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.
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.
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.
The 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, hands 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.