Sunday, February 28, 2010

Slowly but surely

Nothing like a musical TV series to get me back to my feet.

For the past month, I have been singing to mostly Glee songs at work, at home, and pretty much wherever I go even if it meant humming the tunes in my head.

I have listened to all the songs of the series even before I watched the show episodes and I really fell in love with the Glee renditions of music either new or classic. They are fantastic! I have always loved musicals. The way the songs were creatively personalized into the plot and how each song suits each character gives Glee its edge. Music has a very strong staying power. I believe singing is a very good form of self-expression. :)

As a TV series, though, there's much to be said about Glee especially when it comes to content. In a way, the show is reflecting a lot of the sad reality that is happening in schools and homes like pre-marital sex, teenage pregnancies, marital conflicts and other moral and social issues. However, just because these things are happening doesn't mean we have to settle comfortably with that reality. The media has a way of 'romancing' the wrong things and it ends up being 'acceptable', even influential, to a lot of very receptive individuals, especially the younger generation.

Nevertheless, Glee also has a lot of positive messages like fostering camaraderie among a group of persons with very different backgrounds/personalities, standing strong in times of adversity, being passionate about what you do and what you like, accepting responsibilities and consequences for both good and bad decisions and so on.

Mr. Schuester, the Glee club moderator gave the group a new name, New Directions, which says a lot of the vision that he has for the club. Watching the series made me think of how many of the best and worst times of my life happened while I was a student. Though it wasn't always a bed of roses, being in school was something I can't begin to imagine not going through.

Now that I've been 'out of the campus' for two years now, it has been a real struggle for me to try and go back. Now that I'm working full time, I find it difficult to enroll for further studies. It just seems too much to venture into two huge things at the same time. Difficult, I know, but not impossible. The fear just gets to me too quickly. So, I realized that the sooner I let go of that fear, the better.

Vincent van Gogh once said: "What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?" He's right. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. It's time to step out of the box.

With glee, I finally got the song in my heart back.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Much love

It feels so amazingly wonderful to be loved.

I can give you a million reasons why I love kids.
This is just one of them. :)

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Condura Run for the Dolphins 2010

After only one hour of sleep (It's a long story!), my friend and co-teacher, Ammy, and I got ready for our first race of the year: the Condura Run for the Dolphins 2010.

We woke up almost unwillingly when our alarm clocks shattered the silence at the unholy hour of 4:00 AM. On our way to Global City, we passed by a runner who was steadily moving along the highway. Wow. The guy made running look as easy as simply breathing. Without much preparation for the run except for a few jogging hours in the past weeks and walking in between daily commutes, we prayed to God that we'll be able to make it through our own races.

When Ammy and I arrived at the assembly area, we were amazed by the large number of people already gathered there. The public address system boomed to life the moment we stepped off the taxi. "Five minutes to gunshot for the ten kilometer race!" We quickened our pace and discussed on how we were to meet each other after completing our runs. Ammy was running 3K; I was going for 10K. While we hurried through the crowd, we bumped into our HR officer from the center where we work. She was also running 3K with her friends. I greeted them but had to go right away because it was almost time for the 10K race to begin.

They all wished me well before I weaved through the throng of people to stand somewhere near the starting line. As the 60-second countdown began, fireworks shot up into the black sky, which fired up the enthusiastic runners who couldn't seem to calm their nerves and tense muscles any longer.

Bang! It was time to go!

It is hard to describe what went on in my mind as I steadily ran the first five kilometers and half ran, half walked the last five. At first I was like, "Oh yeah! I can do this!" and then next I was, "What have I gotten myself into? Why did I sign up for 10K? I should have ran for just 5K." Although my head was somewhat throbbing because of lack of sleep before I even reached the halfway mark, I silently encouraged myself that I can finish this race.

I stopped several times for water break and walked when I needed to especially during the last five kilometers of the run. By now I knew well enough to listen to my body.

The part I didn't like the most about the race though was seeing plastic cups strewn all over the road near the water stations. I mean, does it cost more effort to drink water and put the cup back on the table where it belongs than to gulp water and splash the remaining contents of the cup before throwing it haphazardly on the ground? Seriously. It was contradicting to think that people would run for the dolphins, yet throw plastic cups on a whim. Yes, volunteers and organizers would pick up the trash when the event is over and maybe everyone's just trying to maintain their pace... but still. Bring your own water containers and tie them around your waist next time or hold the plastic cup until you run past a garbage bin or something.

Anyway, a more positive moment replaced the disappointment I felt with the water incident. The best memory I have of the 10K race was when I fell into step beside a man who was pushing a younger man on a three-wheel contraption that worked like a modified wheelchair. Part of our conversation went something like this:

Me: "Hi! Are you running with your friend?"

Man: "Hi! No, I'm running with my son."

Me: "How old is he?"

Man: "18."

Me: "Wow! It's great that you run with him. Congratulations in joining the race together."

Man: "Thank you! Congratulations to you, too."

Me: "Well, I probably shouldn't talk to much so we can conserve our energy. See you later."

Man: (laughs) "Okay, see you later."

Me: "See you at the finish line."

As he went ahead with his son, I noticed they wore the same white shirt that bore the words "Never Run Alone" at the back in red letters.

At that moment, I was inspired like I was never inspired before. I realized I was not running alone either. Someone else was running with me. God was running with me, cheering me on and helping me move forward when I needed a little push.

My unofficial time for the ten kilometer run is 1 hour, 15 minutes and 30 seconds.

I was the 1236th runner to reach the finish line out of 2110. Ammy also finished her race with flying colors. Praise the Lord! :) I am tremendously happy with the race results! It was a big personal achievement. (I mentioned that the time is unofficial because the marshals were not able to punch in our stubs right away. There was a five minute delay more or less because we had to wait in line after reaching the finish.)

When I ran for the five kilometer category in Race and Shine in 2009, I clocked in at 43 minutes and 14 seconds. This record time became my baseline time for the Condura Run. I figured that if I double the time of my 5K finish, that will be 1:26:28 - the time I need to beat for the 10K stretch... and beat the time I did.

But more than setting a new time record for myself, this year's Condura Run for the Dolphins proved to be an even better experience of discovering the many blessings of God.

Friday, February 5, 2010

International Autism Conference

"While we try to teach our children all about life,
our children teach us what life is all about."
- Angela Schwindt

The first international conference for autism held in the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC), Manila, Philippines from February 3-5, 2010 was a resounding success that shattered the silence surrounding autism. It was such an honor to be part of the three-day series of plenaries and symposia by respected experts collaborating to give further light to the mystery of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).

The conference itself [as a whole] was very systematic and well planned for. The organizing committee's truly Pinoy approach was inspiring: name tags were placed in woven mat holders, staff members wore the IAC black t-shirt with a malong to match, and the conference kit was a canvas bag with the IAC insignia. The ushers and usherettes, hands down, were one of the most hospitable and pleasant people I have ever encountered. Furthermore, it was heart-warming to see the guest speakers wearing the Barong Tagalog (for the men) and the Kimona (for the women) on opening day.

The opening ceremony of the International Autism Conference (IAC) was graced by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and the First Gentleman, Attorney Jose Miguel Arroyo, who presented an overall scenario of the current state of autism awareness efforts and diagnosis-intervention assistance being provided in the Philippines.

I especially appreciated the multidisciplinary perspective on autism that the conference provided for its participants. In spite of the various fields of expertise of each keynote speaker, all of them emphasized the importance of explaining and understanding autism holistically. It was very evident in how each leading expert referred to the other presenting lecturers' works or researches. Everyone is part of the solution.

As I was sitting on one of the more comfortable chairs at the upper level of the summit hall, for a moment, I looked back at my college days. I had no idea that I will find myself immersed in the world of autism as a teacher/therapist a year ago.

In 2004, the Psychology program that I enrolled in generally introduced me to three big fields namely Industrial, Educational and Clinical Psychology, which gave me a good overview of how flexible Psychology is as a field of study. After graduation, I took a year off to take a breather from my workaholic lifestyle and to reset priorities and set new goals. However, until now, I am still quite unsure which particular field I want to specialize in although I have pretty much put the Industrial field at the bottom of my list. I originally envisioned myself becoming a medical doctor but certain paths have led me to where I am now. I know doors of opportunities are still open, including the one for medical school, but I must go through the door to find out what lies ahead before they close.

IAC plenary sessions included the following:

  • History, Screening, Assessment, and Diagnosis
  • Medical and Co-morbid features of Autism
  • Early Identification of Autism
  • Diagnosis and Evidence-based Treatment of Adolescents and Adults with Autism
  • The Genetics of Autism
  • The Neurobiology of Autism
  • The Epidemiology of ASIAN Autism
  • Social and Neurocognitive Development in Autism
  • Language of Autism
  • Behavioral Management of Autism Across Settings
  • Social Skills Training in Autism
  • Interactive Discussion with Autism Speaks
Listening to the lecturers present data and research findings on these various topics gave me a renewed enthusiasm for subjects I found joy in studying like Neuroanatomy, Abnormal Psychology, Clinical Psychology, Human Exceptionality, and Experimental Psychology. In many ways, for me personally, the conference has helped me find a definite sense of direction again.

In my mind, I became sure that where I am is where I need and want to be. We go where we are needed the most.

On the very same stage where different important people stood to deliver their speeches during the first day of the conference, I had the once-in-a-lifetime chance to give the Address of Petition speech in behalf of the UST College of Science graduating batch of 2008. I faced parents, members of the UST administration, and faculty members of the College of Science as well. As I remember the moment, I know God has a purpose why things happened the way they did and why things are happening the way they are. With God's help, I believe I will succeed in whatever I wish to pursue. Nobody said the way to making a difference would be easy but it is not impossible.

"We cannot do great things on this Earth, only small things with great love."
- Mother Teresa

As a novice professional in the field of autism, I signed up for certain symposia that will help me establish a clearer foundation with regards to my work as a teacher/therapist in early intervention. I attended the symposium on "Designing and Carrying Out Early Intervention for 0-4 year olds" by Dr. Laura Schreibman and Dr. Sally Rogers and "Positive Behavior Management of School Age Children with ASD in the Classroom" by Dr. Laura Schreibman, which were truly informative lectures that offered me a lot of insights on how to deal with very young children with special needs.

My co-teachers from work and I approached Dr. Schreibman during one of the breaks and she was simply a delight to talk to. She said she wanted to visit the Philippines again and that she finds the country beautiful. :)

I also participated in the symposium on "Play and Imagination in Children with Autism: Guiding Social Experiences with Peers" by Dr. Pamela Wolfberg, one of the most passionate speakers in the conference. Her talk was very enlightening; it was a great reminder of the universal truth that children with autism are first and foremost CHILDREN. They need be cared for and loved just like any other child and that they also learn about world through play the way all of us did when we were kids.

For the culmination of the International Autism Conference plenary sessions, Mr. Michael Rosanoff, together with Dr. Andy Shih and Ms. Dana Marnane, presented the Global Autism Public Health Initiative. The interactive discussion was facilitated by the Chairman Emeritus of the Autism Society of the Philippines (ASP), Dang Koe. It was a wonderful venue where pressing concerns regarding autism in the Philippines were brought out in the open.

"Autism Speaks is the world’s largest autism science and advocacy organization. Its mission is to fund research into the causes, prevention, treatments and a cure for autism; increase awareness of autism spectrum disorders; and advocate for the needs of individuals with autism and their families. Officially designated a non-governmental organization (NGO) associated with the United Nations Department of Public Information (DPI), the first and only such organization devoted to autism, Autism Speaks is able to reach a global audience in its efforts to promote the dignity, equal rights, social progress and better standards of life for individuals with autism. In 2008, Autism Speaks launched the Global Autism Public Health Initiative (GAPH), an ambitious international advocacy effort designed to help countries around the world: (1) enhance public and professional awareness of autism; (2) facilitate research, including research that informs public health policy (e.g. autism prevalence); and (3) build capacity for autism services, especially in early detection and intervention. Through GAPH, Autism Speaks has already established partnerships with local governments, professionals, and parents in Central and South America, the Middle East, Eastern and Western Europe, South Asia, Africa, and the Pacific Rim. The International Autism Conference (IAC) will serve as the launching pad for GAPH-Philippines, calling attention to the unmet needs of the Filipino autism community and developing a strategic, evidence-based approach to improving the lives of all those affected by autism in the country."

I am truly honored to have been a participant in the International Autism Conference. It was an experience I'll always remember. Making myself more equipped in order to help children with autism reach their highest potentials is one way I can give back. Letting the world know that we can all be part of a solution is one way I can pay it forward.


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