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.

29 June 2018

The shared journey toward a UP sablay

Yesterday marked the end of a chapter and the beginning of another in Klarenz's life as he graduated from the premier university of the Philippines. Even though it was a joyous, momentous day, my brother had to overcome a lot of obstacles that would have kept him from graduating. It's only right to properly thank the people who were part of his journey and share his story in the hopes of inspiring others.

My earliest memory of Klarenz was riding a yellow jeepney to get to the hospital where he was born. I was only 8 1/2 years old so I didn't realize that it was a mere 1-minute ride from where I hailed a jeepney at the roundabout in Olongapo. He was such a beautiful baby. While I was frequently mistaken for a boy, he was often mistaken for a girl -- long eyelashes, black doll eyes, fair skin, plump cheeks. I couldn't wait to hold him in my arms. One day, when our mom went out to buy supplies at the store, I was left with my two younger brothers. Karlo and I couldn't resist cradling baby Bunso and peppering him with kisses. My mom caught us, of course, but I thought I had had enough practice holding Karlo and our younger cousins to know that I could carry our baby brother.

Then, when he was around two, we started to wonder why he wasn't speaking like kids his age. At the dinner table, he would mumble what seemed like gibberish (we even quipped he was speaking a mixture of Chinese, Russian, and Spanish!) though we would later on realize that there was a pattern to all his jibber jabber. Still, it was very concerning as this continued for the next few years. Finally, when he was around 5 years old, we went to a specialist. A penchant for lining up his toys but not playing with them, no eye contact, selective attention -- he was diagnosed with autism. I didn't fully understand it then, but I knew that there was a problem. That there would be more problems.

One time, when I was guiding his hand so he could learn how to write the letters of the alphabet, his Y kept turning into an X. I was in high school at the time, but I remember our dad picking up Karlo and me from our respective schools in Subic Bay and going to the Sinag SPED Center in town. Klarenz went there for a year so he could learn to be independent, be more sociable, and lose certain habits, such as asking his teachers to smell his armpit (It was cute then, but we knew it wouldn't be seen that way anymore when he's older). It was the place where we started learning about the needs of special individuals, and one of the most memorable characteristics of the kids in his class was that they were all so very sweet. Most of them were shy at first, but once they've warmed up to you, they're very generous with hugs. Their parents, such as Tita Grace, were naturally some of the most understanding people you would ever meet. Lorenz's mom, Tita Edna, is one of the foremost autism advocates in our hometown. Klarenz was only there for a year thanks mainly to Teacher Marie and Teacher Malou, who are such kind souls. Their job takes so much strength and patience, but they were like a second mom to everyone in that class.

For the next three years, Klarenz would study at a regular public school for him to be integrated into mainstream classes. There wasn't a lack of issues there for sure. He was the "spokening dollar" kid. Many of the other kids and their parents didn't know how to act around Klarenz and our family. It was around that time when I went to college. Before going to UP, though, I gathered some of my dad's research as well as did my own, hoping to learn that there's a cure or some way to ease our family's concerns. Until now, scientists are still trying to figure out the exact causes of autism.

It was obvious that Klarenz wasn't getting the intellectual stimulation he needed because he easily got bored in class. Consequently, in fourth grade, he was transferred to the Center of Excellence (CENTEX) in Olongapo. There he and my parents met their future allies and friends in high school and beyond. My younger brothers and cousins in Subic all went to the same high school I did. A school that I was very proud of, that is, until I heard about the incidents. While at a team building weekend in Tagaytay, I was on the phone with my mom when I learned about what was happening. His classmates had put him in one of the closets. They put bleach in his bag. One time, he and another kid were sent to the principal's office, and the other kid's parent cursed and yelled at my brother. Students, and parents bullied him. Teachers were not equipped to handle such situations. The principal then threatened to expel my brother. Those people cornered, provoked, and undermined my brother, not once, not twice, but several times over the years. They failed to understand what was lacking: the training to address such concerns and, more importantly, compassion. While my vengeful soul wanted to get back at the perpetrators, our dad managed to stay logical. No charges were made but a trained counselor was asked to give a seminar at school. According to our mom, things got better after that.

We were jubilant when Klarenz also got admitted to UP. At first, he was enrolled at Los BaƱos pursuing a degree in Applied Physics. However, as it was soon apparent that his heart was not really in it (and it was costly to maintain more than one house), we changed our strategy. With the help of my boyfriend, we were able to see how a degree in Library and Information Science would not only be more in line with Klarenz's strengths and interests, but the school also has one of the most supportive communities in UP Diliman. In August 2014, he began his 3-year journey in SLIS. Every day, our mom prepared meals and clothes for Klarenz while our dad tutored him. Our relatives, especially Big T, always showed their support in one way or another.

Fast forward to graduation day (because he had a lot of encouragement from family, friends, teachers, and classmates so there wasn't really any drama). This time yesterday, Klarenz shifted his sablay from right to left, an action symbolic of the success achieved when people support each other. Bunso, we have always believed in what you can do. We know that you can achieve even more. No matter what you decide to do next, we will support you.

Congratulations, Klarenz! Padayon, UP!


About the contributor. Krys Quinones is a doting sibling to PWA Klarenz. This article was first published on Krys' Facebook timeline on 25 June 2018 -- http://bit.ly/2IQh5XF #familyisforever

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