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.

25 March 2013

The mission of Tomas


By DANG UY-KOE, ASP Chair Emeritus

Tomas Perez Diaz was diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD), a condition on the autism spectrum, marked by significant developmental delays − cognitive and motor, play, communication, and difficulty interacting with others. Yet his difficulties did not prevent him from developing a deep personal relationship with God, which he expresses in his everyday life and soulful artwork.

As we enter the end of the Lenten season, Angel Talker Mona Magno-Veluz collaborated with Nati Diaz, PWA mom and autism advocate, to share Tomas' heartwarming story of personal triumph.

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Tomas, the only child of Nati Perez and Jose A. Diaz, was born on April 11, 1986. He was named after his father's favorite saint, Thomas Aquinas - the greatest intellect the Catholic Church has ever known. Growing up as a hyperactive child, he spoke his first words at seven months and talked excessively with little or no sense at all. When he was diagnosed with PDD, no time was lost in finding the right school and therapists for him as early intervention is most crucial for his adaptation.

Tomas was eight years old when he was attracted to colors of crayons and colored pencils.He used it to make rough formless lines and shapes, which he claimed were personages from his illustrated Bible. With admirable patience, he kept doing it day after day, thus improving his hand and eye coordination and at the same time, producing works of compositions in vivid colors. He began toying with facial outlines and later combined it with holy expressions. Tomas also experimented with colors and explored the visual possibilities of pastel on paper. His hues and contours are audacious, with dominant shades of tangerine, crimson and russet.

Only religious imagery engaged him. Through his deft hands, his works progressed from images of angels to people praying to religious compositions. He did not go to an art school to learn how to paint. As a self-taught artist, he was encouraged to develop his own style. Curiously his images are akin to some icons in early church times with pronounced facial attributes and downcast eyes. His favorite subject is the Stations of the Cross, a depiction of Jesus Christ's passion, death and resurrection in 14 stations.

Tomas believes that his talent is a gift from God and paints to give thanks to Him. His uncle Ramon Diaz, a well-known painter, suggested that he try painting superheroes. He replied that there is only one Superhero, then and now.

Because of his dedication to his craft, Tomas has gained admiration from various people. Archbishop Diosdado Talamayan DD of the Diocese of Tuguegarao, for instance, installed Tomas’ first Stations of the Cross in St. Clare Monastery in Iguig, Cagayan in 2005. Fr. Enrique Fuentes, OCD displayed his pieces in the Chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Maharlika West, Tagaytay City. Another one of Tomas’ Stations of the Cross now adorn the sacred walls of San Miguel Church in Camiling, Tarlac.

Last December, the Philippine Art Educators' Association showcased Tomas’ works through a one-man show and exhibit titled "Tomas Perez Diaz: Biblical Artist" in the GSIS Museum of Arts. Among those exhibited were more than 50 paintings from the Bible's Old and New Testaments and some of his favorite saints.

Tomas, who serves as an altar server in Mt. Carmel Shrine Parish in Broadway, Quezon City and at the Dominican Sisters of Regina Rosarii’s Masses, wishes that his works would be more accessible to others. He would like to see it on a traveling exhibit to schools and parishes all over the country, reaching out to as many children for them to see, experience and be inspired by God.

In an interview on Radio Veritas, “Pamilya mo, Pamilya Ko” host Bernard Canaveral asked Tomas about his relationship with God and without missing a beat, he quipped "Mas malapit ang Dios sa akin kaysa ako sa aking sarili." (God is closer to me than I am with myself.)

Tomas has the ability for profound thought and expression, and is gifted with unique qualities. His art is proof that persons with developmental disabilities can have true passion and talent. His art is a medium for expressing his love for God and for inspiring others to renew their own commitment to their Christian faith.

(April 2 is World Autism Awareness Day. Join the Autism Society Philippines (ASP) in spreading the message of awareness, understanding and acceptance. Act today by posting your thoughts on autism on your Facebook status update, making a pledge on “1Pangako,” participating in the many ASP activities in your area and being a true friend to an individual with autism. Follow ASP on Facebook, Twitter, and blogspot.)

This article appeared in print and online by Manila Bulletin on 25 March 2013.

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