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.

19 November 2012

Debutante gets the party of her dreams


By DANG Uy-KOE, ASP Chair Emeritus

Seeing Thara entering the ballroom, composed and elegant in her princess-like gown and hairdo, one would not imagine that this young lady used to throw tantrums in public places inappropriate for her age just a few years back.  

Thara’s father Dad Francis flew in from Kuwait to fulfill his promise of a special debut party, her mom Geeta prepared all year long for this event, her two brothers Kash and Vinnie, her cousins, uncles, aunts, grandparents were all present, beaming with pride at their singing princess.  The Santiago-Sakhrani clan is proof that with love and support from the family, persons with autism can lead happy and productive lives.

Angel Talker JR Tan was invited to the party, together with a number of autism self-advocates like him.  Here is his account of Thara’s dream debut.

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When I hear about debut, what comes to my mind are roses, dancing, formal outfits, a big feast, glamorous decorations and of course, the most cherished milestone of the celebrant’s 18th year in life. At 18, a woman can probably drive, vote, and experience other rights just as other adult citizens – making major decisions in life.

I have known Thara Marie Sakhrani Santiago since my teenage years. On several events sponsored by Autism Society Philippines, such as the yearly Angels Walk and World Autism Awareness Day, Thara would be invited to perform along with fellow members of ASP Dream Girls. 

Before talking to her talent manager, Teacher Naomi Viado, I had no idea about her daily regimen in improving her vocal skills. She told me that it takes a lot of consistency, persistence and discipline to reach Thara’s goals. 

One of Thara’s challenges is dealing with tantrums and/or excessive complaining if things do not go as expected. Thara also learns to cooperate and follow instructions from her singing coaches along with fellow Dream Girl, Nica EscasiƱas. 

I appreciate Thara’s beautiful and powerful voice in her performances. Watching them perform is like being transported into the front row of a pop concert. I cheer for them and wish that their beautiful voices would reach as high as the heavens.

Her mom, Mrs. Geeta Sakhrani Santiago, said Thara does not take cold drinks and avoids soda and junk food. She practices with singing coaches twice a week and is rewarded with her favorite Fashion Magazines for her hard work and performances. 

On August, I was privileged to be invited by Thara’s mom to the 18 Roses Dance during Thara’s debut party this November.  After accepting the offer, I began to recall what I did during our 2007 Junior-Senior Prom in high school, which involved the cotillion. We also learned the dance etiquette from our physical education teacher. The training took about a month of rigorous practice after classes. I haven’t danced for long time since then, so I began to rehearse the dance steps via YouTube videos and practicing with my mom. 

Three months later, my eyes opened wide after arriving at Thara’s party venue at the Century Park Hotel. The ballroom was decorated with balloons and flowers with Thara’s favorite color – pink. Guests were treated to a sumptuous buffet. The Luntayao Siblings, grand finalists of the Pilipinas Got Talent Season One, also serenaded us.

Thara wore a pink gown and a tiara. She looked like a beautiful princess when she entered the ballroom, escorted by co-self-advocate, Ian Lopez from ASP Laguna Chapter. Ian was my co-panelist during the 11th National Autism Conference on “Advocacy: A Family Business.” Ian is a huge fan of Thara and updates photos of her yearly during the Angels Walk. 

When we, the dancers in the 18 Roses were called to queue up, I was a little excited to dance with Thara. Before we arrived there, my mom hoped that I would not step on Thara’s toes while dancing. Well, I did not. After the dance, came the 18 Candles wherein 18 female guests gave wishes for the debutante while lighting a candle. 

Thara’s family made an audio-video presentation tribute to her, where autism was explained and its awareness promoted. They said they would continue to support her in every aspect of her life and care for her to the best of their ability, despite her autism. For her cousins, aunts, uncles, and godparents, they would still continue to understand her behaviors and accept her for who she is. 

This is my first time to witness a party where understanding a disability was promoted. Not everyone understands that people with autism also belong to the society and should be treated equally. I am so happy to learn that her family and relatives are very supportive of her dreams, not only in the present, but for the years to come. 

“Thara is an Angel sent to us by God”, said her parents. Many also shared words of encouragement to Thara. But the most striking quote for me is from Nica, her co-Dream Girl, “Thara, hindi ka na baby, lady ka na. Bawasan na ang tantrums.” There was nary a trace of tantrums that night.

People with autism, like Thara and me, can transcend the so called “limitations”. We just need to focus our energies on our God-given abilities and not let anyone look down on us. We should not shelter children with autism or put them in a place that will isolate them from society. We all need hope, understanding and assurance to develop skills needed in life to the best of our potentials. 

I would like to end with my own wish for Thara, “May you continue to grow and hone your singing skills to inspire others.”


Autism Society Philippines monthly seminar on November 24 features Teacher My Sorongon on “Home Management Program.”  ASP Baguio partners with UP College of Allied Medical Professions for PAMASKONG THERA-FREE: LIBRENG THERAPY in Baguio City. Free assessments and individualized home programs for registrants on December 21 and 22, 2012. For details, follow Autism Society Philippines on Facebook and Twitter.

This article appeared in print and online by Manila Bulletin on 19 November 2012.

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