by Dr. Corina Yatco-Guerrero, member of the Rotary Club of Sta. Ana (Davao), Philippines

I am a Neuro-Ophthalmologist and my husband is a Neurologist; we both practice in Davao City, Philippines.  When our third child, Emmanuel, was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) at the age of two, we were both stunned and perplexed.

Diagnosing our patients was something that we do every day in our medical profession, but living with our own family member with a disability was something we were not equipped nor prepared to handle. Tantrums, melt-downs, hyperactivity are some of my son’s daily struggles.  He looked so helpless and in the beginning we didn’t know how to help him. I quit work for three years just to be by his side to assist him. I read many books about autism and even converted his bedroom into a “special” classroom. Our weekly routine would consist of visits to the Occupational Therapist, Speech Therapist, and to a Special Education Teacher (SpEd) who had experience in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) for Children with Autism (CWA).

In the field of medicine, we were taught that every illness comes with a cure, but for autism there is no specific drug that will cure the disorder.  It is a lifelong disability - something that Emmanuel and our family has to live with every single day. But life goes on, and we have learned to live one day at a time. And most important of all, he knows he is cared for and loved.  But I know that not everyone is as blessed as our son. I do worry about those families who cannot afford the demands that a special child needs.

When the opportunity to be part of The Rotary Foundation’s District 3860 Vocational Training Team from Cebu, Philippines was presented to me, I was ecstatic!   It was a two-week training at the University of North Carolina, USA on a teaching method specifically for children with autism called TEACCH. TEACCH stands for Treatment and Education of Autistic and Communication related handicapped Children. and is an evidence-based research program.  I knew it is a program beneficial to children with autism and this was a dream come true.

We had two weeks of intensive training on TEACCH, followed by several visits to schools, group homes, and business establishments catering to persons with autism.  The training helped me  become more confident, eager, and better equipped to reach out to the under-served special needs community.  Together with the rest of the Vocational Training Team, we shared our learning on the TEACCH method to special education teachers, government educators, therapists and increased the awareness on autism to the public.

Every year during National Autism Week, Rotary clubs from District 3860 join and support the “Angels Walk for Autism,” an awareness walk that gathers all children, families and educators supporting autism. Organized by a local organization called Autism Society of the Philippines, it advocates awareness and inclusion of persons with special needs in society.

I am grateful that through Rotary, the world can be a better place for children with autism - by creating more schools and training the educators in order to become better equipped in teaching them how to have a better and meaningful life.

The above article was published by Rotary International in their newsletter "Service in Action" on September 25, 2019