An “autism-friendly” Christmas Eve

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Tuesday, December 17, 2013


AMONG all the landmark legislations implemented in Davao City, the most “autism-friendly” law that I can relate to is Ordinance No. 060-02, Series of 2002“ AN ORDINANCE PROHIBITING THE MANUFACTURE, SALE,DISTRUBUTION, POSSESSION OR USE OF FIRE CRACKERS ORPYROTECHNIC DEVICES AND SUCH OTHER SIMILAR DEVICES AND THEEXPLODING OF FIRECRACKERS OR OTHER SIMILAR EXPLOSIVESWITHIN THE TERRITORIAL JURISDICTION OF DAVAO CITY.” If there was one person who has the most support for this ordinance, that would certainly be me.

I still recall when the first implementation of the firecracker ban in Davao City took place on December 25, 2002. It was indeed a “silent” night, and since it was something new, it somehow felt different from past celebrations of Christmas Eve. It was the first time that our family did not have to go to the basement of our house at the stroke of midnight. We always did this in previous years in order to spare our son with autism spectrum disorder from the loud sounds of firecrackers.

Individuals with autism are characterized by odd responses to sensory input such as sounds, whether loud or soft. I even remember one resource speaker who said that for some individuals with autism, the sounds they hear are nine times magnified more than the standard levels. Hence, it is not common for some children to cover their ears in pain even if the sounds they are hearing are just normal for most of us. Inversely, some children can sense even the slightest scratching sound or the softest whirring of a fan. Even the sounds of firecrackers elicit different reactions for individuals with autism spectrum disorders. Some children may appear deaf to the explosive sounds while some may exhibit fear even at the mere picture of firecrackers and pyrotechnic shows on TV. Some children cry for endless hours out of fear while some may incessantly laugh at the sight of other family members frantically dashing for safety while avoiding a firecracker. Of course, this sensitivity to sounds and other sensory input can be decreased or lessened through sensory integration techniques that are implemented during therapy sessions or in special schools/ learning centres. Once the child is able to understand and manage the various sensations he or she receives from the environment, the better is the chance to lead a close-to-normal life with the family and the community.

I am thankful that our legislators from Davao City were able to pass and implement this ban on firecrackers and pyrotechnics. Aside of course from bringing down the number of firecracker-related injuries to zero level, the ordinance is indeed saving lives. It helps in improving the quality of Christmas celebrations for families of individuals with autism.

When before, our Christmas Eve starts with hugging each other at the basement of our house, we are now able to sit comfortably in our dining area and take our media noche in a stress-free atmosphere.

When before, our Christmas Eve is spent on shielding our son from the mayhem and chaotic world of firecrackers and pyrotechnics, we are now able to spend our time attending the midnight mass and thinking about the real meaning of Christmas. Our family is thankful that we are able to fully enjoy an autism- friendly Christmas Eve.

*****

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 janeanngonzales@yahoo.com).

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on December 18, 2013.

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