An aunt’s voice for a nephew with autism spectrum disorder

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Tuesday, June 24, 2014


I GOT mail from a reader. She is residing in Luzon and has a nephew with autism spectrum disorder who is living in Cebu City. Her question is: “Are there any support groups for parents who have children with autism in Cebu?” Yes, the Autism Society Philippines has a local chapter in Cebu City. ASP is a group of parents, families, teachers, therapists, doctors, medical practitioners, schools and institutions, civic oriented groups and all individuals who advocate for the cause of persons with Autism Spectrum Disorder. The ASP is a support group for parents.

It organizes trainings and seminars, conferences and such other activities that provide parents coping skills and strategies in managing autism. For parents of newly-diagnosed children, joining the activities of ASP is some sort of a subtle entry into the world of autism. It is true that accepting one’s child as having autism spectrum disorder is a slow process and when the truth sets in, what comes next is a period of helplessness and fear of the future. Being with other parents will certainly ease the worries and help your brother and sister-in-law “face the world” faster. They will be able to meet the challenges better when they mingle with other parents than when they keep their anxieties to themselves.

Support groups can also be found in schools offering special programs for children with autism spectrum disorder. There is, for example, an Independent Living Learning Centre in Cebu City where parents are able to share experiences with one another and involve themselves in noteworthy projects with their children. The ILLC also conducts focused group discussions and seminars for parents and caregivers.

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“My nephew attends classes for two hours from Thursdays to Saturdays. Personally, I feel like it is not enough for my hype-active nephew…..
I believe that the program where you nephew is in right now has been carefully planned to meet the specific goals for your nephew. The frequency and length of time for sessions varies from one child to another, depending on his base skills and ability to focus his attention and energies on a certain task or activity.

For example, it would be useless to hold the child for a very long time if he has not yet improved on his sitting skills. If he is hyper-active and keeps on walking around, his learning may not be maximized. It would be best if he is taught first how to sit longer, as all our learning activities, or most of our life activities for that matter, are done while sitting: when we read and write, when we dine or when we defecate.

Just be patient and if given the proper intervention, the hyperactivity, jumping and flapping with certainly fade or be minimized. My son also jumped a lot and flapped his hands when he was a toddler, but as an adult, he does not do that anymore, but we do allow him to do jumping as an exercise inside his bedroom. Just a tip, the jumping activity can be made more appropriate by letting him do it on a trampoline.
“When he mumbles words that we don't understand, I ask him what he wants to say even if it is really hard to decode his words.”

You are certainly on the right track. You can encourage and develop communication skills by allowing him to talk and by talking to him a lot. Never mind if you cannot recognize his words at the start. Just make sure you encourage him to have eye contact with you when talking, which is essential in effective communication. Do not get discouraged if he is mumbling for now, because that is a reminder that he has a voice that he can use in communicating. Before, my son cannot say “mama” but he can make Indian sounds while tapping his mouth. I experimented on using the word “mama” instead of the usual “wooh wooh wooh” and that is how he discovered that he has a voice and that he can pronounce other syllables and progressed on to uttering simple words. Again, you need to invest on a lot of patience.

“Is homeschooling a good idea for my nephew?”
My son started with a home program and I was his first teacher. One good thing about a home program is that the child learns in a very familiar environment using available resources at home. A home school can develop a child’s practical skills which I think is more important than academics. But after some time, the child also needs to socialize and mingle with other children. Exposure to public places and other people is also important for them, in the same manner as the society also needs learn how to accept individuals with special needs living in the community.

Again, the parents should consider a “school” that offers the best of both worlds, meaning the program offers both functional academics and practical skills development.

Thank you, my dear reader. I hope you have learned something from this column. Your nephew is very lucky to have a loving and supportive family in you.

Jane Ann S. Gonzales is a mother of a youth with Autism Spectrum Disorder. She is an advocate/core member of the Autism Spectrum Disorder 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 June 25, 2014.

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