By DANG UY-KOE, ASP Chair Emeritus
The word “autism” and its derivatives have been used erroneously in colloquialisms so often that many of our countrymen are confused about what it is and what it is not. While there are “classic” autism markers, the condition is also a spectrum disorder, making each and every case unique. This may make autism difficult to understand for someone who has never known anyone with the condition.
ASP national secretary Mona Magno-Veluz collaborates with Cebu-based Hannah Dimaronsing on this week's Angel Talk. Hannah is an IT industry professional whose blog HannDs-on-Mama (http://hannds-on-mama.blogspot.com) is a homage to her children and a venue for her autism advocacy.
We often hear television dialogue, social media updates and friendly banter using the word “autistic” disguised as half-jokes. From the sari-sari stores to the Senate, the word is misused and is, in the perspective of advocates, a brick wall in our struggle for genuine inclusion of individuals with autism in society. Here's a look at common misconceptions.
“Mukha kang autistic” - Individuals with autism do not share any physical characteristics, in as much as they do not share the same developmental or behavioral patterns. The condition is also widely distributed across race and other demographic areas, making physical generalizations baseless. Many autists rate highly on the attractiveness scale, with Alexis Wineman, Miss Montana 2012 who competed in this year's Miss America contest, being a standout example.
“Anong talent mo?” - According to Dr. Darold Treffert in his book “Extraordinary People: Understanding Savant Syndrome,” only approximately 10 percent of persons with autism have some savant abilities. “It is important to remember that not all autistic persons are savants, and not all savants are autistic,” he noted. This myth can skew expectations on the abilities of individuals with autism, and how they should be treated in society.
“May sariling mundo” - Individuals on the spectrum may be non-verbal or may have communication delays, but this does not mean that they are oblivious or have little concern for the world around them. They have the capacity for deep love, nationalistic pride, and even selfless concern for others.
At the ASP Christmas party last year, Carl Veluz, a 20-year-old Person with Autism (PWA), jumped into the swimming pool to aide a younger child with autism who was drifting to the deep end. While the adults around the pool were still assessing how to best help the child, Carl was already in the water. He got to the distressed boy and brought him to safety, way ahead of all the other neuro-typical adults who took an extra split second to act.
“Retarded ang autistic” - Autism is a disorder that may be accompanied by many other conditions — with learning disability being only one among many other potential co-morbidities. Then again, some capabilities associated with autism like hyper focus, obsessiveness and photographic memory are qualities that allow a handful of individuals on the spectrum to excel in academics. Our favorite example is Dr. Temple Grandin, who was non-verbal until she was three and a half years old, and is now a world-renowned author and animal scientist.
“Wala lang disiplina yan” - Individuals with autism suffer from sensory integration disorder, where the brain has trouble receiving and responding to information that comes in through the senses. Common sounds may be painful or overwhelming and can trigger what outsiders would consider as tantrums. Family members need to isolate the cause of distress, which can be difficult if a child is non-verbal. Compassion and understanding would be the best way to help, as the process of desensitization and of building tolerance to stimuli takes years.
The United Nations declared April 2 as World Autism Awareness Day. We enjoin you, our dear readers, to celebrate with us through ACTION. Share this article with a friend and invite them to help spread the knowledge and understanding on what autism is. Get to know someone with autism or someone whose family lives with autism every day. Help Filipino autism advocates in our drive to stop the use of “autistic” in a derogatory way by joining the Autism Society Philippines’ 1Pangako campaign on Facebook and Twitter.
We aspire to create a Filipino society that is not only AWARE of what autism is; but is genuinely RESPONSIVE to the needs of the growing number of Filipinos with autism.
(Autism Society Philippines will hold a family support group meeting on March 16, and a seminar-workshop on “The Language of Autism” on March 23. For details, follow Autism Society Philippines on Facebook, Twitter and Blogspot.)
This article appeared in print and online by Manila Bulletin on 11 March 2013.