• How the Proposed Autism Care Bill Can Help Filipinos on the Autism Spectrum
    ILLUSTRATION Natz Bade
  • We're one step closer to being an Autism-OK nation.

    Scheduled for a hearing this February is House Bill No. 6934 or the National Autism Care Plan Act, authored by Akbayan representative Tomasito S. Villarin. (It is worth noting there is a similar bill pending, Senate Bill No. 1433 or the proposed Autism Care Act of 2017, authored by Senator Leila de Lima last year.)

    “The National Autism Care Plan Act will ‘force’ our agencies to be more aware of the needs of [the autism] community and give birth to the acceptance, accommodation, and appreciation that we want to see across the Filipino society,” said Mona Veluz, national president of the Autism Society Philippines (ASP). The non-profit organization was consulted when the draft for the bill was first created. 

    “With our community’s inputs, Congressman Villarin saw the wisdom in considering the needs of persons with autism throughout their lifetime and across multiple areas — health, education, employment, access, justice, insurance, among others,” Veluz told SmartParenting.com.ph. “I am hopeful the families will feel opportunities opening up to our loved ones on the spectrum.”  

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    The bill seeks to “provide improved and more accessible specialized services and supports” for persons with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in the Philippines. Here are the benefits if the bill gets passed and enacted into law.

    1. A national screening program for the detection of autism
    The proposed law will set up a national early screening program for the detection of autism in Filipino children. This is to “provide appropriate services” to those with developmental delays and “ensure the central PWD registry are updated accordingly,” said the bill.   

    Early intervention is crucial to ensure the best outcome for persons with developmental disorders. Children are screened specifically for ASD at 18 and 24 months old, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

    2. Mandatory PhilHealth coverage for persons with autism (PWA)
    The coverage will include the cost of early screening and detection, according to the bill. Currently, PhilHealth is set to introduce a benefits package for kids with special needs that covers those with hearing, visual, mobility impairment, and developmental disability.

    “The benefits package for developmental disability includes services for proper diagnosis in order to provide specific and individualized plans for therapy services,” said PhilHealth. The announcement was made in February 2017.

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    3. Better access to schools and insurance for PWAs
    The bill proposes that “all educational institutions shall be inclusive to learners with autism, in matters including, but not limited to, acceptance to academic or training programs, instructional supports, and behavior management.” This includes schools, colleges, universities and training institutions. 

    Insurance providers, on the other hand, will not discriminate against PWAs when it comes to providing life insurance instruments. The health insurance benefits offered should also include medical procedures, including therapy. 

    4. Better support for PWAs during emergencies and disasters, and from the justice system 
    When the bill becomes law, police, firefighters, first responders, and other public safety professionals will need to know how to give support to PWAs with behavioral and communication challenges during emergencies and disasters. The policies and protocols will be formulated by the Department of the Interior and Local Government. 

    Similarly, the Department of Justice will “provide the necessary accommodations and protections to PWAs with behavioral and communication challenges, who may be accused of, victims of or witnesses to crimes.” 

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    5. Dedicated research and updated statistics on autism in the Philippines
    Under the proposed law, the National Institute of Health will conduct regular surveys to determine the prevalence of autism in the country. It will also be tasked to strengthen its research on autism “for the purpose of supporting development of best practices in autism intervention in the Philippines.” 

    6. The creation of an autism-dedicated council in the government
    The bill also ensures that the support it provides PWAs does not stop with those listed above. With the creation of the Autism Council of the Philippines, programs and services will be designed by appointed officials to provide support in other areas relevant to PWAs including employment and livelihood, and residential and hospice care. 

    That their child will grow up to be independent and self-reliant is the shared hope and goal of every parent of a child with autism. Voicing out this primary concern, Veluz said, “The Autism Society Philippines has a program called Autism Works, which matches PWAs with compassionate employers (in retail, restaurants, BPOs) in many cities in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. But this is not enough. We need the government to provide education and training for PWAs to get to a point where they can get hired or be an entrepreneur, and we need to scale the hiring of PWAs across more industries.” 

    Let's all hope our country's lawmakers put an urgent tag to pass this bill as soon as possible. 

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