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.

19 January 2012

A future for our kids with autism

By Atty. Adel Tamano

We love our kids. It’s a no-brainer, sure, but the depth of emotion, concern and sentiment that we have for our children and the inexpressible bond that [parents have for their offspring is something that you can never truly fathom until you finally have the children of your own. Every parent wants what is best for his or her child. We love our children so much that we often verge on over-protectiveness and we want to insulate them from all the many evils and dangers of this world.
Autism is the Future poster

However, inevitably, we realize that we can never fully protect our children and that eventually they will grow up, become adults, and will have to fend for themselves. And for those of us who have children with special needs, whether it’s autism, retardation, Down’s syndrome, etc., our concern for the future of our offspring may be even more grave and serious.

The Philippines – though we love our country deeply – is, unfortunately, for us parents with children with special needs, still an underdeveloped nation. To use the terminology of the ‘70s, despite our strides, we remain “Third World” economically. Consequently, government services for special needs kids will always be a second-, third-, or even fourth-tier concern since more basic health services such as maternal care, prevention of infectious diseases like tuberculosis or pneumonia, and malnutrition will, naturally, be given top priority. This is why my wife’s cousins in the US get free therapy and medical benefits for their child with autism and my wife and I receive no government support for any of the therapies or treatments that our son Santi, who has autism, needs.

We count ourselves very lucky because for many Filipinos with special needs, they aren’t able to afford the necessary therapies to develop their children to their utmost potential. And some, like the child of a barber that I know, are forced to just keep their child at home, never to attend school or receive medical diagnosis, therapy, or treatment of any kind.

I see it as a blessing that my wife and I are both willing to work very hard; we weren’t born with silver spoons in our mouths, and thus are able to pay for the therapies, treatments, and medical support necessary to support Santi. Santi is nine years old but what happens when he grows up and becomes an adult? What happens when we can no longer work to provide him his medical and learning support?

A dream or aspiration of mine is that Santi will be able to go to college and learn skills that will make him, to an extent, self sufficient. My hopes for this were boosted when Jun Lozada, the whistle-blower on NBN-ZTE, was a guest on my ANC show, Tamano Perspective. He informed me that St. Benilde College – where I had my first teaching job as an instructor in economics in 1993 – would be opening a program specifically for children with autism and special needs. Now, I don’t know at what stage of development that program is in but when I told this to my friend, who also has a child with autism, he was equally excited. As parents, we know that our children are different from those who do not have special needs but we, nonetheless, have aspirations for our children to go to college, if they have the ability and aptitude for it. And it isn’t that we want to go to college just for the sake of it but rather so that they can realize their full educational potential and learn skills, even vocational or technical, that will help them obtain some kind of employment.

Another aspiration I have for Santi is that there be a place in the Philippines where, if my wife and I will no longer be around, my son will be given proper care and support. In the Philippine setting, this is usually a family matter, meaning that family member will take care of the children with special needs once the parents have passed away. But in the US there are special homes for adults with special needs, where they are given special care and even have opportunities for work. These homes in the US, I was informed, are private institutions and are not paid for with special needs a full menu of activities – painting, sports, work-programs, etc. – in order to enable those staying, whether permanently or on a part-time basis, to have productive and fulfilling lives.

Related to this point of having a home for adults with special needs, I’ve offered my legal services to a group with a vision and a plan to establish a home or center for adults with special needs. The project is still – or at least my level of participation is – in its infancy but I have high hopes for it and perhaps if there are enough families with children with special needs who also aspire to have a special center or home that specifically caters to the needs of adults with autism, Down’s syndrome, etc., then maybe this project might actually get off the ground.

I have always believed that the true measure of a society is how it treats its most vulnerable. Since our children with special needs cannot expect much government support, given the level of development of our country, we, as parents, will have to spearhead and find ways in which to insure their future. Honestly, I don’t have the answers on solutions yet for Santi’s future but I do have my aspirations for him. This is something that I can build on. And perhaps if there are enough parents like me who have similar aspirations for their kids, then, working together, we might actually make some of them come true.

Acknowledgments: The Philippine Star and Atty. Adel Tamano


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