Understanding kids with special needs

ONE IN 68 children worldwide has autism, Autism Speaks Foundation president Erlinda Borromeo said.

In a newspaper report, she said that this figure is “way above the .5 cases in every 1,000 children in the 1980s and one in 110 children in 2008.” She added that here in the country, estimated cases of autism rose from 500,000 in 2008 to one million people at present.

“The number could be much higher since there are still a lot of areas in the Philippines not covered,” she said.

This rise in number could be attributed to better detection methods. But other factors like genetics and environmental factors could also be contributing causes.

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Febe Matthews, president of the Davao Autism Intervention Center Foundation, Inc., said that for every 100 children, there are at least three who have autism.

According to the World Health Organization, ASD are a group of complex brain development disorders.

“This umbrella term covers conditions such as autism, childhood disintegrative disorder and Asperger syndrome. These disorders are characterized by difficulties in social interaction and communication and a restricted and repetitive repertoire of interests and activities,” WHO said in its website. “Scientific evidence suggests that various factors, both genetic and environmental, contribute to the onset of autism spectrum disorders by influencing early brain development.”

Matthews said that autism is a public concern because more people have yet to have a deep understanding of the medical condition. She added that there are also those who stigmatize children with autism.

“Children with autism are not insane people,” she said. “They are just children with a disorder and need special attention.”

Many people do not know how to handle these children with special needs, and some even have misconceptions about them, she said. “Children with autism are not violent. They are not abnormal,” she said.

Bullying, she said, takes various forms. This does not affect the child, but instead, it’s the parents of the child that takes the blow.

This is why, other than raising awareness through her organization, Matthews also hold parent trainings and early intervention programs that helps them manage the development of children’s skills.

Matthews mobilizes these efforts through a parent’s mobilization action group that she heads.

She said that when public awareness challenges are overcome, inclusive programs can be crafted for these children with autism as they grow up. More people will be understanding and empathetic, she said.

Diana Sipaco, executive director of the Deanna Sipaco Foundation for the Differently-Abled Inc., is also working to develop children with special needs to become productive citizens of the community, through art-based workshops. Her foundation, works towards her vision: to have a rights-based, barrier free society for these “differently-abled” kids.

She said that the DSF is closely working with various organizations like the Davao chapter of the Down Syndrome Association of the Philippines and Maharlika Foundation to develop programs for the differently-abled.

Through the various programs run by her foundation, she helps recognize the concerns of these differently-abled kids by developing their skills and unlocking their potentials through capacity and talent building.

“Through these, they can be assets in the society rather than liabilities,” she said.

Therapy is the core of her program; other than this, her foundation also undertakes various activities that allow parents to closely look into the plight of their handicapped children.

The National Autism Consciousness Week, according to Presidential Proclamation No. 711,is observed every third week of January. This is the 20th time that this is being observed in the country.

With the theme “Towards an Autism-OK Philippines,” the celebration across the nation aims to heighten public awareness on the rights of persons with autism.

In 2014, Autism Speaks Foundation said that the number of people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in the country has doubled in the last six years.

This number continues to rise. Another data from the Autism Society of the Philippines shows that there are 1.2 million Filipinos born with ASD.

Supporting laws

As private organizations tirelessly work towards raising public awareness and towards development of persons with autism, various disability laws are also put in place to help protect the same group from lurking vulnerabilities.

These laws range from republic acts, presidential proclamations, and administrative and executive orders.

The Anti-Bullying Act (RA 10627) curbs various expressions that cause fear or emotional/physical harm directed to children. Likewise, the DepEd Child Protection Policy lists guidelines in protecting children in school from violence, exploitation, discrimination, bullying, neglect, abuse, cruelty and other conditions prejudicial to their development.

RA 10524 mandates equal opportunity employment to all. This law states that “At least one percent (1%) of all positions in all government agencies, offices or corporations shall be reserved for persons with disability.”

RA 10070, the Implementation of Programs and Services for Persons with Disabilities in every province, city and municipality, brings various programs and services to the local level.

The Magna Carta for Persons with Disabilities. (RA 7277) provides for the rehabilitiation, self-development and self-reliance of disabled persons and their integration into the mainstream of society and for other purposes.

The UN International Day of Persons with Disabilities also goes side by side with Presidential Proclamation No. 1157, which orders the assignment of the December 3 as the International Day of Persons with Disabilities in the Philippines, in keeping with United Nations declaration.

The National Disability Prevention and Rehabilitation Week, according to Presidential Proclamation No. 361, orders the assignment of the third week of July as the National Disability Prevention and Rehabilitation Week, culminating on the birthdate of the sublime paralytic, Apolinario Mabini on July 23.

With various efforts and laws that support causes of persons with disabilities, the public, when well-informed, are given liberty to love and to give empathy towards children with special needs. (stock photos from Pixabay.com)What does this mean to us?

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