He laughed heartily when I clicked the lock on the doorknob. Clapping his hands and jumping with glee, he asked me to do it again. You can’t say no to a request like this, especially if it comes from a child who has autism.
I did as requested for several times more. At some point I felt awkward, seeing that we have started to get the attention of the other people in the room. Admittedly, I also felt weary of the whole exercise, thinking that this might go on forever. But I just didn’t have the heart to stop and possibly break this special boy’s heart.
Before I had the privilege of being part of this young boy’s life, I was one of those who do not know how to handle situations that involve special people. In fact, if I had a choice, I would rather be somewhere else than be in the same room with someone who is differently abled.
Then came Jeremy, a boy with down syndrome, and Troy, the boy with autism. These two boys taught me one of the most valuable lessons I could ever learn: that love of family makes everything possible.
When I first met Jeremy, I had a hard time trying to conduct myself around his family. I was very conscious of my actions and what I had to say — if I need to say anything at all. I was afraid that I might hurt feelings or cause Jeremy to have a tantrum. But Jeremy’s family made it easier for me to enter their circle of love and understanding. His parents Elmer and Agnes, siblings Lian and Mei Mei, uncles, aunties, and cousins never made me feel that I had to adjust anything whenever Jeremy’s around. Of course we still have to be aware that he is different from the rest of us because of his physiological makeup; just as we are aware that kids can be unruly, or that grandparents can be stubborn.
So when I got the invitation to join this year’s Happy Walk organized by the Down Syndrome Association of the Philippines (DSAPI), I felt I can’t let this one pass. At the venue — the Skydome in SM North EDSA — I saw and felt the energy of the participants who were singing and dancing. I found out later that this was a special year for them since this would be DSAPI’s last celebration at SM North. SM Cares, the CSR arm of the mall giant, is moving the venue to SM Mall of Asia’s SMX starting next year — a much bigger venue for an event that has been growing in attendance over the years. This year alone is said to have gathered the biggest number of attendees, breaching the 1,000 mark.
I have yet to see Troy in a big event as DSAPI’s Happy Walk. Troy is living with his family in Singapore, making it improbable for me to spend quality time with him. Facebook updates from his parents are the closest we could get on his progress. Reading news about how he is improving with his interaction with his siblings and his classmates never fail to put a smile across my face. In fact, the latest post about a comment he made to a classmate made me laugh. He told a girl from his class that she’s not cute whenever she cries. A backhanded compliment, said one of the commenters. An adorable one, I must say.
Children like Jeremy and Troy are children of yesterday — they take their time growing up and learn things a little slower than we do because that’s how they were born. That’s how God created them. And that’s how we will love them.