I COULDN'T help but be reminded of my daughter Janice now that I’m working as a sub-teacher here at North Carolina and assigned most of the time to special kids.
There’s a huge disparity between the educational system and the public's view on autism. Recent events led me back to this journey into the world of children with autism. Janice’s daughter Arianne Jaden, a smart and beautiful girl of five whose teeth so white has autism or what I consider mild autism.
It started when Arianne was one year old and continued when she was two. When I was still in the Philippines, I noticed that she would twirl, likes to look at the mirror, and does not gesture or point and most of the time there would be no responses compared to babies of her age.
The behavior she manifested was different then. It became apparent when Arianne was two years old. Her mother started to worry and think that it could be autism but she hoped it wasn't. Then she decided to go back in Tagoloan town, to stay away from the bustle of city life in Metro Manila in hopes that maybe Arianne will change for the better in a rural community.
Dr. Roque Patriana advised us to have Arianne evaluated by a developmental pediatrician. We got one and in December 2010, the pediatrician Dr. Annah Rebecca Doroja's diagnosis was that Arianne suffers from Autism Spectrum Disorder –Functional type.
Based on what I gathered, autism is a developmental disorder involving delays in speech and language and problems with social interaction and a range of emotional, cognitive and sensory abilities. When we discovered it, it broke our hearts into pieces. Words were not enough to convey to Janice that soon everything would be okay in God’s own time.
These are moments when explanations were wanting and the only recourse was finding a reason why things are what they are. The skies could not give any.
Acceptance was unpleasant and denial offered some moments of hope and joy.
That was five years ago and the pain slowly subsided and acceptance is becoming a little easy. I thought then that it was some kind of joke since Janice had the best care among the OB at the University of Santo Tomas (UST) Hospital.
Since then, Janice became a full time mom to care for Arianne and lost no time to seek all sorts of intervention and done so many researches from the internet and from the books I bought here in the US. She even wrote a journal of little successes and improvement of Arianne.
Janice and her husband, Ed used all their resources and savings to help their one and only child. Their efforts paid off and after a series of reevaluations of Dr. Doroja and from the educational and therapy services provided by the Therapy Solutions, Theralinks Asia, Kidz Yard, Ilearn and Applied Behavioral Analysis of Mr. Reynato Tancoco, Arianne had made to much progress in her social, academics and communication skills. She completed her nursery at Corpus Christi and can now speak and use words meaningfully to the delight of everyone around here.
Autism in the US is an accepted fact and intervention is still being worked out but the American public is compassionate about the plight of autistic persons. There’s corresponding legislation and policy in place to help them and there are plenty of private advocacy groups committed to resolving autism.
Is it the same in the Philippines? I asked because of some disturbing reports I received from my family back home. But I guess Filipinos are still ignorant about autism. I have stories to tell that would gauge public perception about this condition and it may open nearly closed emotional wounds, but here I go.
Three summers ago – Janice and Arianne went to Cebu with the rest of the family for a temporary getaway and it was also the time when my sister Betty Alombro came home from New Zealand. They heard Mass in one of the churches at Dalaguete town, Cebu. It was a perfect moment for Janice to pour out her heart to the Lord especially about her daughter’s condition when Arianne went near the altar and walked back and forth without making noise.
The priest then commented on how irresponsible some parents can be that they allow their children to walk unaided inside the church. I found it ironic that the priest talked about love and compassion and yet berated a three-year-old child in public.
My first reaction was surprise since I wondered what Arianne did that would have drawn a violent reaction from the priest. How could he, he must be ignorant about autism or merely the ways of a child. Arianne received the best intervention so far but we want more so seeking for the best care remains a family policy.
Last March this year, we let Arianne try another therapy based on the principle of Hemispheric Integration Therapy (Brain Balance). This type of therapy is administered and owned by Teacher Frederick “Cocoy” Espiritu whose office is located at Independent Life Skills Therapy center in Villa Ernesto Phase 1, Cagayan de Oro.
After a three-to-four hour evaluation, regular therapy session started. On the 4th session Arianne was still hesitant to go inside the therapy center and started to cry at the start and throughout the session. In the middle of the session, Janice and her sister overheard Teacher Cocoy screaming at Arianne to be “quiet.”
After the therapy, Janice asked Teacher Cocoy what happened and he answered that he wanted Arianne to improve her waiting skills by letting Arianne sit on a chair doing nothing. But Arianne wasn't compliant and kept crying. Janice kept calm and didn’t protest even if she sensed there was something wrong with Teacher Cocoy's approach toward Arianne.
On that day Janice decided to pull Arianne out of the program. Poor Arianne, every time she hears Teacher Cocoy's name, she would cry, then stare blankly at no one or nothing in particular before asking someone to hug her. What happened during those sessions with Teacher Cocoy is beyond my simple mind.
I am just surprised why Teacher Cocoy shouted at Arianne. Now I’m worried that all those years spent trying to help Arianne went to naught with those few sessions spent by Arianne with him. I’m just asking along with the parents what “Teacher Cocoy's” teaching style is? There must be something about his approach that caused Arianne to freeze up (tulala) or whenever she hears his name.
Thankfully due to previous interventions she can now recognize names and make a few comments. There should be special education and curricula adopted by the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) to address the plight of children afflicted with autism and it should be adopted by schools in Cagayan de Oro. Educating and helping autistic kids cope with life requires dedication, devotion and giving endless love and understanding to them. Autistic kids appear normal until they start to act out their impulses which may appear different and unusual for the rest of us.
They are the most sensitive people even if they know no pain, couldn’t express their emotion and have their own world.
This piece is for Arianne and all the other Arianne’s of the world and their mothers. I am still hoping and filled with positivity that because of timely interventions, Arianne would soon be like her Ate (sister) Little Susie and Kuya (brother) Sam.