It was June 1993, I was 20 years old when I officially reported for work in a special school in Quezon City. I requested for a month-long rest after graduating in UP Manila so I can enjoy my summer vacation with my family in Albay. The internship program was a roller coaster ride for me so I thought one month would be enough to recharge. It was not too long to forget the knowledge and skills I gained from the internship year and not too short for me to still feel exhausted.
A week before my first day, my mom and I looked for a place for me to stay in Katipunan. Since I will be working full-time in Cupertino Center for Special Children, she advised that I might as well live in Katipunan so it will just take 5-10 minutes for me to travel to work. I was under a return service program because I was a scholar of the Macapagals aside from receiving a scholarship from the University through the Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance Program (STFAP). I would always ask my parents if I can convert their budget for my tuition fees to my personal savings but of course, they would just smile and give me a hug.
It was in Cupertino where I came across Mistral’s “Su Nombre es Hoy” (His Name is Today). It was written at the back of the special school’s packet for parents. Knowing Cupertino’s mission and vision for children with special needs, I knew I was in the right place. Our team was composed of mostly special educators, occupational therapists, speech and language pathologists and psychologists. We were trained by varied institutions like UP, Ateneo, UST and Miriam. It was such a joy to work with people who want to give the best service possible. The child was at the core of our endeavors. I learned a lot from colleagues and the children of Cupertino. It was such a happy place for me that I stayed for seven years.
Much of what Trails Center is today is because of the things that I learned in Cupertino. Our programs were heavy on parent participation. The importance of the parents’ involvement in their children’s education and therapy is consistent with evidence-based practice. Researchers agree that caregiver participation and higher levels of engagement of parents in their child’s therapeutic setting lead to better outcomes (Doss, 2016).
Guided by Mistral’s words, “Many of the things we need can wait. The child cannot”, Trails specialized in Early Intervention. We created programs for children as young as 2 years and 6 months. Most of the running group programs for children with delays are provided once to twice a week. Parents are given feedback at the end of the session as well as suggestions on following through at home. We believe that parents are their children’s best therapists and educators. That is why I pray for the parents who have initially inquired about intervention because their children were diagnosed with a developmental disability but they opt to wait and hope for their child’s skills to get better. Acceptance of what your child can and cannot do is the key to better outcomes in terms of intervention. Sadly, there are a lot of people who still think that developmental disability is like a communicable disease, “mahahawa ka sa classmate mong may Autism”. Others don’t want their kids to be labeled or associated with children having disabilities. In the age of Inclusive Education, educators and therapists have so much more to do.
To parents who have children undergoing therapy, I hope these reminders will help you.
BE GUIDED. Your therapists received specialized education and training to do the things they are supposed to do but as parents, you spend the most time with your child. Ask your therapist for ways on how you can integrate specific goals into your daily interaction with your child. Your therapist can formulate a therapy plan but you have to help your therapist in carrying them out.
PATIENCE IS KEY. Therapists cannot “fix” your child overnight. All the problems and concerns will not disappear with a magical therapy wand. Journey with your child in unlocking his potential. A positive attitude towards therapy and possible outcomes help in achieving goals for your child.
CHECKLIST. Make a checklist or schedule of the things that your therapist has suggested to include in your child’s daily routine. For children with motor delays, specific exercises may be given. For children with speech delay, increasing opportunities for interaction with other children may be recommended.
COMMUNICATE PRIORITIES. Your therapist will surely appreciate your input regarding your family’s priorities in terms of expectations. I have had a father come up to me and say that he wants his daughter to learn a sense of privacy before teaching her the other concepts in social language. Since there are non-relatives staying in the house, he wants her preteen daughter to learn the importance of privacy. Together with the parents, I came up with a program.
COMPARE NOTES. One feature of a mastered skill is generalization. We can say that the child has mastered a particular skill when it is exhibited in varied contexts. It is important to provide feedback if the skills you were able to observe at home are also exhibited in school and in other non-structured contexts. This is our rationale for school and home visits because we may have children who are highly verbal in the clinical setting but they do not recite or talk in front of his class.
The bottom line is, parents are the first advocates of their children. If we want children to advocate for themselves, parents have to pave the way.