10 Jun

AAAP aims to provide autistic adults with a residential community that gives them a safe, productive and independent life…

Photographs by Tinee De Guzman
Other photos courtesy of AAAP

PARENTING isn’t a walk in the park, and for some parents who have to take care of their adult child with autism, it presents a whole new challenge. “Last Holy Thursday,a my son and I went to Shakey’s to order pizza. The number of people overwhelmed him, and so he started hitting and biting me,” says atty. Jun aragon. Entrepreneurial couple Paul and Laurie Tayag share their own story. “We got bumped off the Detroit airport because our son beat up an airline passenger,” a giggling Laurie says about their 33-year-old son, Glenn. Light as their mood may be when they tell these stories, these parents understand that their children’s mishaps are part of an urgent, much bigger socialization problem that the country needs to address. Hence, in July 2008, they, together with other parents of individuals with autism, established an organization called associa- tion of adults with autism, Philippines (aaaP).
A special community
Based on autism Pinoy studies, autism is the fastest-growing developmental disability, affecting approximately 1 in 150 children. Everyday, 67 children are diagnosed with it.
AAAP is a non-profit organization dedicated to the long-term care of adults within the autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), a wide severity spectrum of conditions characterized by social and communicative deficiencies, repetitive behavior, and cognitive delays. aaaP’s main project, a Special Place, aims to build the country’s first residential community that will provide social interac- tion and enrichment growth to these adults.
The whole idea was brought to the country by AAAP president, Lirio Sobrevinas-Covey, a professor of clinical psychology and senior research scientist at Columbia University in New york. Her 33-year-old son Mikey lives in a residential community in New york. Her personal vision for AAAP is “to establish a safe and secure environment for adults with autism in the Philippines, an environment that will enable them to live amidst their peers and independently of their families by providing them with appropriate educational, vocational, social, and medical services so that they can grow and sustain themselves to live a wholesome and happy life.”
The organization has acquired a one-hectare land in Lipa City as its first village site. The location is flood- safe and has a cool climate. “Our goal is to build six cottages that can house six residents and a house parent each,” says AAAP board director Cathy Cham. “But for now, we want to start with at least three cottages first.” In addition to the houses, an administration building will also be built for the staff, along with housing and workshop facilities, such as a kitchen for cooking, a small theater for music and arts, and a gym for physical activities. The village prototype follows the farmstead model, a popular model in Europe, which requires a big area for nature therapy, and recreational and agricultural activities like planting.
For this first village, AAAP targets residents 18 years old and up, who are within the mid functioning level of autism. The autism spectrum ranges from light, mid-functioning, to severe levels. mid-functioning autistic adults are those who are under home program due to socialization difficulties, but who still have a big chance to develop as a functional adult. Eventually, AAAP will also develop communities for the other levels.
The initial goal of AAAP is to raise PHP 30 million for the construction of the village. Once it’s built, AAAP will proceed to the second part of its program: raising endowment funds. The endowment program includes looking for sponsors who will pay for the living costs of
residents whose families cannot afford it, and collect financial support to keep the village continuously operating. The payment scheme will run like a discounting system, where people can pay per installment.
A productive life
Whereas residential communities for adults with autism have long existed in other countries such as the U.S. and even in the middle East, the aaaP community will be the first in the Philippines. “The current problem in our country is that existing facilities only believe in early intervention,” says Cham. “So they only accept the young ones.” The purpose of a Special Place is to take care of adults with needs different from those of the young ones. As Covey puts it, “Emotionally and psychologically, autistic adults need to be more on their own, and prefer spending more time with their peers than their families or parents.”
The parents of AAAP also believe that the community they will build will help the autistic adults develop their productivity and gifted skills, debunking the common mentality that people with this condition have no capability. In fact, Vico and Matthew, the sons of Cham and Aragon respectively, are gifted artists whose paintings were featured and mostly sold during the AAAP launch, an art auction held last February 20 at the Filipinas Heritage Library in Makati. They prove that with the right developmental process, individuals with autism can also excel in particular activities.
Lastly, AAAP stresses the importance of family support as an integral part of the development of these adults. “What we don’t want to happen is for parents to just pay for the living costs, and then leave their child in the community forever,” says Aragon, legal counsel for AAAP. “They have to at least visit them monthly. We want continual involvement with the parents.”
Raising PHP 30 million, and the endowment funds to follow, is a huge challenge for AAAP. Laurie Tayag speaks on behalf of all the parents who share the same concern: “We are getting old, and when the time comes that we’re not here to take care of our son, who will? We worry for his future. That’s why we need to make this happen. It’s about time we create this community.”
“What we have now is a vision, we need the funds to actualize it,” Paul Tayag says, addressing the public.
With the participation of institutions and society at large, Covey and the AAAP organization can help autistic adults “live productive lives for themselves as well as for the larger community.”.
Figure 1 : (L-R :AAAP parent members Paul Tayag, Laurie Tayag, Legal Counsel Jun Aragon and Director Cathy Cham)
Figure 2 : (AAAP President, Lirio Covey giving a speech during the launch last Feb 20 at FHL, Makati)
Figure 3 : (Other AAAP members with their children with autism — Casano Family)
Figure 4 : (Palomares Family)
Figure 5 : (AAAP paraphernalia that feature the artistic talents of adults with autism, like the calendar displaying the artworks of Cathy Cham’s son, Vico.)

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