No parent looks forward to the day his child is given the diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), a range of behavioral conditions marked by developmental delays. The magnitude of such news can be shocking and undoubtedly life-changing, given that autism is a lifelong condition. In 2017, data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that 1 percent of the population is living with autism, and the number continues to increase.
When you're a parent of a child with autism, you always worry about the uncertainty of your child's future. "What will become of him?" "How will he survive?" "What will society make of him?"
If the stories of these four individuals are any indication, you can rest easy knowing that autism is not a "punishment" or a "death sentence." People with autism can break through barriers, become an asset to society, and live purposeful, productive lives like the rest of us.
Here are four talented individuals living with Autism Spectrum Disorder
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Abram Karol Bisuña, 12-year-old artist
Abram was diagnosed with high-functioning autism when he was only 3 years old, wrote his mom Jane, but that didn't stop him from pursuing his passion for creating through his drawings, videos, or by way of a children's story. In fact, he has created "Abram's Journey," a cartoon character named after himself, on which all his artworks are patterned. His greatest dream is to become a Disney animator someday. With the help of early intervention and a supportive family environment, Abram grew up to be a determined tween who is focused on his goals.
In 2017, 11-year-old Abram designed and created holiday-themed greeting cards and gift tags, which quickly sold out. Because of his family's desire to teach Abram generosity, they happily donated part of the proceeds to underprivileged kids through the Negrense Volunteers for Change (NVC) Foundation, a non-profit organization that advocates against hunger and poverty.
"I learned from Disney that everyone has the power to make a difference. So, I am using my power — my creativity — to help kids of this generation become healthier and stronger," he told his mom once.
With a child like Abram, it's no wonder why Jane feels that having a son with autism is a blessing: "I wouldn’t want my son any other way!"
Like many families whose kids are diagnosed with developmental delay, Carlo and Chloe Kayanan were in denial when they were told their firstborn, son Chace, had Global Developmental Delay with autistic features in 2011.
“We thought he was too young to be properly diagnosed. We thought that the doctor would turn out to be wrong, that Chace was just a little delayed,” says Chloe. But when Chace showed no significant progress two years later, Chloe and Carlo did more than merely accept their son's condition — they embraced it. They refused to give up on him.
They enrolled Chace in a special education school and continued his therapy and soon discovered that what Chace could not say using words, he could express through music. At 6 years old, and with no formal music lessons, Chace learned how to play the piano by merely listening to notes. Now, he has mastered 10 piano pieces, including Mozart's "Turkish March," Chopin's "Nocturne".
"Given the stigma of mental health, and how many people still think autism is an illness that needs to be ‘cured,’ I am hoping that we could give kids like Chace a chance to share any gifts that they have," says Chloe. "In our growing social consciousness, I want for Chace what every mother wants for her child: acceptance."
"When we first learned that our son Enzo has autism, my spouse and I cried together and found support and strength from each other. It helped me a lot to feel that I am not alone,” saysMario Medina, father to Lorenzo, who was diagnosed at two years old.
Enzo is nonverbal but at 3 years old began doing arts and crafts, with animals and nature as his favorite subjects. He has participated in several art exhibits where he was able to display and sell his artwork.
Their family also owns Lorenzo's Sanctuary, a mini-farm that sells organic fresh produce and by-products, with Enzo as their CIO — "Chief Inspiration Officer."
Now 17, Enzo continues to create beauty with his hands, either by tending to the plants in the farm or painting sceneries for his "Bayong art," which have gained a following here and abroad. Enzo and his family continue to inspire others and prove that life with a child with autism can be fulfilling and rewarding.
Lnard Antonio "L.A." Santos, 19-year-old recording artist
L.A. was four years old when he was diagnosed with first-stage autism and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
"Ang autism and ADHD ay life-long condition. You can't treat it. You just have to do something na makalimutan ng bata na may ganoon siya," his mother FloritatoldRated K in 2017, adding that for L.A., it is music which helps him calm down.
Never did they imagine that at 17 years old, L.A. would break through the local music scene, much less be chosen to open for Celine Dion in the multi-awarded diva's sold-out Manila concert in July 2018. With also a self-titled album under ABS-CBN's Star Records, L.A. is an inspiration for families struggling with autism and ADHD.
"Gusto ko sa part ko na maging inspiration sa mga tao. Kasi usually ang iba mag-gi-give up, parang di nila ginagawan ng paraan. Gusto ko maging image para sa kanila na lahat ay pwedeng mangyari," he said.