Nurturing youth with autism spectrum disorder for others

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Tuesday, March 4, 2014


WHILE parents, teachers, professionals and advocates focus all efforts on the protection of welfare and rights of persons with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and the provision of educational and support programs for them, we sometimes overlook the other side of the coin: that of what our children can do for others with their special abilities. Yes, it is possible. It warms my heart to know that there are some teachers who nurture their students with special needs towards having a kind and loving heart. Imagine our children participating in an outreach activity and being able to give love and care for others in their own special way. This is what I call a holistic approach to developing a meaningful life for children and teenagers with ASD.

A group of teachers shared with me how they observed Valentine’s Day with their students. Aside, of course, from having the traditional Valentine’s Ball of the students, they did something more meaningful in celebration of the month of hearts. Teacher Ann Angeles recalled: “An outreach activity was perfect for the month most often associated with love. We could not really do away with the usual hearts, flowers and chocolates but we realized that we could teach them something more valuable about the true meaning of love. We wanted the students to learn about charity and the importance of reaching out to others in their time of need. We hoped that through an outreach activity, they would learn to show their generosity and empathy to others. It would also make them appreciate and value the most important part of their life-their family. We chose to visit an orphanage run by the Love the Children Foundation.”

Teacher Katrina Andrea Gulanes shared that the students worked hand in hand with the teachers and staff in preparing for the charitable activity.

“A day was spent for planning - food to be served, various goodies to be given away for the children, and even the simple program that included a dance number from our students. The main purpose was to give back joy in our own little way, with the major participation of the students. The whole event was made special by the generosity and kindness of parents who donated their time and finances. It was also an opportunity for our students to be exposed to a setting which was different from their school and home environment. The theme of our activity was ‘Giving Hope…. Sharing Love… Making a Difference.’ The students indeed made a huge part in making the outreach activity memorable by whole-heartedly letting go of their old toys given as gifts for the orphans. They also helped in preparing the loot bags. Personally, our group was touched to see that most of the children we visited were so young. We felt sad about their being orphans but we also appreciated at how happy they can still be.”

Teacher Mike Espanol noted that their students were joyful in preparing the simple gifts that they distributed to the children of the orphanage. They showed a happy disposition while playing with the orphaned kids and that they actively participated in every part of the activity. Teacher Georiet Quiñones observed that the group of students expressed their appreciation of the whole experience through hugging, laughing, smiling, and voluntarily serving food to the young orphans.

According to Teacher Cheene Manalo, helping others made all of them feel better. “We experienced something special within us, knowing that we were not expecting anything in return. Seeing how the kids smiled and expressed what they felt (as a sign of gratitude) was enough for us to realize that we were a blessing to one another. I am happy that our students with ASD were able to reach out to others and to demonstrate the values that we were always teaching them. Teacher Luche Lamela surmised that the best reward they got from the activity was the prayer offered by the orphans before they left the site.

Honestly, I am touched by these testimonials from the teachers who have shown that children with ASD are also capable of doing something for others with just the way they are. At the end of the day, we are the ones who learn genuine lessons of love, hope and generosity from them. I would like to congratulate this group of educators who went out of their way in giving this priceless experience to persons with ASD. Thank you for nurturing our children with autism spectrum disorder into individuals with a pure heart for others. Keep up the good work.

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 March 05, 2014.

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