Yesterday was the final day of the conference and they saved the best for last (and not just because Autism Speaks was presenting). Dr. Peter Mundy spoke about one of the reasons that children with autism don’t spontaneously share joint attention may be because they find objects to be more interesting than the social world. Dr. Laura Schriebman discussed about how behavior is not random. When a child with autism acts out or tantrums, parents and therapists really need to determine what the antecedent was and how to remove or change it. No behavior occurs “for no reason” – there is always something that has triggered it, it’s just a matter of determining what it is. Dr. Nirit Bauminger spoke about social interaction among adolescents and ways to facilitate friendship. Her research found that individuals with autism can develop great friendships, and that friendships with their neurotypical peers can be very similar to typical peer friendships.
The last session of the day was Autism Speaks. Considering that it was the last session of a long three-day conference, we were surprised and overjoyed by the turnout for out talk. The room was packed, which told us that there was strong interest among the Filipino community about Autism Speaks and how we can help. The three of us – Andy, Michael and Dana – spoke about the Global Autism Public Health (GAPH) Initiative and our experiences around the world. We each explained a different part of the three-pronged process which aims to enhance research, services and awareness in the country through collaboration. The most important part of GAPH is community support – the families, teachers, therapists and doctors. Autism Speaks role is to act as a catalyst to help the community achieve lasting change for families coping with autism. We then concluded our talk by turning the microphone on the audience and posing the question, “what are the greatest needs of the Filipino autism community?” The response from the attendees was terrific and the development of a successful GAPH program looks very promising.
The closing ceremonies included a beautiful performance by Autism Angels – a trio of young women with autism from Autism Society of Philippines families. They sung beautifully. Their performance was followed by the niece of the Borromeos, our conference organizers, who sang an incredibly touching poem written by Charlie Borromeo for his grandson Julien. Julien was the inspiration for the development of the Autism Hearts Foundation, and the International Autism Conference would never have been possible without their leadership. We concluded the way we began with a hand print ceremony where all the speakers and dignitaries dipped their hands in paint to create a mural as a lasting testimony to the coming together for the cause of autism Philippines.
We just want to take this opportunity to again thank the Autism Hearts Foundation, the Autism Society of the Philippines, The First Gentleman’s Foundation, and the UC Davis MIND Institute for their instrumental roles in making the IAC a reality. This conference is a monumental achievement and Autism Speaks is honored to have been a co-sponsor and participating speakers. It has been an educational, touching, and truly unforgettable experience. We thank them for hosting us in their beautiful country and look forward to long-lasting partnerships and friendships.
By Dana Marnane, National Director Communications and Marketing and Michael Rosanoff, MPH, Assistant Director, Public Health and Scientific Review, Autism Speaks