January 29, 2021 — Promoting a sense of belonging and empowerment for children with special needs, the Department of Education (DepEd) collaborated with NORFIL Foundation, Inc., and Autism Society Philippines in the conduct of the 2021 National Autism Conference in line with the celebration of the 25th National Autism Consciousness Week.

The Department recognizes the important role of all sectors of the society in achieving its goals for the inclusion of learners with Autism.

“By working together with our stakeholders, listening to their experiences and finding ways within the system to create opportunities for meaningful collaboration, we can bring better services to our learners with Autism,” expressed Education Secretary Leonor Magtolis-Briones.

“The support for all children with disabilities, regardless of the nature and severity of their disability, and the need for related services are being recognized and catered by DepEd; and ensures that these learners receive appropriate education whether in the regular face to face classroom setting or a specialized set-up during this time of pandemic,” added Secretary Briones.

Anchored on the theme “Pilipinong May Autismo: Kakaiba, Kasali, Konektado, the Conference focused on the societal awareness of the uniqueness of Filipinos on the spectrum, the inclusive development in human rights, education, employment, media, among others, and individual self-awareness, self-expression, and feeling of belonging to a compassionate society.

The virtual event featured plenary topics on the Situation of Children with Disabilities in Times of COVID-19, Right of Persons with Autism, The Truth About Autism, and Resources for Persons with Autism.

Mr. Ranilo Sorongon of NORFIL discussed the Cluster of rights of every child, including children with autism, which includes Survival Rights, Developmental Rights, Protection Rights, and Participation Rights.

“They must be included in whatever decisions affecting them and they must be included in the society. Hindi lamang sila tagapalakpak, hindi lamang sila tagasayaw but kasama rin sila sa pagbibigay ng kanilang mga opinyon, kasama sila sa pagpaplano,” Mr. Sorongon said.

The Special Education (SPED) program of DepEd is adoptive to the inclusive education needed by the learners with disabilities. The Department launched various initiatives to ensure SPED will remain inclusive even in the new normal settings of basic education.

“DepEd recognizes the urgency to address the problems with regard to SPED and Inclusive Education thus, mechanisms have been adopted like the distance learning approach to learners with special needs education which is part of the Basic Education-Learning Continuity Plan (BE-LCP). Hence by doing so, DepEd ensures that the right of these learners to receive appropriate education are met,” said Sec. Briones

Meanwhile, Dr. Alexis Reyes, President of the International Developmental Pediatrics Association, debunked some common myths tied with autism and discussed the situation of children with disabilities in the context of COVID-19.

“I want them to be happy, I hope they will be happy wherever situation they might be in to appreciate their lives. The pandemic has taught us so many lessons on happiness. If you find something good in something so horrific then I think we still have hope,” said Dr. Reyes.

Breakout sessions were also organized to further educate people on autism, which include topics on Early Intervention and Home Program, Sensory Issues and Hospital-friendly Environment, and Preparing Individuals with ASD for Employment and Autism Work.