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.

24 August 2012

A Different World

By Ranil Sorongon, ASP Executive Director

Last August 7 and 8, I had the opportunity to join the delegates from Samoa, Solomon Islands, Malaysia, Indonesia, Pakistan, Tuvalu and Bangladesh for a visit to the different centers and institutions that provide services to children with autism and other disabilities in Perth, Western Australia.
Mr. Ranilo Sorongon with volunteers

We were fetched from our hotel by Ms. Dawn, a volunteer of the Early Childhood Intervention Council of Perth and was brought to Carson Street School at East Victoria Park, a center catering to children with different disabilities like autism, cerebral palsy, Down Syndrome -- some with profound disabilities. The Principal welcomed us and Ms. Shona Ballantyne, the Conductive Education Services Coordinator, gave us a short orientation about the school. The team walked us through their classrooms, indoor swimming pool, therapy area, music room and play ground.

While touring around the facilities, I was very observant of the very tidy classrooms, the different equipment, toys and other materials used by the teachers and manipulated by the students. I was struck seeing a child with profound disability lying on the floor but still part of the class. It was a truly inclusive scenario!

I can’t help but compare the situation of the private and public schools in the Philippines. It made me feel sad and envious thinking that Filipino children with disabilities would very likely develop and learn more if we had those equipment, toys and facilities.

After the school visit, we went to the Western Australian Disability Commission (WADC) where we met the other delegates coming from the different countries of Asia Pacific. We were welcomed by the Early Childhood Intervention Australia headed by Ms. Denise Luscombe, the National President. The WADC is like our National Council on Disability Affairs (NCDA) and is in charge of the affairs of persons with disabilities within Australia.

On the second day, our group went to Heathridge Primary School, Accelerated Learning Center for Autism. We were welcomed by the center executive director, Ms. Patricia, who gave us an orientation and tour of the facilities. She even let us observe an on-going learning session to give us an idea on how they conduct their intervention, based on the principle of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). We were also able to see the children ages around 4 to 6 years old during their play time, when they honed social skills. I was impressed by the children with ASD who initiated interaction with us!

Ms. Pat also shared the curriculum that they been using for the past 14 years and the social script that they develop to teach their children. It was amazing, her passion was incredible!

Later that afternoon, we visited the Sate Child Development Center, a program under the Ministry of Health of Western Australia. We met with the Director, the Community Nurse, the Developmental Pediatrician, the Occupational Therapist, Speech Pathologists, Social Workers and other health professionals who were based there. Our last stop was the office in-charge of the vaccination, not only for children but also with adults. The center provides a holistic free health services for the people of Western Australia especially the children.

Looking back, my two-day visit reminded me of Joey Ayala’s song “Magkabilaan ang Mundo” or “Contrasting World”. The Australian government provides free services to all children, with additional benefits to children with disabilities. Professional services are available and free. Roads, bridges, buildings and footbridges are accessible.

While I love my country very much, I am made aware that services for children with disabilities are so inadequate, sometimes non-existent, in the Philippines. In Solomon Islands, Samoa and Tuvalu, the situation is even worse -- speech therapist and occupational therapists are very difficult to find. Even with the presence of international agreements like the Education for All, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, these conditions exist and will continue to exist, if governments will not prioritize this marginalized sector. Persons with disabilities and parents of children with disabilities must demand from the duty-bearers, the government, the fulfillment of their basic rights.

Living in Western Australia would be a privilege; but there is still no place like the Philippines, my home. My experiences in Perth posed a challenge to me to further engage government and other stakeholders for a more humane world for all, especially individuals with disabilities.


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