Fil-Am autism advocate pushes PH gov’t for more services, programs

SAN FRANCISCO – Latest government data shows that one in every 68 children in the U.S. has autism. In the Philippines, where a comprehensive program tracking autism cases has yet to be developed, health officials estimate about one percent of the population or about one million people have the disorder.

Autism Hearts Foundation President Erlinda Borromeo said there are a lot of undetected cases in the Philippines because a lot of parents from poor families don’t even know their children have autism and that is why their children do not get proper treatment and intervention.

She said, “When I went to the Philippines, I saw that there were so many who are in need of support. For families, there seems to be nothing, unless you have money in the Philippines.”

Borromeo knows what it means to feel lost, when it comes to finding resources for a loved-one. Her grandson, Julien, was diagnosed with autism before he turned two. She took it upon herself to understand the disorder by earning a Masters Degree in Special Education. She also became an advocate for autism rights.

In 2007, she co-founded ANGELS, a community-based center that helps families find government-funded services for people with autism. In 2008, she also co-founded Autism Hearts Foundation. She pointed out, “It’s really important for parents to learn what is available out there for them.”

So for the last three years, this San Francisco-based Pinay began partnering with Philippine officials to help families in great need. She cited, “Finally, we have the Philippine government, through the Department of Health and the Department of Social Welfare. We now came up with a national strategic plan for people with autism and related disorders. That means to say that they will have their rights, support services, education — and that’s we really want.”

This partnership in the Philippines has created music and art therapies to help develop the communication skills of people with autism. Borromeo’s group and the Philippine government are also training teachers, social workers and health professionals to better screen autism and manage behaviors of patients. To date, about four hundred people with autism have already benefited from Autism Hearts Foundation’s programs — half of whom come from disaster-stricken Tacloban.

Borromeo said all of these efforts are born out of love and hope that life can become so much easier for people with this disorder.

You may contact Henni Espinosa at henni_espinosa@abs-cbn.com for more information.

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