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.

15 January 2018

Autism heroes congregate for Angels Walk for Autism

The Angels Walk for Autism, spearheaded by the Autism Society Philippines in partnership with SM Cares, kicked off the National Autism Consciousness Week at the SM Mall of Asia in Pasay City last 14 January 18, Sunday, with the gates opening as early as 6:30am. Other partners include MOA Arena, SM Mall of Asia, National Council on Disability Affairs, Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Asia-Pacific Development Center on Disability and the ASEAN Autism Network.

“The Angels Walk for Autism has become a major event that attracts national and international advocates,” according to Mona Magno-Veluz, ASP’s National President. “We are lucky to have 24,000 registered participants this year -- the biggest in our history! Angel Walks are also happening in Baguio, Cebu, Davao, General Santos, Iloilo, Lucena, Roxas, Tacloban, and Tagbilaran all throughout January.” Among the esteemed guests were Hon. Urawadee Sriphiromya, Minister and Deputy Chief of Mission of the Royal Thai Embassy, Former Ambassador Piroon Laismit, Executive Director of Asia-Pacific Center on Disability, Acting Executive Director of the National Council on Disability Affairs Carmen Zubiaga and Michelle Aventajado Best Buddies Philippines Country Manager.

The event celebrates the "autism heroes" -- government, business, developmental pediatricians, therapists and teachers -- who work tirelessly for the inclusion of persons with autism in society. This year’s theme, “From Awareness to Acceptance, Accommodation and Appreciation,” affirms our position that disability inclusion should not be limited to “consciousness” but must translate to visible, deliberate, policy-driven action.

The image shows Angels Walk participants having a group photo during the event.
The traditional Angels Walk for Autism community shot

The AOK-Talent Showcase kicked off at 8:00am with performances by the Mandaluyong CWD Drums and Lyre Band, Keith Ignacio, the ILLC Hearthrobs and Hunks, Tricia Cardino, Judith Rae and Red Avendano, Nunu Supaanong, Pauline Grace dela Cruz, Chaelda del Carmen and Cid Tampo. Charlene Danica Escasinas who received international recognition at the Autistic Talent Gala in Hong Kong was awarded the ASP Autism Angel Achievement Award (A5) by Senator Risa Hontiveros and ASP President Mona Magno-Veluz.

The new ASP program called HOMEpowerment was introduced by ASP President Mona Magno-Veluz. This free therapy program for young children with autism from indigent families, coupled with parent training, was made possible through a grant from Kiehl's Philippines, represented by Ms. Shar Le Chua, General Manager of LÓreal's Luxury Division and Ms. Candy Pangilinan, comedianne and autism mom, who lent her voice to the fund-raising efforts.

The Mixxed Fit Warm-Up was led by Donna and Desly Lim and a crew of superheroes which included Wowie de Guzman as Captain America.

The Program Proper kicked off with a prayer from the students of GS Options House. Young boys on the spectrum shared a simple yet innocently honest prayer for our community and sang a fun rendition of "Jesus is my Superhero." The Philippine National Anthem was accompanied by community shots of Angels Walk for Autism from past years. The TRC x Kid Lightning Crew, Medalists of 2017 World Supremacy Battlegrounds, wowed us all with a chest-thumping opening salvo.

ASP Chair Emeritus and current Chair of the ASEAN Autism Network Dang Koe commanded the stage as she made a grand entrance in a Wonder Woman costume. She joked about the lengths she would go for the autism advocacy!

The Autism Society Philippines chose to honor Autism Angels and Heroes who have made life better for persons and families who live with autism, with specially rendered videos and custom-forged medals.

From the business sector, Mr. Hans Sy (SM Prime), Ms. Annie Garcia (President, SM Supermalls) and Mr. Steven Tan (COO, SM Supermalls) received medals in behalf of businesses creating autism-friendly experiences. SM Supermalls, through it groundnbreaking SM Cares program, pioneered PWD sensitivity training as an operational requisite for all their malls. Each mall conducts PWD sensitivity training twice a year, as part of their annual objectives. The company has set the bar for PWD-friendly public spaces and projects in the Philippine retail industry.

L-R: Cecile Sicam, Annie Garcia, Gio Koe, Hans Sy, Carl Veluz, Steven Tan, Mona Veluz (Image: SM Cares)

From the government sector, Senator Risa Hontiveros and Representative Tom Villarin received medals in behalf of public servants who create policies, protocols and programs for the growing population of PWAs in the Philippines. Senator Hontiveros was the primary sponsor behind the Mental Health Act of 2017; while Representative Villarin recently filed HB 6934 or the National Autism Care Plan Bill which defines the roadmap for genuine inclusion of persons with autism in society.

Developmental pediatricians -- Dr. Mimi Avendano, Dr. Rochelle Pacifico (President, Philippine Society of Behavioral and Developmental Pediatrics) and Dr. Alexis Reyes -- received medals on behalf of the 51 other specialists in their field, currently practising in the Philippines. They possess training and experience to consider the medical and psychosocial aspects of children's and adolescents' developmental and behavioral problems; and are important partners to families in the long-term care of their family member with autism.

Speech Pathologists -- Teacher Ely Bautista (President, Philippine Association of Speech Pathologists), Teacher Mae Sadicon and Teacher Weng Ynion -- received medals in behalf of the 300 or so practicing speech therapists in the Philippines. With communication as a key challenge in persons on the spectrum, speech pathologists with legitimate training help PWA develop expressive and receptive language, which can open doors to learning and socialization.

L-R: Mona Veluz, Ely Bautista, Weng Ynion, Ken Cheng, Mae Sadicon, Helen Cheng (Image: SM Cares)

Occupational Therapists -- Teacher Achie Gozon (Past President, Philippine Academy of Occupational Therapists) and Teacher Karla Tolentino -- received medals on behalf of the approximately 600 licensed occupational therapists in the Philippines, who chose to build their practice around developmental disabilities. It takes special dedication to promote, maintain, and develop the skills needed by persons on the spectrum to be functional in a school setting and beyond. They help families build learning skills, self-esteem, self-confidence, independence, and social interaction in our family members with autism.

Special Education Teachers -- Teacher Arnold Alegre (Hopewell School), Teacher Landa Bautista-Abundo (The Learning Center), Teacher Archie David (Independent Living Learning Center), Teacher Bunny Joaquin (SHINE Intervention Center) -- received medals on behalf of the special education teachers who have the daunting task of working with students who may have learning, mental, emotional, and physical disabilities. They are masters in instructional and behavioral accommodation, ensuring inclusion for all learners with special needs.
The awarding of medals were punctuated by performances from Thara Marie Santiago and Charlene Danica Escasinas -- both A5 awardees.

The ASP Autism Works Partner of the Year was awarded for the first time this year. The honor went to SM Markets who was represented by Mr. Jose Mari Mendoza (President, SM Supermarkets), Mr. Jojo Tagbo (President, SM Savemore) and Ms. Dorothy Sobrevega (AVP - HR, SM Food Group) for the "AutiSM at Work" program. The first meeting was held in September 2015 and it took almost a year for the company to launch the pilot in July 2016. Since then, the leading supermarket chain has filled 28 positions with workers with autism in Cebu, Iloilo, Mandaluyong, Quezon City and Taguig. A 100 percent growth is expected in 2018 -- including new stores in NCR, Cavite, Cebu, Davao, Iloilo, and Laguna.

L-R: Mona Veluz, Mico Ramos, Jojo Tagbo, Marivic Ramos, Joey Mendoza, Carmel Almendrala, Dorothy Sobrevega, Mike Almendrala (Image: SM Cares)

Ms. Dang called for the showing of appreciation for our loved ones who have been our heroes in our helping our children with autism live better lives. Our community of family members, yayas, teachers, therapists, doctors, and advocates were joined in one glorious virtual hug!

Ms. Mona took to the stage to give the last word. She stressed the need to come together in support of the National Autism Care Plan and in showing society the unified strength of the "mighty magulang, awesome advocates and power PWAs" of ASP. She then called for the official start of the walk.

Kicking off from the MOA Arena, participants made their way to the MOA Music Hall. The finish line became a place to take souvenir shots and chat with fellow advocates before naturally dispersing into the mall in small groups. Ms. Dang awarded June Andre Del Monte aka Angel Warrior and Reyn Vincent Cuento aka Super Angel as winners of the Autism Hero Costume Contest. They split the purse and went home with P5,000 each.

The Autism Society Philippines thanks you all for making the Angels Walk for Autism the super success that is was. Let's continue to build and Autism-OK Philippines! Until next year!


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