Post-autism conference thoughts-A A +A
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
I ATTENDED the 13th National Autism Conference held on October 26 and 28, 2013 at the Meralco Hall, Pasig City and I must say that it was a very good experience. It was attended by around 300 delegates from all over the country and a good number of prominent personalities in media, politics, medicine, and education. It was not at all a case of repetitive discussions of issues and concerns about autism. It was a conference that discussed relevant and current information that were presented by very reliable resource speakers. Surprisingly, majority of the presenters either had a son, daughter or relative that has been affected by autism, and indeed, their mere presence and testimonials sent strong signals of hope that something is being done by somebody in our community to help individuals with autism lead meaningful lives. I will share the nuggets of information I gathered from each topic conference in my succeeding articles, but for now, I will impart bits of important realizations that I got out of the two-day conference.
One fact is that the members of Autism Society Philippines are serious on carrying out its “1 pangako” campaign to stop people from creating jokes or using words that belittle individuals with autism. During one of the most touching panel discussions, teenagers and adults in the spectrum talked about their experiences encountered in school and in the workplace. They said that they do have feelings like the typical individual and they also feel hurt when their peers make fun of them. I Guess, the message here is that sometimes, the community thinks that individuals with autism are not aware of what is happening around them or that they are insensitive and incapable of having emotions. The panelists, composed of four young adults with autism, warmed the hearts of the delegates; not only with their skill and eloquence in speaking before an audience or with the words they used, but more in the manner they sent their messages. They were honestly talking from their hearts. Indeed, making fun of them is an act of bullying in its highest form.
Another observation is that throughout the conference, the word “autistic” was seldom used, instead, the more acceptable phrase when referring to them is either a child or adult or individual or person “with autism” or “in the autism spectrum” or “with ASD”. This is, again, to spare individuals with autism and their family members, from the stigma of the word, as it had been indiscriminately used over time to connote something that is hopeless and helpless.
“It is in lifting individuals with autism that we shall rise.” These words still resound in my mind as I picture the resource person speak with so much compassion.
Rhodora Fresnedi, executive director of Unilab Foundation, discussed about their “Project Inclusion” that will help encourage businessmen to employ persons with autism. The project targets not just a hundred but by the thousands of persons with autism and other different abilities to be mainstreamed in the workplace.
Fresnedi’s team had already set the example of hiring four young adults with autism in their offices. She warmly talked about how her team also learns life lessons from Vico, the young adult they hired as one of their staff. She takes pride in sharing that individuals with autism are reliable and honest workers and very good examples of punctuality in the workplace. This is another sign of hope for parents who dream of seeing their children land in jobs and be productive in their own way.
I also noted a higher level of maturity of the community that support and accept individuals with autism. In previous conferences, delegates usually talk more about issues and problems about autism, but this time, delegates and speakers also include solutions to problems, in tune to the theme of delivering hope to the families touched by autism. One can even feel the sincerity to help from the lawmakers who graced the event.
In short, the conference was successful in achieving its theme of explaining why there is hope in the world of autism. Indeed, an more inclusive and accepting environment for Filipinos with autism is just around the bend.
Jane Ann S. Gonzales is a mother of a youth with autism. She is an advocate/core member of the Autism Society Philippines and Directress of the Independent Living Learning Centre (ILLC) Davao, a centre for teenagers and adults with special needs. For comments or questions, please email email@example.com)
Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on October 30, 2013.