This year, we saw how accepting and understanding society is slowly becoming when it comes to kids with special needs. We've witnessed a beauty pageant that celebrates their unique talents. Known global fashion brands are finally considering children with special needs among their models. All these efforts send the message that kids children with special needs need not be sidelined.
Typically-developing kids should also be taught early on that kids with special-needs are really just like them -- young little ones who want to play, enjoy, and learn. To help explain the concept to young kids, books and stories help tremendously. One that was written recently about the subject is I Flap When I'm Happy, the story of a boy with autism. Smartparenting.com.ph had the chance to talk to Angelina Onrubia, author, and an advocate of acceptance and understanding of persons with autism.
Before moving to Canada late last year, Onrubia started Best Buddies Philippines, a non-profit organization founded by Anthony Kennedy-Shriver in the U.S. The organization aims to put up a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendship, leadership development, and employment for persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She saw the need to send messages of inclusion in the country. "Kids with special needs are often segregated, especially in the Philippines. Kids with special needs are kept in separate 'special' schools. Some are still kept at home. There are very few opportunities for kids with special needs and kids without special needs to interact," explains Onrubia through e-mail.
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That's why the dermatologist-turned-special-needs advocate decided to write the book, which was also inspired by her nephew Tom. "Tom has autism. He's non-verbal, yet he has the sweetest smile in the world," she said. The loving tita, who is also a mom to her 13-year-old son Lorenzo, wants Tom to grow up in a world that is more accepting and understanding of kids with special needs. "I want others to understand that even if people with autism exhibit behavior that is considered 'different', they are just like you and me," Onrubia explained.
In the children's book, Onrubia makes use of the act of flapping one's hands to explain in a very simple, age-appropriate way the reason behind this 'weird' behavior among kids with autism. The book, which was illustrated by teacher and graphic designer Lizza Y. Gutierrez, also comes with a question-and-answer page with developmental pediatrician Dr. Michiko Baloca to help parents and teachers facilitate a discussion about autism with children.
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"My son is two years older than my nephew, Tom. They grew up together and so we didn't really need to have a formal discussion on autism. Our son simply loves and accepts Tom for who he is," Onrubia shares. “That's the beauty of inclusion. When kids are exposed to kids with special needs at an early age, they grow up naturally more accepting and more open to differences,” she emphasizes.
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It was only recently that she and son Lorenzo talked about politically-correct words for kids with special needs. "A lot of his classmates in Canada use the R-word, and we've had discussions on why he shouldn't use that word and why it's hurtful to people with disabilities," Onrubia says.
The first-time children's author, through her book, aims to share her vision of a Philippines where kids with special needs go to the same school as typically-abled kids -- the latter capable of being understanding, accepting and respectful of kids and persons with special needs, which she says is beneficial for all.
"Studies have shown that it is beneficial for both those with and without disabilities. I believe that early on, parents play such an important role in modeling openness and acceptance," Onrubia stresses. It’s also one way of showing support for parents of kids with special needs. They are parents like any other, and want the best for their kids.