It was the sight of their neighbor’s child banging his head on the wall each time he had a tantrum which motivated Jastine Jane Mercado to learn more about children with autism.
Mercado, 25, said she felt sorry for the 18-year-old and his parents who did not know how to deal with him.
“Our neighbor’s case is severe since he would bang his head whenever he had tantrums and he would tend to hurt others,” said Mercado.
“And from there, I told myself, sakto ra gyud diay nga nag SPED ko (It’s a good thing I took up SPED),” she recounted.
Mercado, a Special Education (SPED) student from the University of Southern Philippines (USPF), was among 90 participants of a seminar on autism held at SM City Cebu, Tuesday.
Organized by the Autism Society of the Philippines (ASP), the event was part of this year’s National Autism Consciousness Week.
Now on its 22nd year since 1996, the celebration had the theme “ A(3): Acceptance, Accommodation and Appreciation.”
“Acceptance would mean for parents to accept their special children, that they have impairments, “ said Sandra Espina, ASP Cebu Chapter president.
“Accommodation is for private and public sectors to welcome them in their work area. The appreciation because we have now an exhibit area at the third floor here in SM Cebu where you can see the work of art of these children,” Espina explained.
Citing a study conducted by the Autism Speaks Foundation, Espina said that about a million Filipinos are believed to have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
But of the estimated number, only 30 percent were identified by experts; and of the 30 percent, only five percent were given early intervention.
According to the study, the rest never experienced any form of intervention, as they are either isolated by family members from the community or simply not taken care of to make them functional.
“We would want to encourage parents, or those who have relatives in the community to bring them to the barangay health centers so that they will be properly identified and they will be given the proper intervention,” Espina said.
The Department of Education (DepEd) also has a SPED section to attend to the needs of special children.
To date, DepEd has recognized 648 SPED Centers and regular schools in the country which offers the program — 471 of which cater to elementary students while 177 cater to high school.
There are also private groups and non-government organizations (NGOs) helping special children with their needs.
However, for lawyer Bernardino Amago IV, who spoke in Tuesday’s forum, this was not enough.
Rights and privileges
Amago noted the need to recognize the rights and privileges of children with special needs provided under the Magna Carta for persons with disability (PWD) or Republic Act 7277.
“It is provided that they should be given secondary to tertiary education. The problem though is the law itself does not mandate or require each school to have a program on this. They are just encouraged,” he said.
“For the state universities they are tasked to do research on how to develop a program intended for a PWD so I suppose that should be extended also to persons with autism,” Amago added.
The law also protects PWDs from verbal and non-verbal abuse and vilification.
“So when you do acts intending to ridicule or you try to mimic the disability of the person just so he can be embarrassed that is also a ground as well for penalties under our law,” said Amago.
PWDs also enjoy 20 percent discount on their medicines while they are also excluded from the coverage of the 12 percent VAT provided for in the new tax law.
Neurodevelopmental pediatrician Dr. Steven Seno, program director of Independent Living Learning Center (ILLC) shared with forum participants the things to be remembered when evaluating children with autistic behavior.
Seno said children with signs of autism experience communication problems because a language-based disorder is developed as a symptom.
They also show problems in socializing with others and manifest “unusual behaviors” such as atypical eating behavior, abnormal sleep patterns, temper tantrums, and self-injurious behavior.
“Autism is a symptom. Daghan siyag causes. It could be genetic or environmental. It could be a consequence of epilepsy, meningitis. But most cases actually, wa lang gyud syay cause; motungha lang gyud sya, “ he said.
Seno said that for children with autism, therapeutic intervention would be the appropriate form of approach.
“In more severe cases, duna tay mahatag nga medication depende kung unsay need. Is it a problem with behavior, with sleep or with attention,” Dr. Seno said.
There are three levels of autism: the low-functioning, moderate-functioning, and high-functioning.
Level 3 or the low-functioning autism is the most severe form of autism where individuals who have it often have extensive impairments.
Many have little or no language skills and many have some level of mental retardation.
People with level 2 or moderate-functioning autism often require assistance but can have some degree of independence in their jobs and living conditions as adults.
Level 1 or the high-functioning autism, have the mildest degree of the disorder and many of them live and work independently.
For SPED students like Mercado, caring for children with special needs comes with a passion to teach.
“My profession is a big challenge. I want to show to the people how children with special needs should be treated,” said Mercado.
In most cases, she said, parents are unable to attend to the special needs of their children because of their lack of knowledge on what to do.
“Wala silay dapat ikahadlok nga i-expose ang ilang bata to the society because nowadays they are accepted. They are valued,” Mercado told Cebu Daily News.