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.

13 August 2012

Where compassion and kindness begin

By DANG U. KOE, ASP Chair Emeritus


Being God-loving is one of the best traits Filipinos should be proud of.

Authors Hanah Joy Gregorio and Khristopher Vincent Defensor in an article in Asian Journal wrote: “The Philippines is one the most religious countries in the world, particularly in Catholicism and Islam. Families would encourage and strengthen the values of their children and would at least have one day a week for worship and at the same time strengthening family ties.”

This holds true for families blessed with children with autism, like most members of Autism Society Philippines. We draw passion and strength to advocate for our children with autism from our personal relationships with God. Thus, it is unfortunate how Catholic Archbishop Socrates Villegas used the word “autistic” in his proxy speech on the RH Bill last August 4.

“I know many of you, my dear youth, do not believe in the Church anymore. You think the Church does not understand. That the church is autistic. May sariling mundo.”

Autism is a neurological condition affecting millions of Filipinos. Individuals with autism have a unique way of processing things they see, hear, feel, taste and smell. “Autistic” is not a joke or an insult equivalent to being unintelligent or indifferent.

We trust Archbishop Villegas will take this opportunity to reflect on his actions, and help champion the needs of the Catholic subset of autism sector from within the Church. We need our Catholic leaders to educate themselves on autism issues and to create long-term “inclusive” programs that will benefit individuals on the spectrum.


IT’S ABOUT TIME FOR THE CHURCH

In March 2011 issue of Angels Talk on “When People with Autism Go to Church”, we gave “bottoms-up” suggestions on how parents, local church leaders and other people can help PWAs in their church integration.  It is time for top-down actions from church leaders like Bishop Soc to help minister to their flock of one million Filipino families living with autism. Some suggestions:

1. Autism orientation for priests and parishes.  It may include:

Teaching abstract catechism concepts like the Holy Trinity, God, heaven, hell, sin, and others -- all difficult for someone with autism. Dr. Temple Grandin, a celebrated professor of Animal Science, author, speaker, inventor, and one of Time Magazine’s Most Influential People of 2010 shared “I think like Google for images. I have to see pictures in my mind.” As a child taught to say The Lord’s Prayer, she admitted, “I had absolutely no idea what the prayer meant.”

Hearing confession of someone with autism and how to give penance so that they will learn from the exercise.  Perhaps even equip priests with communication tools.

Allocation of a special section within the church where PA system does not overly stimulate kids. Perhaps in lieu of mass, establish a Sunday school for kids with learning disabilities.

2. A catechism program for children with learning disabilities.  Since most special schools are non-sectarian, they fall through the cracks and do not get to go to First Communion.

3. Establish policy on how to deal with the profoundly autistic. A number of families have experienced their children being ejected out of the church or being rejected for communions.  Parents’ cries will surely reach the heavens should their children be considered less Catholic because they cannot take advantage of all sacraments like communion, confession and confirmation.

Parent members of organizations like ASP advocate to create a society where our children with autism can grow up happy, productive and accepted. We labor so that more Filipinos can look at autism, not with outdated perceptions, but with kind, compassionate eyes.  We pray we are not mistaken when we presume that such kindness and compassion start from our Church leaders.

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The 5th Regional Conference on Autism has been moved to Sept. 8 and 9 at the San Lazaro Business and Leisure Park, Carmona, Cavite. ASP Los Banos Chapter’s seminar on Supporting Students with Special Needs in the Regular Classroom will be held on Aug. 18 in Los Banos, Laguna.  For details: autismsocietyphilippines.blogspot.com or follow Autism Society Philippines on Facebook and Twitter.

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This article appeared in the print and on-line versions of the Manila Bulletin on 12 August 2012.

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