WHEN I joined the Facebook Group Filipino Autism Parents, I noticed that my fellow parents were constantly using the term "LO" which made me wonder what these two letters mean. This term can mean "little one" or "loved one" to refer to our ausome kids.

Here's an open letter to my dear Lance:

Today, you'll be celebrating your tenth birthday. When I found out that I was pregnant with you, I was full of mixed emotions, most of which were anxiety and worry. Allow me to explain why I felt that way instead of feeling thankful and excited for having another baby. You see, we were really not ready for another child because we were still struggling financially and to think that your older brother Marco was only five months then. It took me a while to accept this situation and God knows I am guilty of grave wishes of you to not be born at all. For that, let me say that I am truly, deeply sorry for that.

When you finally came out, of course, we felt happy for a well-born and healthy baby. Not until we went home that I noticed something different with you. Call it mother's instinct, but right there and then, I knew you were different. As you and your Kuya Marco grew older, we faced a lot of challenges and issues and suffered some form of discrimination. We were in denial, and we admit that our lack of medical knowledge did not prompt us to seek early intervention for you both. Finally, your Lola (my mom), with the advice of another close relative, talked to me heart-to-heart and begged that we bring you both to the doctor for a check-up.

Even before we had the chance to bring you to Doc Jack, one of the most trusted development pediatricians in the country, you started showing odd behaviors which were already red flags. Who would have thought that when you lined up your toys or when you don't answer back, those were already tell-tale signs of autism? That question was finally answered when we got the diagnosis in 2016. Following the advice of our doctor, we signed you up for Occupational Therapy, but God indeed moves in mysterious ways. He sent a clear message to us where you can be developed in preparation for schooling. When we started ABA therapy, you were barely talking and couldn't control yourself. With the first three months of ABA, we saw a lot of improvement and decided that we will now let you start schooling.

Even before we looked for the right school for you, we already suffered the trauma of being rejected by many private schools in the province, most especially our (your father and I) alma mater. You see, your Kuya Marco was also thought to have a disability and we were told that the school might not be the right school for him. That experience made us worry more knowing that you also have another condition that may inhibit you from joining a regular school.

But God still sends some miracles, and because of another relative who owns a private preparatory school, you were able to finish Kindergarten. Do you remember how I would often excuse myself from work just to watch you from the door window? Do you know how hard I prayed every morning so that you would sit still longer and not stand up while your Kinder teacher was teaching? Do you know how hard your father and I wished we could always look after you so that nothing bad will ever happen to you or ensure that no one will bully you because you do not know how to defend yourself?

There were a lot of times when I cried to God, and when your dad and I didn't agree on how to handle you accordingly. But through all of it, I always prayed to God and thought that He gave you to us without us even asking you from Him. He gave you to us unexpectedly and that's why you are indeed His precious gift to us.

Lance, as you grow older, we are happy that you have improved a lot and showed that you can be functional in most ways. I would often tell others how lucky we are in knowing that your condition on the spectrum is on the mild side. However, though mild ASD, you are still labeled as different and special as compared to others. You are amazing, and I know that you are really an intelligent and lovable person. You are my lucky charm because when you were born, it was the first and only time that I got to win a grand prize in a raffle draw.

I always believe that your Dad and I will not grow old alone because we will have you by our side. As I always say, what scares me is the thought of us leaving you alone without anyone to guide you. But God is good because your Kuya is there and we are also preparing him for this role. Kuya still needs to understand the situation further but we are blessed because your Kuya is also a good and loving person. I know that he will take care of you when we are no longer around.

Lance, you taught me how to love unconditionally and how to nourish my patience. As you grow older, my only wish for you is for you to be able to be yourself amidst this so-called "normal" world. I will always be your comfort zone, and you can always smell and kiss me.

Happy birthday my loved one, I promise I will try to be a healthier version of me to live longer so that I have many years to stand by your side.