I was fairly young when I had my first close encounter with an autistic child. Richard lived at the house across ours and was the same age as my brother, who was three years younger than me. I remember his mom inviting my brother and I every now and then to play with him. Richard had many toys, which at that time something that our parents could not afford so we were always more than happy to oblige. What we observed though was he never bothered even touching them, so my brother and I would always end up playing together while he does his own thing.
By the time Richard had the interest in playing with his toys, my brothers (then two), moved on to video games. By the time he started playing video games (he particularly liked NBA Live), we were already into music and had our own garage band. He always seemed a step behind.
In the years that followed, I have seen many other autistic children. But all I do was spectate. I would see them in public places like malls or resorts, sometimes throwing a major tantrum or just silent. I have to admit, I still did not understand them mostly at those times. I am not proud to say that I once also used “autistic” as a name-call for my crazy and/or weird friends. It is an insensitive Filipino thing to name-call people “mongoloid” or “autistic” as with the western way of calling someone a “retard”, so please pardon my past ignorance.
Decade(s) later, I met the love of my life, BJ. After a few dates and conversations, I discovered that she already had a daughter. Samantha Jane was six years old at that time, and she had special needs. Sam was autistic. And, just like her mom, I fell in love with her the first time I met her.
I became more and more involved in the years that followed, especially when we finally decided to get married and Sam moved in. I cannot say that it had been a smooth ride, because it is never for families with children like Sam. We have tried having her attend special education classes, speech therapy, and occupational therapy in different institutions. The schools would also get us involved by having us attend orientations and awareness programs.
I have to say, it was life-changing. I finally began to understood Sam and other children with special needs. Since then, whenever I see them in public with their parents, my heart gets filled with a certain kind of happiness. Because I knew that letting them out in public takes another level of parenting – a bigger and courageous heart; infinite patience for the child; and even more of it for the intolerant people who stare and judge. It is not that easy, and I completely underestimated the parents of those autistic children that I have seen in public in my younger years.
Three years ago, we gave birth to Sam’s brother, Jared. We promised ourselves that when Jared is old enough, we will make him understand autism; why he would get punished at times while his sister can get away with it; why his sister has a strict routine every day; why his sister can choose not to eat her vegetables. We promised to make him understand his Ate Sam and love her with all his heart; and teach him to defend his Ate with his life, and take care of her should fate decide to take us.
We envisioned many things for Jared. Which is why, a few months later, it was heartbreaking for me (and more for my wife) to see that Jared himself was showing early signs of autism.
Some people might say that it is a stroke of bad luck. And I wouldn’t deny it; it gets wild at home sometimes. But I always tell myself that all children, regular or not, would have tantrums once in a while. They would all refuse to eat sometimes. Some would not want to take a bath at times (my children won’t, I guarantee you). Point is, if you look at the glass half-full, you will see that these children are not so different. They are not “abnormal” because, what is normal anyway? My half-full glass tells me that I will never have teenager kids with teenager problems. They will never do drugs. They will never have their hearts broken. They will never lie, cheat, and steal.
Autistic children do not know evil, they are practically angels. And I am proud to say that I have two.