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.

12 November 2013

Hope Begins Here and Now

Kiel, second from the right, kneeling, among other young and not-so-young adults on the spectrum who attended the 13th Philippine National Autism Conference.

This article appeared on 11 November 2013 in the print and on-line versions of Manila Bulletin's "Angels Talk" under the by-line of Dang U. Koe, ASP Chair Emeritus.

Twenty-seven year old autism self-advocate Gerard Atienza, who is a freelance graphic designer, volunteered during the Autism Society Philippines’ 13th National Autism Conference held last Oct. 26 and 27. Calling himself and others like him on the autism spectrum “awesome,” the visuals he created for the entire conference are truly that – awesome. Gerard is also a blogger “autisticbigbro” and this week’s angel talker.

The theme of the conference, “Hope for ‘A’ Nation,” is highly appropriate for what the event had to offer. It presented diverse perspectives from lawmakers, experts in the field, parents and individuals on the autism spectrum. The speakers and the panelists presented how it is to live with hope for autism, a vision that is continually unveiling itself.

The MERALCO Multi-Purpose Hall was filled to the brim with hopefuls — parents, professionals, and even persons with autism who gathered for the vital information about autism and to know what is being done toward acceptance and inclusion for autistic people.

The confab featured Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, whose life with son and grandson, both with autism, inspired her to push for access for justice for persons with disabilities; ASEAN Autism Network chairperson Malai Othman, who went back to the grassroots level and focused on enabling people with disabilities; and BUHAY Party-List Representative Irwin Tieng, who discussed how ASP’s advocacy motivated him to push for rights of persons with autism and other disabilities. Cavite Governor Jonvic Remulla, who graced the second day of the conference, shared a message of hope on how his journey with daughter Stella, who has autism, inspired him to be an advocate himself.

The efforts of the government in pushing for autism acceptance and inclusion were also underscored in the conference. Mandaluyong City Mayor Benhur Abalos presented how their implementation of community-based rehabilitation helped shape persons with autism and other disabilities to become fully functional members of society, and how it inspired other local governments to follow suit. Former Ormoc City Mayor Beboy Codilla, himself a father of a child with autism, discussed what his government has done for individuals on the spectrum on the regional level.

Experts such as Dr. Alexis Reyes discussed the DSM-V and the implications of this latest revision in the diagnosis of autism, while Dr. Cornelio Banaag talked about the health issues affecting adults on the spectrum. Dr. Noel Vallesteros underscored the importance of oral and dental care for kids on the autism spectrum.

Teachers Anna Cortez and Ana Rivera showcased therapies for autism, using the techniques of yoga and dance, respectively; while Sensei Vicente Rubio, himself on the autism spectrum, discussed the basics of mentoring young adults on the spectrum, and how he himself lived with autism.

Addressing the Challenges

What interested me, though, was Dr. Tony Dans’s discussion on the highly-controversial stem cell therapy and its role as an autism therapy. As an anti-cure advocate myself who believes that autism is not a disease to be cured and eradicated, but rather a difference to live with, the discussion of the topic made me uncomfortable. However, Dr. Dans somehow dispelled my fears, as he objectively presented the principles and ethics of such therapy, and that it has yet to be proven before it could be used.

On the perspective of the corporate world, Unilab Foundation’s Rhodora Fresnedi discussed how Project Inclusion has integrated autistic individuals to the workplace, citing the experiences of fellow awesome Vico Cham, who is an employee at Unilab. Public Relations practitioner Amor Maclang challenged everyone to advocate for autism.

The panel of parents and siblings of adults on the autism spectrum, composed of Arch. Cathy Cham, DIWA Party-List Representative Em Aglipay, Dr. Marnie Prudencio, and Mommy Marivic Rimano, shared how they’re preparing themselves for the future of their children with autism.

Media leaders also came together to discuss the agenda of autism in mainstream media and its role in shaping autism advocacy and the acceptance of people on the autism spectrum. The panel of media leaders are composed of GMA Network executive Annette Gozon-Abrogar, advocacy filmmaker Mirana Medina, ANAK TV chairperson Mag Hatol, journalist Ivy Mendoza, and ABS-CBN broadcaster Karen Davila, herself a mother to David, fellow awesome.

On the employment sector, Verlie Dizon, Mann Hann senior manager; Regina de Leon, mom to fast-food staff and fellow awesome Paco; Gian Paolo Feranil, plan checker at Torsten Calvi and fellow awesome; and teachers Iris Gaballo and Archie David from the Independent Living and Learning Centre, discussed the opportunities and value of employing autistic people in a variety of jobs.

What struck me the most is the panel of fellow awesomes on the spectrum, composed of ASP Dreamgirl Danica EscasiƱas, Hopewell Integrated School staff Paul Garcia, Performing Arts student Clarence Cruz, and IBM’s HR specialist Yanna Aragon. Led by Teacher My Sorongon, they discussed their own journeys as self-advocates and how they are pushing for their rights. Being the passionate self-advocate that I was, I asked my fellow awesomes in the house to stand up and be recognized by the sea of parents and professionals.

It was such an exhilarating experience to be part of this conference, and together with fellow autistic guys, whom I shall call Team Awesomeness, there is hope for autism. And it doesn’t stop at the conference. Hope begins here, and hope begins now.

The biggest gathering of autism angels will be held on Jan. 19, 2014 at the SM Mall of Asia Arena. It will kick off the celebrations of ASP’s 25th year, the National Autism Consciousness Week and nationwide Angels Walk for Autism. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.


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