Autistic singer finds her voice at WCOPA

LONG BEACH, CA — At this year’s World Championship of Performing Arts, the Philippines brought in 109 performers — each with their own unique style and back story. Despite being diagnosed with a developmental disability, one singer was able to show off her musical abilities.

While 24 of the WCOPA talents sang, danced, and modeled their way to the semi-finals, only 10 of them made it into the competetive finals.

Although she didn’t place, 22-year-old Thara Santiago is big winner in her own way.

At age three, Thara was diagnosed with autism. She was unable to communicate verbally, but by age six she discovered singing.

Since then, music has become Thara’s language and voice.

“It’s always inspiring, it gives hope to other people also so maniban inspiration dinadala nya sa iba mga special children na kaya Nila mag perform din dito,” said her mother Geeta. “Hindi lang topang pang normal individual.”

Thara became the first Filipino with a disability to qualify for WCOPA — considered the Olympics of performing arts. She competed in five events.

“At first we thought it will be different because she’s different, she’s autistic; but then the hospitality and the warm approach of people here, especially the Filipinos, was something you have to embrace too,” said Geeta.

Thara’s dreams don’t stop with WCOPA.

As she cheers on her teammates in Friday night’s WCOPA finals, she’ll continue her work back home in the Philippines, using her music to inspire others with disabilities as she waits for another chance to medal at next year’s WCOPA.

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