Like most teens, Marie Yasmin Rimano loves watching MTV. She sings well and loves to cross-stitch in her spare time. Mom Marivic fondly talks about her 17-year-old daughter’s helpfulness around the house, “Yasmin washes our clothes. She keeps the house clean and knows how to cook.”
Twelve-year-old Neil Allen, on the other hand, prefers spending time on the computer or watching current events. He is now in fourth grade taking regular and special education (SPED) classes. Both Rimano children are autistic.
“Why us?” Marivic recalls how hard it was at first to accept having a special child when Yasmin was diagnosed. When Allen was born his parents were very happy to see him passing developmental milestones. “At seven months, he was very sociable, could point to things when asked, and knew how to say mama and papa,” Marivic remembers.
However, when Allen turned one, his mom noticed some regression, “’Yung pointing n’ya nawala. He started pulling my hand to get attention and didn’t make eye contact anymore. I began to have doubts but my husband asked that we wait until our son turned two.”
The couple was devastated when the doctor diagnosed Allen with autism at two and a half years old. “Siyempre masakit, para kaming pinagbagsakan ng langit. Matagal ang acceptance, may self-denial. Pero kung magmumukmok ka, walang mangyayari sa mga anak mo. Kailangan mong bumangon at tanggapin ang katotohanan para mabigyan ng tamang direksyon ang mga bata.” Once more, the Rimanos’ positive attitude came to the fore and they were resolute to accept and move on. “So we made plans to provide Allen with the right intervention and behavioral management just like we did with Yasmin.”
Marivic is thankful to have a supportive and encouraging husband in Lindy. “Sometimes, there are men who leave their families because they can’t accept their children’s condition. But Lindy said, ‘Kaya natin ’yan kasi nakaya na natin ’yung isa.’”
Marivic says that having support groups and meeting other parents whose children have autism helped them a lot. “You’ll realize that you are not alone. Malaking bagay talaga,” she admits. She enrolled in intensive trainings and seminars on autism. “Whenever I learn something new like a technique or a form of therapy, I apply it as soon as I get home.” Currently, she has two other kids undergoing home program in her care.
Reaching milestones Marivic started a home program for her daughter when she was 10 years old. “When I realized na ang laki ng improvement ni Yasmin after one month, I also asked for home program referrals for Allen from our developmental pediatrician.” Then five years old, Allen was not yet talking or capable of sitting still even for a minute, so his mom tried various techniques that worked for him. Slowly, Allen learned to curb his hyperactivity and little by little acquired new skills.
He now knows how to use a mobile phone and Yasmin would sometimes ask him to text their parents when she needed something. “One night, I got a text message saying ‘buy thread.’ I had to laugh because the kids were only in the other room. Yasmin sometimes can’t wait to finish her cross-stitching projects and she has already sold some of her work!” the pleased mom relates.
Marivic shares, “There was a time when I was not feeling well. I was so surprised when the kids called me for dinner, ‘Mommy, let’s eat!’ I discovered that they had already set the table and reheated food from the refrigerator. That’s when I realized that they can take care of me, that they do not need me to take care of their needs all the time.”
Hopes for the future “All kids with autism may pag-asa. Walang low functioning sa autism. You just have to teach them functional skills so that when they grow up, hindi sila pabigat,” Marivic stresses. She encourages parents to regularly communicate with their children’s doctors and join support groups.
On her dreams for her kids, she says, “Ang pangarap ko kay Allen, ’yung hindi naabot ni Yasmin, that he would someday learn to commute by himself and be able to work somewhere, like do encoding on a computer.” Or that perhaps one day, the siblings would be able to have a small business to manage together. After all, Yasmin can cook delicacies like puto, which they could probably sell. “I know my kids’ capabilities so I know what to expect from them although I don’t expect 100%. Mahirap [nang] ma-frustrate kung masyadong mataas ang expectations,” she acknowledges. For now, Marivic says she is happy as long as her kids maintain their behavior and functionality. She adds, “Maturuan mo lang naman sila ng tama, dala na nila ’yun saan man sila magpunta.”
Autism alert Alexis L. Reyes, M.D., a developmental pediatrician and associate professor in pediatrics at the Philippine General Hospital, answers common questions of parents with children suspected of or diagnosed with autism:
What is autism? Autism is a complex, lifelong neuro-developmental disability that affects the way a person communicates and relates to people around him. It is defined by the presence of impairments affecting social interaction, communication, and imagination. Around the globe, it affects one in every 500, although there have been specific places in the United States where it is reportedly as high as one in every 260.
What are the symptoms of autism? Most of the parents’ concerns center on delayed speech and language development and this should always be taken seriously. Other red flags in 18- to 24-month-olds include poor eye contact, lack of response to name or to social “comments,” difficulty understanding words, being “in a world of their own,” repetitive behaviors, and unusual use of objects associated with language delay and other social features.
What steps should I take if my child is diagnosed to have autism? Once diagnosis is confirmed, consider a focused and individualized early intervention program that must be broad enough to address the full range of impairments. Parents need counseling and support. They must be given information about appropriate programs, parent support groups and other community support systems. There is no one best method for teaching children with autism. However, it is the involvement of parents, teachers/therapists and advocates for the child that is critical.
What is the prognosis for autism? The future outcome for a child with autism is closely linked to his or her verbal abilities, intelligence, family support and educational and behavioral programs. Depending on IQ and language abilities, an individual with autism should be able to live independently or thrive in a supported or interdependent living environment, and can be expected to have a typical lifespan. Early identification and good educational programs have significantly improved the future for children with autistic spectrum disorders. Intensive parent participation, however, plays a critical factor in the outcome.