Talents Without Borders

In the course of writing for Autism Society Philippines, I do a lot of research on my own. On the occasions that I ask for information from ASP, they have always obliged generously. Writing about our performers for Autism Beyond Borders, the 11th National Conference on Autism, I was surprised to receive not just abstract notes, but complete dossiers on the subjects. I think the term “slumbook” is actually more appropriate, as they brought me back to a time when I had Hello Kitty autograph books with life-altering questions like “What is your favorite motto?”

Reading through these files brought me many moments of tearful gladness. These kids — all individuals with autism — were honest, forthright, and decidedly responsive. Little did I realize, however, that reading through them would also bring me moments of sadness. The gift these children all have is one that my son was denied of — the gift of free and willing expression in any shape or form. 

There’s Buboy, the spunky eight-year-old singing champion of Hopewell Integrated School. Buboy is Robert Meigh T. Dolor, a child wonder who won his first singing contest at the unbelievable age of three! Last July 23, he bested other contestants in the Cavite Special Mini-Olympics.

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John David Capistrano Garcia, or Johnvid, as he is fondly called, is a member of the Children Youth Choir and counts singing as one of his favorite hobbies aside from basketball and chess. This 10-year-old crooner from Christ Life Learning Center is a regular pizza-and-chicken boy, but bananas are not among his favorite things in the world.

Johnvid with mom, Mrs. Jacqueline Garcia copy

Thara Marie Sakhrani Santiago is our aspiring Broadway actress. This 12-year-old lass from Laguna loves music and is inspired by Lea Salonga as she performs. A student of the Holy Child Jesus Academy of Biñan, Thara loves music, magazines, television and the net!


Vell Baria is a veteran of many ASP stages, wowing her audience with her pitch and reach. Like Buboy, Vell also started singing at age 3. This 14-year old sophomore of St. Mary’s Academy is also a composer. She loves Twilight, horror movies, and J-Pop, and believes that “working hard will make her reach her goals.”


While solo performances from these talented young men and women are sure crowd-drawers, group performances from the ILLC Hunks and the Sparkle Band will definitely make the audience jump in their seats.

sparkle copyThe Sparkle Band is four-member group composed of vocalist Daryl Lim Tan (20 years old), keyboardist Desly Bianca Lim Alvarado (15 years old) , vocalist-drummer-percussionist Bryan Calvin Lu (18 years old) and drummer Elijah Josef Balila (7 years old). Daryl loves geography and writing scripts but you wouldn’t catch him watching Tagalog movies. He loves old songs, an antithesis to his interest in technology and the Internet. Bianca is a teenage fashionista; she loves manicures, clothing, and accessories. She also loves to dance and has remarkable left hand-right hand coordination. Bryan enjoys almanacs and travel books but is not a dog lover. Multi-talented, Bryan reads notes and is meticulous when it comes to his drumstick hygiene. And Elijah, the Sparkle Band’s own child wonder, reveals his sensitive side by writing letters to his family. He also enjoys drawing and computer games.

The ILLC Hunks were the 2007 National Conference stand-outs, handsILLC copy down. Cornell Sarangaya, Marius Maniwang, Dominic Francis Rigor, Melvin Lloyd Ngo, and Matthew Somera make up this all-male dancing group. Cornell’s favorite food is adobo, Dominic’s is spaghetti, and Melvin goes for salads. While Marius likes being hugged, Cornell dislikes being tickled. Matthew, on the other hand, is averse to unfriendly people. Both Matthew and Melvin are Netizens, enjoying Friendster and Facebook with their friends. Cornell’s and Dominic’s interests are more sedate — reading “My Country and My People” for Cornell and writing on yellow paper for Dominic. Marius takes on physical sports as leisure as this hunk swims and bowls. Of these five young men, only one reveals a hidden crush, but let’s keep it a secret for now. * wink *  

What these young men and women all show us is that in life, nothing is ever as it seems. These individuals with autism are loaded with talent and eager to share them with us. They are living proof that their diagnosis does not define them as they transcend the borders and limits of labels with God-given talent. I think of this Erma Bombeck’s quote each time I see them in action, “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, “I used everything you gave me.”

I think God already knows how beautifully they serve His purpose.


Help Wanted

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Have you ever seen a “help wanted” ad like this? I definitely have not, not even once in the many years I have spent perusing classified ads. But one day soon, and I hope this comes in my child’s lifetime, I certainly hope that someone somewhere will give my son and all individuals of special abilities this chance at marking their place in the world.

Employment. The dreaded E word. With our children growing fast into teens and adults and their parents growing old, we start to look forward to the future, and sadly, see little opportunities for professional or occupational growth for them. We spend our lives helping them learn and grow and thrive, only to find another seemingly insurmountable wall facing them. How many employers will take a chance on capable individuals who are judged solely based on diagnosis? How many businesses will risk the bottom line to wade into previously unknown waters?

Not very many.

True, individuals with autism fill the whole spectrum of abilities and dis-abilities, and as such, are not able to fit in typical workplaces. Yet, when one thinks of it, what must seem like a limitation in some settings may actually work in others. For example, your child’s rigidity and adherence to structure may work in some settings where rules are help ad 02absolute and nonnegotiable; his obsessive eye for details may be a highly desirable attribute in work places that value a keen eye. Sometimes, too, his lack of social connectivity may be  advantageous in work that virtually isolates the individual and his fixation and fascination for specific things or issues may make him a veritable expert in the subject. Most importantly, however, many of our children possess distinct virtues that, in an ideal world, would be highly coveted- honesty (they do not lie or steal) and dependability being two of them.

As parents, caretakers, and teachers of our children, it is up to us to empower them with appropriate education, job matching, training, and support. It is up to us to set up the infrastructure that will enable them to become self-sustaining individuals, be it through employment or through entrepreneurship. It becomes our task, also, to educate employers and to assist them with mentoring our children. The key is to do so with an open, honest heart.

Only when we start to see past limitations and disabilities are we able to look forward to a future of a million possibilities.

teacher archie davidFind out more what the future holds for your child in “Workers and Entrepreneurs for Autism,” Professor Archie David’s lecture on Day Two of the 11th National Conference on Autism. As founder and executive director of the Independent Living Learning Centre (ILLC) , Teacher Archie’s expertise in Occupational Therapy has helped shaped children’s lives through training and vocation.

Hurry and register now! Early Bird Rates have been extended until October 16, 2009.

The Sick Sense(s)

Dr. Temple Grandin

Dr. Temple Grandin

Temple Grandin, perhaps the most famous person with autism in the world, knows only too well how her senses have defined many of her reactions in life. As a young child, she was absolutely terrified of loud noises. She likened the ringing of the school bell to the pain caused by a dentist’s drill on a nerve. Clothes felt like sandpaper against her skin. Anything — from the sound of popping balloons to the sensation of the stitches in the hem of her clothes — can set off a chain of reactions spanning from mild distaste on one end to full-blown meltdowns on the other.

And she is not alone. It is estimated that more than ten percent of children, a great many of whom also have autism, have senses that are not fully organized and as such, respond to external stimuli in extremes of sensitivity and defensiveness. My own son Alphonse, while seemingly obliviousalphonse nono's to pain many times, hates the feeling of tags on his clothes. He writhes, as if in real pain, and will tear his clothes to pieces unless the tags are removed.

For years too, he could not tolerate anything on his head. Caps, hats, and hoodies were no-no’s. Haircuts were almost impossible to give and could only be performed when he was in deep sleep. These challenges are among the many he continues to struggle with on a daily basis.

The_Sick_SenseIt was my eldest son Alex who coined the term “sick sense” after watching M. Night Shyamalan’s hit movie “The Sixth Sense.” He was but six at the time and immensely curious why his four-year-old brother could not tolerate wearing a cap on his head. Trying to explain to him that Alphonse had difficulty dealing with the information from his senses, he quipped “Oh, he must have a “sick sense,” Mama.” True, the term is a child’s oversimplification of something he did not fully understand, but it also makes a lot of sense. When we consider that receiving, interpreting, and processing information from our senses are tasks we do almost without thought many, many times a day, it is not at all a stretch to understand that difficulties in these areas arise from a dysfunction in the nervous system.

We call them Sensory Processing Disorders or Disorders of Sensory Integration (DSI). Some are exhibited in mild differences in the way a person perceives and interpret stimuli; others are vastly unusual reactions that can border on fear, frustration, and anger. Some are not troublesome or disruptive and can, in fact, be unique gifts of ability and discernment. And yet some are so crippling and so devastating that they can diminish the quality of a person’s life. What Dr. A. Jean Ayres described in her first article in 1955 and in her first book in 1972, “Sensory Integration and Learning Disorders,” are parts of real day-to-day experiences individuals with autism face.

In the forthcoming Autism Society Philippines’ 11th National Conference on Autism,  we take a quick crack at the puzzle that Disorders of Sensory Integration is. lyle duqueMoreover, we will learn of the most widely-used interventions — some of which may benefit your own child. Mr. Rolland Lyle Duque, one of our country’s Occupational Therapy experts, will separate fact from fiction by dispelling popular misconceptions and explaining the science to the different approaches to DSIs. I’ve a few questions already lined up in my head in an effort to understand more what my son goes through everyday. I strongly encourage you to do the same.  After all, we’re all in this together. 

Hurry and register for Autism Without Borders (where HOPE prevails)! There are only a few more days before Early Bird rates end!

DAISY In Bloom

daisy pic02Like the common daisy (Bellis perennis), DAISY grows close to the ground, spreads its roots, and blossoms into a thing of beauty. Seeking to penetrate grassroots level by making learning and knowledge accessible to all, it is certainly a dream come true for many.

DAISY is Digital Accessible Information System, a multimedia publishing system that enables differently-abled individuals to be taught through their own learning styles, whether it be visual, auditory, tactile/kinetic, or a combination of any of these three. A system of software and hardware that combine synchronized audio, text, and pictures, it answers many of the problems faced by individuals who do not learn through the traditional “sit-down-and-listen” way.

Alphonse, my son, is one of these non-traditional learners. Because he is considered “low-functioning,” the pursuit of academics was something long denied him. His programs include those that cater to functional abilities such as self-help and activities of daily living. And yet, for a person who is deemed “unfit” for the classroom, my son loves being read to and listens when the subject is something that interests him.

I remember how Alphonse would linger in the room whenever I read a Harry Potter book to his big brother. He would mutter silently to himself as he walked around the room but we also noticed that he would not leave until story time was finished. We asked him questions about what we read.hogwash Writing choices down on a whiteboard, he got the answers right most of the time. When asked where Harry goes to school, he looked at the choices (Hogwash and Hogwarts), pointed to the latter, and started laughing. Seemed he found Hogwash really funny.

Buoyed by this, a few months ago, my husband and I braved the lines at an SM mall three-day sale just to get our him a rather expensive interactive reading system. The system comprised of a battery-operated pen and a couple of interactive books. Alas, books made of paper are perfect for ripping, something I failed to account for. As such, Alphonse has very limited use of his reading system, unless watched like a hawk and supervised constantly.

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Mr. Hiroshi Kawamura

The potential for DAISY seems endless. Using DAISY eliminates many of these challenges our children face and introduce them to a medium that is open for exploration and learning. Human narration which can be slowed down according to the desired speed without distortion and easy navigation tools to make moving around a story easier (as opposed to flipping or rewinding cassettes, or starting CDs all over again) help differently-abled readers overcome their difficulties. These and many more are what Mr. Hiroshi Kawamura, President of the DAISY Consortium, hopes to demonstrate and show to autism families in Autism Beyond Borders (where HOPE prevails), Autism Society Philippines’ 11th National Conference on Autism.

As a parent who is willing to try anything to help my son adapt more to this world, I am excited by every new discovery. Listen to how DAISY can change your child’s life at the 11th National Conference on Autism . Join us on October 24 and 25, 2009, at the SMX Convention Center, SM Mall of Asia.  DAISY seems set to help children like my son bloom, like the vivid, brilliant flower that  he really is.

TOP TEN Reasons To Attend ASP Conference

Top Ten Reasons to Attend Autism Society Philippines’ 11th National Conference on Autism

10 — ASP’s 11th National Conference will be held at theSM malls SMX Convention Center within the SM Mall of Asia Complex, with post-conference workshops at the Sky Dome of SM North EDSA.  As we all know, these sister malls are the largest (SMNE) and second largest (MOA) malls in the Philippines and the third and fourth largest in the world. With Manila Bay by SMX, you can make this a “destination conference.” And if this is your first time to get inside Sky Dome, why not take a leisurely stroll around the Sky Garden in SM North EDSA, too? With autism-friendly malls like these, shopping after learning is divine!

9 — Your conference registration comes with free food from VS&F Catering (I don’t know why, but the words “free” and “food” seem absolutely delicious to me!) VS&Fand it’s bound to be good. Trust me, when it comes to food, I haven’t complained to ASP in any of its recent conferences. When you meet me in person, you’ll know why I am such an authority when it comes to food.

8 — You can have your books autographed. 🙂  paradiz books(Una ako sa pila, hehe.) Ms. Paradiz is the author of “Elijah’s Cup” and “The Clever Maids,” both of which are available locally.

 autism-angel-merch7 — You can get a wide variety of books and toys educational materials during conferences. Vendors’ Fair is always something to look forward to for parents and teachers looking for quality teaching materials and aids. Not to mention all those cute conference merch. 🙂

6 — When our children perform for us onstage, they always bring the house down. Wouldn’t you want to be part of such a proud moment?

5 — You can take the opportunity to thank and laud ASP Board of Trustees, conference committee and and ASP office angels who work tirelessly year-round on our behalf. It’s also time to vote for ASP’s new set of Board Trustees, so use your ASP membership privileges wisely! 

local experts4 — This is a rare opportunity to see our local autism experts, without the long waiting time. Did it take you a year to see your target doctor, therapist or teacher? Of course, it won’t be an official consult, but you can at least say hi and wave to them in person. And chances are, you’ll get the opportunity to hobnob with them too.

3 — Did we tell you about our foreign guests who are coming from their part of the world to share with us their experiences? Our keynote speakers will share with you years of experience and advocacy. You can’t get any more up-close-and-personal than this.ponkyboat_fullbackground2

2 — Meeting new people and reconnecting with old friends are always enriching experiences. Autism is not merely a diagnosis; it is a community. You can learn a lot through reading and research, but nothing beats real-life understanding.

1 Value for money. In these days of recession and trying to make ends meet, a four-day package for the price of one is definitely worth your money. Two whole conference days and two post-conferences with whole day lectures — amazing! How did ASP make it so affordable?


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So come and join us on October 25-26 for the 11th National Conference on Autism , and on October 27-28 for the Post-conference lectures . Hurry, you only have two more weeks to avail of early bird rates! Don’t miss a chance of a lifetime!

Seizing Answers

elijah's cup“Before I knew what a seizure was, my son was taken down. He went down many times from ages two to three. The first was in the kitchen, collapsed on the floor. Later, it happened like a geography dream. Each seizure had its own place and its season: in the supermarket, aisle two; naked on the rug in my father’s home; at the top of Silver Hollow in the middle of winter. It’s not something a person can get used to. Each place and circumstance lodges in the mind indelibly. Each time it’s a loss of sudden nature.” ~From Valerie Paradiz’s “Elijah’s Cup”

The beginning of “Elijah’s Cup” hooks you into submission. Ms. Paradiz’s ability to captivate with words makes her moving account of her family’s journey lyrical, almost poetic. And yet, one can also sense the very strong undercurrents of fear hidden beneath her spellbinding words. Imagine a mother holding a small toddler of two in her arms as his eyes roll back and he becomes rigid and unresponsive. Imagine. Far removed from the literary magic that is woven in “Elijah’s Cup,” we begin to understand what seizures can do. But what is a seizure?

In its simplest definition, a seizure is an abnormal electrical activity in the brain. Laymen often call seizures convulsions or epilepsy, but suffice to say that while we are free to use these terms interchangeably, they do NOT mean the same thing. We cannot see with our naked eyes what happens to the brain while a person has a seizure, but the physical signs are almost universal. To make matters a little more confusing, allow me to briefly interject that there are also subclinical seizures, or those whose symptoms cannot be detected through simple observation. Typically, however, a person who has a seizure may have all or some of the following: changes in consciousness, vision, sensation, and/or emotions, loss of muscle control (falling is an example), and uncontrollable muscle movements (twitching, shaking, and/or rigidity).

The causes of seizures are varied and many. Some are idiopathic, meaning they occur without an identifiable cause. Some are caused by tumors, exposure to drugs, traumatic brain injuries, or infections. In short, almost anything that injures the brain can cause a seizure.

What concerns many parents with children with autism is the strong association autism has with seizures. A friend of mine recalls learning about this at an Autism Society Philippines’  conference years ago, when her son was young, and it filled her with such dismay that she wept uncontrollably. On my part, I remember reading about this in Dr. Eric Schopler’s 1992 book, “Asperger Syndrome or High Functioning Autism,” with a reference made to “low-functioning” autism and higher rates of epilepsy as compared to individuals with High Functioning Autism and Asperger Syndrome. My own son, Alphonse, is considered “low-functioning,” and while he continues to defy his prognosis, this bit of information frightens me no end.

Studies have already shown that roughly a third of individuals with autism have a seizure disorder. Moreover, it is said that about 25% of these individuals begin to have seizures during puberty. What does this mean for my son and for many others like him on the cusp of adolescence, and soon, adulthood? What do I look out for? How do I know what he feels when he is nonverbal and unable to express anything beyond his most basic needs? Are behavior problems — aggression and self-injury — also indicative of seizure activity? How do I differentiate his tics with a seizure? How will I know?


Dr. Knut Baalerud

There are more questions than answers for now, and I am grateful that Dr. Knut Erik Baalerud, current head of the Department of In-Patient Treatment in General Psychiatry in Ringerike Hospital, Norway, has agreed to speak to us at the Autism Society Philippines’ 11th  National Conference on Autism . Sharing his years of experience and expertise gained from working with individuals with special needs, autism being one of them, Dr. Baalerud is certainly a welcome addition to this year’s conference.

I often wonder, late at night, what the future holds for my son. I may not have all the answers today, but I seize each moment with the promise of hope. Come to Autism Beyond Borders (where HOPE prevails)  on October 25 and 26, 2009 at the SMX Convention Center. Registration is still open and early bird rates still apply

Come. Maybe you and I can find the answers together.

A Common Journey

It was my sister who first put the words “autism” and “Alphonse” together in one sentence. She mentioned it before anyone else, before even my son’s pediatrician.

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Alphonse at 18 months old

She was still in medical school then. She had been playing with her nephew for a few hours that day when she stopped and looked at me. “Ate, I think there’s something different about Alphonse,” she said slowly, weighing her words carefully.

My reactions, as expected, were instinctive, a mother grizzly defending her cub. When you have an absolutely gorgeous fourteen-month-old child, you’re loath to believe anything can be wrong with him. “There’s absolutely nothing different with him,” I brushed her off, hoping the tone of my voice would be enough to dissuade her.

“But, ah, ehm, have you heard of autism?” she persisted, her voice quivering. “Well, you see, we just had a lecture on it and, uhm, I have my Nelson here and…” (Nelson is the Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics.)

“Yes, I have, but what does it have to do with Alphonse?” I distinctly remember feeling hot and faint at that moment. My voice was slowly turning shrill, as hysteria and anger started setting in.

“Well, I think he has it. He might be high-functioning, you know…” I didn’t give her time to continue as I scooped Alphonse in my arms, glared at her malevolently, and left the room. How dare she! My very own sister!

In the weeks that followed, however, her words gave me the impetus to observe and look at my son with a more clinical and objectivwhen autism came 02e eye. Alphonse was adorable and chubby and cute and everything infants and toddlers were. It was gut-wrenching to acknowledge the things he did as anything other than “normal.” Flapping. Toe-walking. Spinning. Walking in circles. Loss of eye contact. Loss of language. By then, it simply was too difficult to deny anymore.

We all have taken those steps toward the realization that our children are different from their peers. Mine started that way, on one seemingly innocent afternoon that changed the entire course of our lives. In Valerie Paradiz’ and son Elijah Wapner’s lives, things were more turbulent, even more frightening, as Elijah, then only two, was afflicted with seizures. As terrifying as the idea of a child retreating into his own world is, even more frightening to parents is the prospect of watching helplessly as their child battles the demons of his own body.


Valerie Paradiz and son Elijah

Valerie and Elijah’s journey is as unique as Alphonse’s and mine, and as that of any other parent and child with a diagnosis on the spectrum. But I am in awe of their story, of their struggle and growth, and of their love and acceptance, as their journey marked not only milestones for their family, but for the larger community of individuals with autism all over the world. In Valerie’s quest to help her son, she finds a way to help others as well. How she translated her life’s work as teacher and writer into a vocation of reaching out to individuals with autism through appropriate education and self-empowerment is truly amazing.

Ms. Paradiz is one of four major speakers at Autism Society Philippines 11th National Conference this year. She will also conduct a day-long seminar on Integrated Planning and Teaching Menus on October 26 as follow-up to the conference. As pioneer of innovative educational programs for individuals in the spectrum, she will impart with us her experiences and knowledge in encouraging learning in our children. Specifically intended to parents and professionals, she speaks not only as a teacher and parent, but also as one with Asperger’s Syndrome herself. Her insights are valuable as she treads between our world and our children’s, with the hope of making them one.

This year, the theme “Autism Beyond Borders” is particularly apt in light of our efforts to cross cultures, languages, and, with hearts full of hope, prejudices and biases. Indeed, autism is no longer a single experience limited to those who live with it. Today, autism is all over the globe, reaching many families from all walks of life. Mine is one of them, Valerie Paradiz’ another. I embrace her as a fellow sister in our common journey.


Recommended Reading: Elijah’s Cup: A Family’s Journey Into The elijah's cupCommunity And Culture Of High-Functioning Autism And Asperger’s Syndrome by Valerie Paradiz

Autism Beyond Borders (where HOPE prevails), Autism Society Philippines 11th National Conference will be on October 24 and 25, 2009 at the SMX. A two-day post-conference lecture series (whole day sessions with Ms. Valerie Paradiz and Mr. Toshihiro Ogimura) follows on October 26 and 27, 2009 at the Skydome, SM North EDSA. Register now to avail of early bird fees, now until September 30 only.