In line with the observance of World Autism Awareness Day today (April 2), Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has urged the public to increase understanding and support for persons with autism to help contribute in promoting a more inclusive society.
De Lima, a known human rights defender, underscored the importance of raising public awareness about the psychological disorder, which is now considered a national health issue. “Persons with autism have the right to live a happy and safe life free from any judgment and abuse despite the challenges they were born in. They should have a place in our society to enable them to make positive contributions to its progress,” she said.
“As such, each one of us is encouraged to raise awareness about autism as we continue reaching out to them and let them feel that they are not different from us,” she added.
Based on the estimates of the Autism Society of the Philippines, one out of every 500 Filipinos suffer from autism – or approximately 200,000 Filipinos out of a 100 million of the country’s total population.
Last May 2017, De Lima filed Senate Bill (SB) No. 1433, or the Autism Care Act, seeking a national roadmap for addressing autism through the creation of the Autism Council of the Philippines to help raise public awareness about the psychological disorder.
The Senator from Bicol expressed hopes that her fellow legislators will support her proposed Autism Care Act and steer clear of its legislative mill so that persons with the autism and their respective families will get the support they badly need.
“Autism Care Act is a personal piece of legislation for me considering that my son and my grandson were both diagnosed with autism disorder. The Autism Care Act, along with other laws for persons with disabilities, should get more support from the public and the government,” she said.
In her proposed measure, De Lima underscored the need to conduct thorough and complete epidemiological surveys on the true state of autism in the country in order to provide a better understanding and treatment of autism as a national health issue.
She likewise proposed under SB No. 1433 that the shortage of trained and highly-skilled teachers and health providers who will cater to the special needs of children and adults with autism should be addressed by the government.
In a Facebook message, President of Association for Adults with Autism Philippines Lino-Sobrevinas Covey thanked De Lima for her “strong, inspired, and inspiring initiative” in pushing for the immediate passage of Autism Care Act.
Covey, a professor of clinical psychology in psychiatry at the Columbia University Medical Center, said he supports the measure on autism which he said should be viewed “not simply as a condition to be suffered but one to be managed as a variant of the human condition.”
“(Persons) with autistics (are) having strengths and talents, as well with the potential to contribute to their own and larger societies’ benefit,” read Covey’s message that De Lima later acknowledged in a letter.
In a separate letter, Covey vowed to offer help that can advance the objectives, progress, and the implementation of De Lima’s Autism Care Act. “Your openness and willingness to consider viewpoints not initially voiced by you are gratifying and encouraging,” Covey said.
De Lima said she hopes the observance of World Autism Awareness Day will be a good opportunity to push the government to support measures that could improve the living conditions of persons with autism, and support needed by their families.