Text and video by Karmela Gabrielle Tordecilla, VERA Files
Voshon, an 8-year-old boy diagnosed with autism, is enrolled in the special education (SPED) program of a private regular school in Las Pinas City. He started schooling in 2009, the same year he underwent speech and physical therapy sessions in the hospital where his mother, Maggie Hernandez, works as a cardiovascular nurse.
The Magna Carta for Persons with Disabilities encourages the establishment of SPED schools for children with learning disabilities. However, there are regular schools that offer SPED classes like Voshon's school.
Voshon lacks fine motor skills. His fingers are markedly short for a child his size. His short fingers make it difficult for him to hold a pencil, and thus, to write. A short attention span affects not only his writing, but his reading ability as well.
Even if Maggie prefers to homeschool her child, she can't. Homeschooling would require her to devote much of her time teaching Voshon. She has also considered transferring him to another school.
The first thing she considered in choosing a school for Voshon was the tuition. As far as she knows, the school Voshon currently attends offers the cheapest rate among all the SPED schools in the city. It is also located near their home. However, she thinks there is a "repetitiveness" in the way lectures are conducted in the school.
"One of the things my son doesn't like is doing things over and over again. He dislikes routine," she said. "I find it ironic that the classes in his school have become routinary."
Maggie thinks mainstreaming—integrating children with special needs into a regular class—has disadvantages. She believes children with the same condition as her son are not given proper attention in a mainstream classroom. She noticed that there has been a "regression" in the quality of textbooks. The books seem to be getting easier as Voshon moves to the next grade level.
In scouting for a school for her son, Maggie also looks at whether a school prioritizes the teaching of life skills. Among the things he learned from being part of a mainstream classroom are controlling his temper, making eye contact and socializing with children his age.
"The top goal of every SPED teacher is to teach children how to do things on their own," said Apple Ilustre, a grade school teacher who graduated from a SPED course at the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila.
Simple organizational skills such as tying one's shoes and arranging one's belongings are taught to children with autism.
In the long run, teaching life skills to autistic children would lead them to become functional adults.
The author is a senior journalism student at the University of the Philippines-Diliman. She submitted this story for the journalism seminar class "Reporting on Persons with Disabilities" under VERA Files trustee Yvonne T. Chua.
(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. VERA is Latin for "true.")