Cristina Munarriz noticed something was wrong when her son Henry, then six months seemed like he couldn’t hear anything. She observed that her son was shy, but thought Henry would eventually come out of his shell. The boy had skills, like lining up animal toys by species and size. Still, when test results for his hearing came back negative, Cristina felt something was off. When Henry started attending day care classes at three years old, she noted some of these observations: “He never spoke about his classmates, and he would use my finger to point to things he wanted instead of pointing them out himself.”
When a relative who studied Special Education (SPED) suggested that Henry might have autism, a serious disorder in which children can seem unresponsive to others and tend to have significant problems in communication with others*, Cristina looked out for more signs. While watching a television show that talked about symptoms of autism, Cristina’s instinct became stronger. “I knew right then and there that it wasn’t just my eldest who had issues. His brother, Derek, who was then almost two years old, had it, too,” she recalls. “Since I was working for a multinational [company] in Singapore at that time, I asked my sister to have the kids checked. A trip to a developmental pediatrician confirmed Christina’s hunch. Henry was assessed with Asperger’s Syndrome while Derek had Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS). Autistic Disorder, Asperger’s, and PDD-NOS all fall under the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
Being miles away from home made finding out about her sons’ conditions more difficult for Cristina, who has since stayed with her kids in the country. “I couldn’t go home right away,” she says. “I just wanted to hug my kids. I couldn’t get myself to cry or be angry. I’m not the one who’d be having a hard time, it would be my kids.”
Lisa Santos** recalls feeling the same way when she found out last year that her four-year-old son, William**, had mild autism. The first-time mom noticed William’s hyperactivity when he was only two years old. “He had severe tantrums, and we couldn’t get his attention every time we talked to him,” shares Lisa, a fulltime wife and mother.
An appointment with a developmental pediatrician made Lisa hear the words she had been dreading all along. “I was in denial,” she admits. “While at the doctor’s office, I already had a feeling William was indeed autistic, but I was still hoping my speculation would turn out wrong.”
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Unlike Lisa, Cristina did not go through denial. “Dealing with autism was never my problem,” she says. “I didnít know then what autism would mean for my kids or for me as a parent, but I kept banking on their strengths. For some reason, I knew everything was going to be okay.” Although being in denial is a common reaction, a parent has to make a decision to accept his child’s condition before facing it head-on.
“Nothing can ever be possible until the parent can resolve that he can love the child for whatever he is,” says Edilberto I. Dizon, M.D., Ph.D., pediatrician, a SPED diagnostician and counselor at Child Find Therapy Center and a professor at the College of Education in University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City. “You need to ask yourself, ‘CanI love this child?’ You have to decide first to love your child and take him for what he is; accept him and care for him whatever happens.” Cristina and Lisa’s kids are fortunate that their condition was detected early, but parents can actually look out for symptoms of autism even earlier. “Some children may already exhibit signs as early as 15 to 18 months,” says Lourdes C. Sumpaico-Tanchanco, M.D., a developmental-behavioral pediatrician at The Medical City and faculty member of the Ateneo School of Medicine and Public Health. “Speech delay is a common presentation. Some children respond to name-calling selectively. Repetitive behaviors may be prominent already.”
Click here to read about signs of autism to watch out for.