Even those who aren’t fans of evening drama programs and their lead love teams know the catchphrase “Hello, ako Budoy,” and for good reason.
“Budoy” is one of the few mainstream media platforms that put a person with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) front and center, shedding light on what it’s like to live with the disorder. It’s not free of melodramatic scenes that are characteristic of Filipino teleseryes, but it does show that people with autism (PWAs) deserve more than just sympathy.
“Budoy” aired in 2011, and since then, many things have changed for people in the spectrum, most notably a house bill advocating for the autism community.
Brief: The National Autism Care Plan Act
Authored by Anakbayan representative Tomasito Villarin, House Bill No. 6934, also known as the National Autism Care Plan Act, aims to raise awareness on the special needs of PWAs.
The bill advocates:
- The treatment of PWAs as a person with disability, as defined under Republic Act No. 7277
- The conduct of a bi-annual epidemiological survey to determine the prevalence of autism in the country
- The establishment of a national program for early screening and detection of autism
- Mandatory PhilHealth coverage for PWAs
- Protection of the community from discrimination in schools, colleges, universities, and training institutions, as well as special protection during emergencies and disasters
- The creation of the Autism Council of the Philippines under the Department of Health (DOH). It will develop and implement a sustainable, long-term Philippine Autism Plan
Organizations at the Helm
Drafting a bill for PWAs required the technical knowledge of trained professionals, so Villarin’s team consulted the Autism Society Philippines (ASP), a national, non-profit organization dedicated to the well-being of PWAs.
It’s been at the forefront of the ASD advocacy in the country, holding seminars and conferences designed for PWAs, siblings, parents, and the public. Its initiatives cover many aspects of living with PWAs, from communicating to handling tantrums.
Its most popular programs are the celebration of the National Autism Consciousness Week (January 20-26, 2019) and the Angels Walk for Autism. The programs are spread across the country, with one workshop, Response to Crisis Behavior, held in Davao City, Cagayan de Oro City, and Cebu City.
PWAs in the School and Workplace
Countless schools cater to PWA’s, including One World School and Autism Partnership Manila. Several organizations also offer out-of-school activities for these children, like Exceptional Sports (E-Sports).
A PWA’s goal of being independent is also turning into a reality, as more businesses warm up to PWAs in the workforce. In 2016, retail giant SM initiated a workplace inclusion program for PWAs in 17 stores nationwide, in partnership with the ASP.
Even small businesses welcome PWAs into their little teams. Puzzle Gourmet Store & Café, a family business in Quezon City, was established to give their brother an opportunity to experience work. Since then, they have been accepting interns diagnosed with ASD.
Families who are looking for career opportunities for loved ones with ASD can also attend ASP’s Autism Works Open House, which matches PWAs with suitable employment in retail, food service, and BPO companies.
A Community for PWAs
As workplaces in the country are work on their inclusivity for PWAs, the Association for Adults with Autism Philippines went ahead and built A Special Place — a soon-to-rise, sprawling 9,000-sq.m. residential community in Alfonso, Cavite. It will accommodate PWAs aged 18 to 50 years old, other people with special needs, and family members who wish to live with their loved ones.
It’s a safe, nurturing, and sustainable community where adults with ASD can thrive independently and receive appropriate health, educational, vocational, and wellness services. A Special Place comprises six homes, each manned by professionally trained staff under a resident house-parent.
At its core, it’s a sanctuary for PWAs, one where their needs come first, and where they’re understood.
And in a way, it’s what every parent and autism organization wants the country to be: a place where their children are protected from discrimination, accepted, and appreciated.