Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has pushed for the establishment of a clear government policy and comprehensive programs that would ensure that necessary education and support are provided for Filipinos with autism, especially those from lower income families.
In her opening statement entered on official record during the public hearing conducted by the Senate Committee on Health and Demography, De Lima noted that with the current state of support programs on autism, only families in upper and middle classes can afford proper care and education for persons affected with the condition.
“Those with autism from the lower income families have to make do with limited special education program from DepEd. As a result, many of these children are misunderstood, misappreciated, or worse, maltreated,” she said.
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 mandating the government to establish a national roadmap for addressing autism through the establishment of the Autism Council of the Philippines to help raise public awareness about the psychological disorder.
In the said measure, De Lima proposed 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.
The Senator from Bicol likewise suggested 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.
As both a parent and a grandparent to children born with autism, De Lima said her primary concern has always been how she could ensure that Filipinos with autism will be able to live a “secure, happy, fulfilling and productive life” considering the challenges they were born with.
“Without support [from the state and the community], educational, health, livelihood or vocational, and other opportunities available to persons with autism will not become as widely available as they should be,” she said.
“Without the spread of information and understanding about the condition, society would not be able to provide them with the support system necessary to help them become healthy, happy and productive members of the community,” she added.
According to De Lima, her son Israel, 35, whom she described as “a painter and artist in his own right,” is just among the few who have proven that people with autism could and should have a place in our society and at the same time make positive contributions to its progress.
“Autism does not, and should not, be a life sentence that would relegate persons with autism to live in conditions less than they deserve. In the end, their success is also our success, because who knows what ground-breaking insights lie untapped within them,” she said.