Right from the moment Jason was diagnosed with autism, I knew and felt our world has gotten smaller. He didn’t socialize like neurotypicals and became automatically drawn to the digital world. Gaming was a way of not only “killing time” and getting some form of excitement; it became a replacement for the great outdoors and enjoying the rush of endorphins with sports. I probably didn’t pay much attention to Jason’s health until he became quite obese from a “seated lifestyle”. As for me, I conveniently rationalized that, him being autistic and getting a college degree was more than enough “stress”, why bother to deal with his fitness?
In the last decade of my life, I shuttled between running as an active lifestyle and paving the way for an adult Person with Autism (PWA) in the family. It helped a lot to get support from the Autism Society of the Philippines thus Jason started to have some work experience. In between work, he would regularly run/walk 30-45 minutes and checking his pace and distance, as I have taught him to use his Garmin GPS running watch.
Until THAT day.
Being chosen as one of the two pairs of PWA athlete-parent/trainer Philippine delegates to the Asia-Pacific Center for Disability – Third World Country Training Program (APCD-TCTP) on Disability-Inclusive Sports, was serendipitous but not without its quirks. We had hurdles in paving the way for a Mom to be making a long trip, or like Jason needing utmost assurance that the plane ride in the skies will be a smooth one. But I had set my sights on this. I dreamed of it, of being able to capitalize on my passion as a runner and my organizational skills as a race organizer. Suddenly it became almost crystal-clear to me why I had a trainable PWA in Jason and why I was drawn into a community where running was not just socialization but a symbol of an active and more fit lifestyle.
The APCD Building housed 28 delegates from 6 countries (Thailand, Malaysia, Myanmar, Lao PDR, Cambodia and Philippines) for 8 days of training. By the second day, one knew APCD is the almost-perfect facility with its wide meeting rooms and functional sleeping quarters. But it wasn’t the place that contributed to the homey atmosphere; it was the people around, from facilitators, organizers and participants.
I was probably the most vulnerable in the group because it was my first time to get this kind of exposure with high-functioning PWAs and PWDs. Instead of feeling odd, I deliberately wallowed into it, even if at times the language (from different Asean countries) got “lost in translation.” Not only did I feel my son and I being sincerely welcomed, there was something liberating about being in the disability zone… like it didn’t matter how many years of corporate experience I had, or that I had the facility of functioning as a neurotypical, yet I belonged. At the end of the program, the take home message was strikingly real: A community of kindred souls exists out there who cares about people like me and my son. A community we can proudly belong to.
These were the highlights of the APCD-TCTP staged July 1-10, 2018 in Bangkok which became our home for 10 days and Asian counterparts who became our second family with cherished moments.
Meeting such a diverse group for the first time was part of what made the program exciting and enjoyable. Eventually, we will have learned to apply both diversity and inclusion to make everyone BELONG.
Swimming can indeed be one of the sports PWAs may excel in, with proper guidance and training. In the clip below, Cavin Ong shows the physique and technique that his father Cayson and Coach Chloe can be proud of. Fortunately, for those who are not adept in swimming, the swimming instructors were on hand to make the rest of us feel less intimidated being submerged in water.
Biking was the other sport that put to a test the mettle of the PWA-athletes. I’m not sure we enjoyed the technical side of learning how to bike from the experts. But I’m sure we all enjoyed the field trip to Wachirabenchatat Park which had nearly a 5km stretch of bike lanes for the enthusiasts.
This weekend activity became more of a bonding session with the entire group as we all nestled together exploring the enclosed sanctuary offered by the Butterfly Garden and Insectarium. The batch picture below proves our common love for the outdoors.
With the APCD-TCTP also supported by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), Coach Yukinori Sawae and his team introduced the group to Unduokai games and KinBall. The beauty of Kinball is that the rules are simple (the object of the game is to keep the giant inflatable ball from the ground) and the equipment is safe (the giant Omnikin inflatable is outrageously light, thanks to Japanese technology).
At another session, the country participants developed adaptive games that were put together sequentially like an obstacle course. This was my favorite and most memorable part of the program because everybody, yes, every single one of us, participated and competed to the best that we could.
The final activity entailed presenting country reports and recommendation for back-home actions. The Philippine report focused on the need for more adaptve and inclusive activities and sports especially because growing PWAs require a handle to become more fit and healthy.
The closing ceremony was formalized with the group’s recommendation for the consideration of APCD and affiliate groups like TICA (Thailand International Cooperation Agency) and JICA in near-future endeavors for disability-inclusive sports.
The message of hope and helping was clear in the ways and words we had about each other. Words were not even spoken, we just felt it. We became more confident of our own skin and more determined to try new things. We became ONE BIG FAMILY.
And then, the one final time we came as a group to say, “No goodbyes!”
Needless to say, I am again a changed person. There was a girl from Myanmar who called me “Mommy” and I hugged her like my own before we parted ways. I realize that the only way to reunite with my TCTP-family was to stay connected (online) and start formulating actionable plans in my own backyard.
The memories will always remind me to begin. NOW.
I had the extreme pleasure of spending quality time with Jo Palomares and her son Macky because of this trip. Josephine Palomares is the president of the Autism Society of the Philippines (ASP) – Diliman Chapter and she co-cooperator of the Kaakibat ng ASP multi-purpose cooperative that currently conducts running clinics for PWAs.
Here, in her words and account, is an amazing woman out to change the world of PWAs:
PHILIPPINES ATTENDS THE Third Country Training Program on Inclusive Development through Disability Inclusive Sports (TCTP ID-DIS)
The Third Country Training Program on Inclusive Development through Disability Inclusive Sports (TCTP ID-DIS) is a training program to build capacities of potential athletes with autism within ASEAN towards participation in any national/international competitions of persons with autism (PWA), specifically towards the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and the Paralympic Games. Another objective is to outline the activities of the Disability-Inclusive Sports (DIS) for Tomorrow in the context of the ASEAN countries. This program is being conducted by both the governments of Thailand (Thailand International Cooperation Agency) and Japan (Japan International Cooperation Agency).
This Training Program was started in 2017 with the Asia Pacific Center on Disability (APCD) as the implementing institution. The TCTP-ID-DIS ran for 10 days from July 1-10, 2018. The participants for this year came from six countries namely Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines and Thailand. There were a total of 27 participants that included PWA, their parents, and their mentors/coaches. This year’s sports included swimming, cycling and kin-ball.
The Philippine delegation nominated by Autism Society Philippines (ASP) were Jason Cando, 25y/o with his mom Lizabeth Ocampo; and Marcus Palomares, 19y/o with his mom Josephine Palomares. Jason and Macky were taught swimming techniques by Mr. Pantong (and his colleagues from Thai National swimming team); and cycling safety rules from volunteers of Thailand Walking and Cycling Institute. Undo-kai sports was also introduced with ‘kin-ball’ game as the highlight by the Japanese Physical Education (PE) professors from University of Tsukuba, Japan.
The Training Program also became a forum where participants not only share their country’s autism situation but also recommend for the adoption of Disability Inclusive Sports among others. For Jason and Macky it was 10 memorable days where they got to meet new friends from their ASEAN neighbors.
Acknowledgement and Gratitude.
Thank you, Autism Society of the Philippines, president Mona Veluz for the perfect opportunity to serve our community. My life’s work will begin very soon, now that you have opened my eyes and ears!
Thank you, my Malaysian family (Eric, Chloe, Cayson, Max, Cavin, Suyiu and mom) you guys ROCK from start to finish. Learning about Care2Run and its mandate to mentor and develop PWA-athletes raised the bar on what I should be doing myself as a runner.
Thank you, APCD family (Jep, Nunu, Flora, Lynette, Mai) for making us feel we can accomplish almost anything during those 10 wonderful days. Such teamwork and competence!
And lastly, thank you, my son Jason. Life gave us this wonderful experience and you, despite everything, took this journey with me and made me whole again.
I am immensely blessed.