Understanding Autism and Developmental Disabilities in Children

Over 5 million Filipino children are living with disabilities in the Philippines1. A majority of these children are from low-income families and experience challenges in accessing basic social services. This is made worse by discriminatory attitudes towards them by members of their community and family members who don’t fully understand the needs of children with disabilities and what they are going through. 

Additionally, our government’s lack of involvement and commitment to providing the necessary social services and educational support to ensure that children with developmental disabilities are able to live a full and fulfilling life is heartbreaking. 

For this month’s wearkindness Insights, we talked to the Director of Creative Circle Child Development Center Mich Valencia-Dizon to better understand the daily struggles of children with developmental disabilities and their families. 

What are the most common misconceptions about developmental disabilities in children particularly in the Philippines?

Despite all the efforts to increase awareness about children with developmental disabilities, they still battle rampant misconceptions and myths. These negative perceptions encourage stereotypes that are unfair, unfounded, and even cruel. Children may even lose opportunities to participate in activities or have jobs in the future because of the notion that they are unable to fit in or live up to expectations.

Misconceptions about children with developmental disabilities are the same around the world. It is especially rampant in the Philippines because people are only starting to learn about them or have limited opportunities to do so. In provinces where they are not properly diagnosed, they still tend to attribute the disabilities to the supernatural or the occult (kulam or nasasaniban). Some other misconceptions include,

They cannot learn.

Most people with disabilities can learn very well, only that they learn in different ways and may need different environments to learn. The way they process reading or mathematical information is not the same as a typical student. Like every person, children with developmental or intellectual disabilities are continuously learning. They can learn life, academic and social skills, and more. Their condition does not stop them from acquiring new knowledge and skills with proper support, education, and training.

They don’t feel love.

Having a developmental disability doesn’t make a person unable to feel the emotions you feel. It just makes the individual communicate feelings differently. Many people with autism for example are highly capable of feeling and expressing love, but sometimes in idiosyncratic ways. 

Furthermore, there are individuals with autism who have the capacity for empathy, though they may not always express this in a typical manner. Others, however, do suffer from a lack of empathy. No child with autism is the same. 

Children with developmental disabilities have a great capacity for love. They may show their emotions and feelings differently from others or have difficulty expressing themselves, but they love and feel connected to their family members, caregivers, friends, and others. 

They are all alike.

People with and without developmental disabilities are all human beings — and all human beings are unique, possessing their own personalities, traits, likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, and stories. Even people with the same condition are completely different from one another.

Their disability defines them.

The disability does not make the person. Their symptoms cause them to do certain things differently or experience limitations, but inside, they’re just people like your neighbors, friends, and family. 

They cannot play sports.

There are over 5 million Special Olympics athletes around the world — proof that individuals with developmental disabilities can participate in sports and other physical activities, despite their different abilities. Additionally, there are tons of physical, emotional, and mental benefits of playing sports for people with developmental disabilities.

They cannot start a family.

Children with developmental disabilities can definitely get married in the future and have children and grandchildren of their own. While their condition is a factor, and the chances of passing down inherited gene mutations are a consideration, many of them who have undergone proper therapy from a young age have relationships and families already.

They are a burden to those around them.

While families and children with developmental disabilities may do things differently than others, they still care, love, and enjoy quality time together. Though these individuals may also need some sort of assistance, that does not equal dependency. They can opt to be responsible for themselves and become independent members of society.

They cannot lead productive lives.

People think that those with developmental disabilities cannot be productive at their jobs, when in fact, so many individuals with disabilities have fulfilling jobs, supportive families, and great friends. They can learn, play, work, have meaningful relationships, pursue interests, and have fulfilling lives.

Development disabilities can be outgrown.

Developmental disabilities are chronic, lifelong conditions. Currently, there is no cure. Although some lifelong treatments and interventions can improve a person’s symptoms and ability to function.

A developmental disability is a contagious disease.

Some developmental disabilities are a result of a disease, but developmental disabilities are nowhere contagious. Developmental disabilities are conditions that affect the individual because of damage or some change in the developing brain. Various factors leading to developmental disabilities include hereditary influences and genetics, maternal health and complications during pregnancy, complications during birth, infections during prenatal or neonatal development, and exposure to environmental toxins.

These myths and facts are more than just fascinating trivia. We are to keep them in mind as we support individuals with special needs. The more we learn about their conditions, the better we can help and advocate for them.

For parents, what are the common challenges in providing quality education and therapy for children with developmental disabilities?

I have heard some common issues being expressed repeatedly: 

Very expensive and very hard to find resources and professionals.

Developmental pediatricians, educational assessments,  therapy, schools for those with special needs, or inclusive schools – all of these cost money. In the Philippines,  it is very expensive to give a child with special needs proper care. It is also rare to get all the services you need, especially in the provinces and remote areas where healthcare is scarce. 

One parent is more effective in managing difficult behaviors.

Another source of tension is that often one parent is more effective in managing difficult behaviors. The reduced couple’s time is especially impacting because there is more that needs to be discussed and dealt with including the feelings of grief and disappointment that sometimes never get processed. The ability to learn to enjoy the positive aspects of the child and to take a more spiritual perspective about what all family members gain from having to address these challenges can only take place after having grieved the loss of what the parents had expected from that child at birth.

Serious family impact

Often, raising a special needs child requires so much time, energy, and resources, that other relationships with the family start to suffer. Whether it is the marriage that suffers from lack of attention or siblings that act out due to jealousy, parents will need to remember that their spouse, their relationship, and the children’s relationship with their siblings need just as much consideration and effort. Ensuring that everyone is talking and knows what is going on helps a great deal to build patience and understanding for everyone. 

Also, sibling issues need attention. Parents and professionals alike often lose sight of the need to help siblings understand the problem that is affecting their brother or sister. Then there is the challenge of trying to reduce the jealousy that results when so much attention is focused on one child as well as the frequent limitations on doing common family activities. It is clear that siblings need an opportunity to voice their questions, concerns, and feelings.

Lack of Parent respite/rest and lack of emotional support

Some who cannot afford to hire extra help, bemoan the lack of respite and rest from the 24/7 challenge of caring for their child with special needs. Finding someone to watch their child for a few hours so they could have time for personal, marital, or family activities is a universal challenge. The typical sitter lacks the skills. And even if one lives near family, they too often lack the understanding or patience required to help. 

Sometimes, extended family non-support can be an issue. Too often these parents are criticized by their own extended family for not being able to better manage the behavior of their child with severe special needs. The usual result is avoiding attending family and community events. Children with severe special needs drain enormous amounts of time, energy, and money. Marital problems are reported to be present to a greater degree because of the lack of time for nurturing the marriage in addition to the frequent problem of parents disagreeing on what needs to be done for the child.

These parents need a level of support that is difficult to give if you haven’t been in their shoes. There is a need to commit to providing an opportunity for focused parent support groups, especially parents who live in the same area and can become true personal connections.

Stigma and Discrimination

In the Philippines, children with special needs are misunderstood. They are also called names. Some kids are even discouraged from playing or being with kids with special needs for fear that their disability is contagious or that it may result in violent behavior, or that their kids will imitate the behavior of the special needs kids! Families are also whispered about and treated differently, either with pity or indifference.

Classroom teachers lack the specialized knowledge required to effectively teach these children.

Fear of the Future

A clear message from these parents is what will happen to my child as an adult and, especially, what will happen to my adult child when we aren’t here to provide the care and guidance needed. 

How important is early detection for children with ASD and or developmental disabilities?

The need for early detection of disabilities all comes down to potential. Although disabilities all occur due to the way the brain is structured or in the way it functions, the problem emerges in different ways and at different ages from one child to the next.

Children who may initially be thought to have lower intelligence than their peers may have normal intelligence but have a learning problem that prevents them from reaching their potential. Not recognizing the reasons that young children struggle in school will prevent them from getting the help they need to reach their potential, then, and later on in life.

Early diagnosis leads to early understanding.

The first reason I think that early diagnosis is important is that it leads to early understanding. The earlier you know that your child has ASD, the earlier you can start to understand them better. You can dive in and learn. 

You can figure out what comorbid disorders your child may have.

You can research things like meltdownsburnout, and autism therapy red flags to watch for. Basically, an autism diagnosis explains a lot about why your child is the way that they are. You start to understand why they’re flapping or why they struggle with loud noises. And the more you understand, the easier it will be to reach the next step.

Early diagnosis leads to early acceptance.

The earlier you get your child’s autism diagnosis, the earlier you can accept that your child has autism. The diagnosis can be shocking, but the fact is that no one knows your autistic child’s future. You can spend some time learning the awesome things about autism. You can even check out these autism affirmations to remember when you’re in the middle of chaos and struggling to embrace autism. And when you truly accept your child as they are, everything is going to change. You won’t worry about the snotty looks you get from strangers at the grocery store. You won’t stress about your child being “behind” or having “limited interests”. And when you accept your child's condition, you’re teaching them to fully accept themselves. And that’s a beautiful thing!

Early diagnosis can help us make better decisions.

Disabilities do not go away. Instead, they tend to grow more problematic as time is allowed to pass without getting proper care. Getting behind in third grade may not seem like a significant problem. Once they reach fourth grade, and then fifth, the impact of the learning disabilities becomes more apparent, but children have already fallen well behind. At this point, children are feeling a lack of confidence and becoming more frustrated, sometimes resulting in them acting out. In addition, when the disability is recognized early on, steps can be taken to help the child obtain the life skills needed for a successful life throughout adulthood.

Early diagnosis leads to early advocacy.

The earlier you get your child’s autism diagnosis, the earlier you can learn to advocate for them. The ultimate goal is to teach your child with ASD how to self-advocate, and you do that by being their biggest and best advocate. Research shows that early diagnosis of and interventions for autism are more likely to have major long-term positive effects on symptoms and later skills. 

What programs does Creative Circle offer?

Creative Circle is an INCLUSIVE center. We welcome children with special needs and include them in our classes with children without disabilities. Our teachers are experts in early childhood education and special education, working together with paraprofessionals to support the unique learning needs of all students.

We have knowledge of typical and atypical development and methods of instruction that reach all kids. To both serve and advocate for students, we also understand the importance of the relationships among children, family members, and staff. The vision for our inclusive center is to have every child prepared to succeed in school as well as later on in life.

We have an exceptional and advanced curriculum and program for children without special needs. We also provide an educational assessment for all. Creative Circle offers Early Intervention SPED services, Behavior Modification, and Counseling. We can make referrals to good Developmental Pediatricians, OTs, and Speech Therapists. We also host Parent Forums for those with special needs children. We are a haven for parents who would like to share experiences about child rearing and we train them to bring out the desired behavior in their child. They can help their child discover his or their special talent, and encourage them to pursue it. This increases the child’s self-confidence and self-esteem.

Our partnership with Creative Circle Child Development Center to offer therapy to children in need and spread awareness to one of the most neglected issues facing Filipino children is made possible by your support.

If you want to learn more about how you can support Creative Circle, you can leave us a message or send an email to creativecirclecdc@outlook.com or message them on their Instagram https://www.instagram.com/creativecirclecdc/. Thank you and stay kind!

Creative Circle Child Development Center
Salawikain St. Lagro, Quezon City
(02) 8516 8973


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