Autism awareness gaining in Philippines
By Ruth Abigail Bunolna, DNP
When my 4-year-old son Andre was diagnosed in January with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), my husband and I were heartbroken, distraught and, for a while, in denial. He is our only child to make it to full term. The rest of my three pregnancies all miscarried – the last one when I was halfway through the Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP) program. Andre was also a product of fertility work-ups and treatment, and it took two years before he was conceived.
One night as I was reading about how widespread ASD is around the world, my thoughts immediately came to how my beloved province of Ifugao is faring with this new developmental epidemic.
Ifugao is one of the northern mountain provinces of the Philippines, an eight-hour drive north of Manila. There are an estimated one million cases of ASD in the Philippines, which many health authorities claim is an underestimate, as the diagnosis is not known and accepted in the communities.
Through Facebook and the Internet, I was able to connect with local representatives from the Special Education Department and from there, with the arduous assistance of E_KidsClub volunteers, we were able to garner local governmental and nongovernmental support.
On April 2, Ifugao celebrated its first World Autism Awareness Day through the partnership of E_KidsClub and SpEd Ifugao. They met all three of their goals for the event.
First, there were at least 200 or more people who attended the motorcade and autism walk followed by a short program, lunch and free dental service for those with autism and some of their parents.
Second, key officials from the provincial governing body, as well as the heads of the Department of Health, Social Welfare Department, and Department of Education – Special Education specialty, all committed to support upcoming autism programs following this first time event.
Third, nongovernmental organizations such as churches, local sport clubs, local high school alumni groups, and some foreign missionaries serving the region, responded, and they, too, pledged their commitment to help spread the Autism Awareness message.
E_KidsClub and its local representatives are moving forward towards sustainability of its projects by securing government finances to expand special education programs, to make local occupational therapy and speech pathology services accessible, and to continue ASD information and dissemination efforts to cover all the communities of Ifugao and beyond.
Although I may have started the campaign, the heart of the initial success of E_KIdsClub is the active participation of its local organizers.
About the author: Ruth Abigail Bunolna completed her Doctorate of Nursing Practice from Brandman University’s Marybelle and S. Paul Musco School of Nursing and Health Professions in December 2015. Her specialty is adult-gerontology primary care. She works as a palliative care consultant for Seasons Hospice and Palliative Care of Maryland.
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