Gonzales: Happy World Autism Awareness Day!

IF YOU have a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), there are many ways to count this as a blessing and there are reasons to be happy every 2nd day of April.

For one, April 2 has been declared by the United Nations General Assembly as World Autism Awareness Day or Waad since 2008 "to highlight the need to help improve the quality of life of children and adults, who are affected by autism, so they can lead full and meaningful lives."

The celebration of WAAD only means one thing: that parents need not feel sad or alone in their journey with their child with ASD because there are hundreds of families around the world who are in the same situation as yours and mine.

Secondly, the theme of the 2015 WAAD is "Employment: The Autism Advantage". Although it is sad to note that only 20 percent of persons with ASD have gainful employment, we should look at the brighter side of the situation.

The Waad theme is an affirmation that more and more people are acknowledging the fact that persons with ASD have special abilities and talents that can be used productively and meaningfully in the workplace.

Persons with ASD can be the most patient and honest workers you can find especially in jobs that require hours of routine tasks. For example, persons with ASD can be good counters/sorters. They can be taught to sort eggs in trays, place goods inside packages, arrange groceries on racks, sort hardware materials such as nails and screws according to size, fold clothes in a laundry shop, file documents in an office, arrange books in a library, arrange vouchers according to dates, and many others. They can be trained to cut vegetables, wrap cookies in special packages, prepare gift bags, do some wall or furniture painting, almost anything that may be near their interests.

Even a person with low functioning skills can be a part of a simple "assembly" line or be responsible in putting the finishing touches in a car wash shop. It only takes a good job coach to train a person with ASD on some job that is matched to the person's skills and interests. It also takes a good-hearted employer to hire a person with ASD.

This reminds me of two reasons to be happy on a Waad: when we were able to identify two employers who opened their doors to hiring two of our ILLC students way back in 2009. Mr. Henry Lopez-Chua and SM City Davao, through their VP Debbie Go, were the first two employers who courageously believed in the abilities of persons with ASD.

It was difficult to start the process of "weaning" our students to the hands of their supervisors and co-workers, but it was a successful venture. We were able to prove that indeed, it only takes an open mind and heart to fully accept persons with special needs in the workplace.

Third, the celebration of World Autism Awareness Day is our yearly reminder that autism is real and in our midst. We simply cannot close our eyes to the fact that everyone has to act and do something for the welfare of persons with autism, whether you are a parent, a relative, a teacher, a community worker, a doctor, a therapist, a government leader, a legislator or simply as a human being that cares for persons with ASD.

Spread the word... April 2 is World Autism Awareness Day... inspire others to believe that they can also do something to help persons with ASD live meaningful lives.


(Jane Ann Gonzales is a mother of a youth with autism. She is an advocate/core member of the Autism Society Philippines and Directress of Independent Living Learning Centre (ILLC) Davao, a centre for teenagers and adults with special needs. For comments, please email janeanngonzales@yahoo.com)

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