on other people…For the first time in my life I felt a purpose for learning - a real reason.” To prove her theory, her teacher Mr. Carlock advised her to study math, science, and do research. The chute is the first of her many of scientific studies.

“What lay beyond the door for me were several caring and understanding people. Without them I might have ended up in a school for the retarded…a second teacher was my salvation. Mr. Carlock didn’t see any labels, just the underlying talents. Even the principal had doubts about my getting through tech school. But Mr. Carlock believed in building what was within the student. He channeled my fixations into constructive projects. He didn’t try to draw me into his world but came instead into my world”, writes Temple Grandin in her book Emergence: Labeled Autistic.

Temple had difficulties but she capitalized on her strengths. “I have many dyslexic traits: difficulty with sequential memory and foreign language, mixing up words, and using visual strategies of recall. But visual thinking is an asset for an equipment designer. I am able to “see” how all parts of a project will fit together and also see their potential problems. Sometimes a sequential thinker makes a mistake in designing because he can’t see the whole.”
ARCHITECTURAL artist Stephen Wiltshire, who has autism, illustrates detailed pictures of buildings and cites by memory

Stephen Wiltshire

Stephen Wiltshire is also known as the “human camera”. He is an architectural artist who draws fabulous detailed pictures of buildings and panoramic views of cities in perfect scale and perspective — from memory. In 2005, he drew Tokyo on a 10-foot long canvass in seven days after a brief helicopter trip over the city. Since then, he also has drawn Rome, Hong Kong, Frankfurt, Madrid, Dubai, Jerusalem, London and New York. His pictures now sell for thousands of dollars.

He has been appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for services to art and he has his own gallery in London.

Stephen’s bio, written by Geoffery Wansell, narrates, “As a little boy born to West Indian parents, he was all but mute and barely uttered a word until he was seven. He would just sit in a corner, rocking back and forth; screaming from time to time.The only things that seemed to pacify his tantrums were pencil and paper.”

But Stephen shared the moment that changed him forever. “It was when I was at Queens Mill School [in London]. I used to draw animals, and at the age of seven I suddenly found London landmarks very interesting. My teacher Chris Marris took me out for trips to discover them. By 14, I was commissioned to draw the developing Canary Wharf.”

When asked to describe his life in seven words, he said, “Keep doing what I do best, drawing.”

Loretta Claiborne

As a child, Loretta Claiborne was told that she should be institutionalized. Her mother refused, and opted to put her in a special class. Nothing remarkable happened until she started running competitively in Special Olympics in 1970. Now, she is recognized as a world-class runner. She has 26 marathons under her belt — finishing in the top 100 women runners in the Boston Marathon twice. She was inducted as member of The Women in Sports Hall of Fame and Special Olympics Pennsylvania Hall of Fame. She was named the Special Athlete of the Quarter Century by Runner’s World Magazine.

Loretta has intellectual disability but she communicates in four languages and holds honorary doctorate degrees.

In an interview she shared, “I was a little slow in learning but I kept on knocking at it, and knocking at it, and knocking at it. When they were resting, I was still working on it.”

Loretta’s first track coach, Bob Hollis has this to say, “I think running has meant a lot to Loretta because it’s given her a sense of self-accomplishment; and with that self-accomplishment the next hurdle isn’t as large, and it’s not a barrier that she can’t get through with it. She knows she’s already cleared one. So, what’s another? What’s another? What’s another? “

The Common Denominator nominator

What is common in these three highly accomplished people with special needs is a great mentor who saw past the eccentricities and merely focused on building their strengths. Temple has Mr. Carlock. Stephen’s teacher, Cris Marris, helped him appreciate landmarks. Loretta, on the other hand was motivated by a counselor.

In her autobiography, Temple Grandin relates, “The principle is to work with the animal’s behavior instead of against it. I think the same principle applies to autistic children — work with them instead of against them. Discover their hidden talents and develop them.”

Uploaded with permission Acknowledgment Manila Bulletin: Overcoming disability through recreation


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