Prepare youth with special needs for life

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Wednesday, January 8, 2014


A READER who is a mom with a child with autism asked me what is the ILLC program all about.

I asked the same question years ago when my husband and I were thinking of what should we do next for my eldest son who was already in his teens and was only a few years away from adulthood. Most of the centers for individuals with autism in Davao City were focused on early intervention and my son's growing up needs were no longer being met. We had to search for a center with a program that would not only help our son cope with the challenges of growing up with autism spectrum disorder but also one that would alleviate our own fears of growing old and leaving our eldest son by himself during his adult years. Of course he has very loving siblings who would care for him, but even if our other children are supportive of their "kuya", they will sooner or later focus on their own families. Even if cousins and other relatives can always be counted upon for support in times of needs, our son has to learn to live independently and do his daily activities without being so much a burden to others. In other words, we have to prepare our son for life.

And so I went to Manila to observe the programs of some good schools and centers offering programs for individuals with ASD. The best program which I found very practical and effective was the program of Independent Living Learning Centre which was conceptualized by Professor Archie David. The tag line of ILLC speaks for itself and fits the hopes and aspirations of every parent for his or her child: "We prepare youth with special needs for life". When we were young parents, all we dreamt was to prepare our child for regular school. Looking back at our own experience, it is not enough that we focus on the academic development of the child with special needs. Yes, it is a bonus that our son can read and write and is able to talk a little, but what is important is that he is productive and he is able to be on his own.

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What made us decide to establish the Independent Living Learning Centre in Davao City? The programs of ILLC are very practical and answer our question: "What will happen to our son in the future?" ILLC programs are divided into three: the Transition Education Program, the Job Readiness Program and the Work Placement Program. The ILLC programs aim to teach essential work behaviors and skills that are necessary for future vocational pursuits. Training is provided in simulated and actual work environments with the supervision of job coaches. The ILLC programs serve as a prelude to a work placement and assist the student in identifying possible employers and engaging in gainful work opportunities that match his skills and interests.

Some parents get discouraged when they feel that their child is not high functioning and therefore should stay at home without anything to do. This should not be the case. The ILLC programs help youth with special needs to achieve his potentials regardless of the level of functioning. As they say, we look at the abilities of the child and not on his disabilities.

The dream of many parents to give one's child a meaningful and productive life is also my dream for my son. This is what the ILLC program is all about. We are all one in preparing our children with special needs for life.

*****

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 January 08, 2014.

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