Ian: DISCLAIMER: I am still having suspicions that I am autistic based on resonations and self-assessment resources. The mental health system in the Philippines is still in its early developmental stages as getting help from a mental health professional for assessment and therapy is still difficult and expensive.
- I can only speak for my own (suspected) autism, as we all know no two autistics are the same. Having said that, I have consulted some autistic adults I have become acquainted with since I shared a video about neurodiversity in the Philippines and my personal observations about autism back in 2022. - To be clear, autistic Filipino adults are struggling to be heard due to parents of autistic children dominating the discussion about autism.
- I might be the least-experienced person in the conversation since I do not have the professional or academic experience to even be in this discussion. (Since I was invited, I have had bouts of impostor syndrome.)
Carole Jean: What does accessibility mean to you?
Ian: For me, I would like to share what accessibility means to me by looking at the root term “access”. If someone has access to something, it means that person is eligible to reach or enter it.
In the context of autism, accessibility means accommodation. Autistics should be accommodated for the things that would help them do what they would love to do while being unapologetically themselves (that is, without having to mask).
Carole Jean: What is your big "why" for advocating in education?
Ian: Before answering that, allow me to share the state of education here in the Philippines (and if ever my own people read/listen/watch this stuff, parang awa n’yo na (for goodness’s sake), please keep your politics to yourselves since I’m only focusing on my own perspective about autism and education.):
According to UNICEF, three out of four Filipinos complete basic education. This means, a high number of Filipino children miss out on the opportunities to learn, with only half of toddlers aged three and four enrolled in daycare. This is coupled with the lack of investment from both the public and private sectors on education.
The Philippine Government also reports the alarming deterioration of the Philippine education system, especially in its quality of learning. As a result of the lack of investment previously mentioned, Vice President Sara Duterte (who also handles the Philippine Education portfolio – the Department of Education) pointed out that the lack of school infrastructure and resources to support the ideal teaching process are “the most pressing issue[s] pounding the Philippine basic education [system].”
As for higher education, there is also a crisis regarding the quality of faculty members in such institutions. Filipino colleges and universities, perhaps by tradition or norm, favor vertical alignment as a basis for promotion and tenure over a lateral one. In layman’s terms, If you would like to teach in college because you have a master’s degree, but that master’s degree is not aligned to your bachelor’s (because you either don’t like it in the first place for a number of reasons or fell out of love for it after discovering you’re not really fit for it), you would be sidelined and asked to take another master’s degree aligned to one’s bachelor’s in order to be tenured. (By the way, this resonates with the case of my own partner, who herself has been an educator for almost a decade now.)
Worse still from the trend of discouraging lateral alignment is the trend of rejecting willing and able educators who may have not been given the chance to earn a master’s degree (mainly for financial reasons) but are willing to do so. I am one of them, since I have taught general education courses for a state university for two semesters in a distance learning capacity (thanks or no thanks to CoViD-19). Due to circumstances that are unfortunate and beyond my control, I was forced to let go of that teaching opportunity just because I live nearer to Manila than to Batangas City, where the university was located. (The location is around 100+kms south of Manila, and transportation from point A to point B in this country is a hellish experience.)
In a nutshell, the Filipino education system is very much complicated on all levels. What makes it worse is that many indigenous and non-typical Filipinos (for the lack of a better term) are the ones who are worse off.
Regarding autism, parents of autistic children, most of whom neurotypicals who are struggling to accept their child’s autism (no thanks to poor autistic representation in Philippine media and the dog-eat-dog nature of Filipino society – we call it “panlalamang” or “one-upping”) saturate the conversations, leaving out autistic adults, and worse, infantilising (i.e. baby-talking) and patronizing (i.e. “inspiration porn”) them.
Given these contexts, my big “why” revolves around the reform of the education system in the Philippines and the way it is seen by society. In the context of autism, make it comprehensive and inclusive that autistics would be able to get the same opportunities in education and beyond (alongside accommodations tailored specifically for them) without isolating them just because they’re autistic.
Carole Jean: What has been the biggest accessibility challenge you have faced in your own education in the past?
Ian: As most autistic children, or perhaps kids who were labeled the “odd one out”, I have been bullied. Back in the early 2000s, the concept of children’s and teenager’s mental health was small or non-existent in my country. Guidance counselors, if there are any, have multiple roles from within the school, just like in the case of the school I attended. Back then, guidance counselors had little to no idea about neurodiversity apart from the profound or disclosed cases.
To be fair, though, I had multiple talents I can hone in extracurricular activities aside from the mainstream sports (basketball for boys, volleyball for girls). In fact, in 2008 to 2009, I was the unofficial team captain of my school’s chess team because I was the only high school senior in it, and my coach was a history teacher. (Context: prior to the current K-12 programme, high school in the Philippines ended in Grade 10.) Perhaps, these were the masks I got to wear growing up.
However, it does not erase the fact that I left that school for college without knowing how my brain works, so the doubts, fears, and insecurities I had lingered up until college, and it exacerbated when I started work.
Carole Jean: What are your best tips or insights into creating more accessibility from the educator or educational organization side?
Ian: Given the previously-mentioned contexts, I join several educators and education experts in my country to call the Philippine Commission on Higher Education and the Department of Education to reform the whole system altogether, specifically to consolidate the work of the two entities and that of the country’s technical and vocational education administration to make the Philippine education system comprehensive, inclusive, and fluid for at least non-STEM and non-medical programmes. In an era where cross-pollination of disciplines result in the furthering of academic development, it is high time that our education system be reformed, not only to produce better students, scholars, researchers, and professionals, but also to include neurodiversity in the process of doing so.
With that said, the thing that I can share to create more accessibility for neurodivergent students in general, especially autistics who may have been masking because the programme they want is unreachable at the moment, is for educators to make lessons more interesting and easy-to-follow.
Carole Jean: What tips or best practices would you like to share to help aid other ND students?
Ian: Having taught for at least two semesters, I have encountered at least one person who I notice is different from his classmates (he’s not autistic, but perhaps has general neurodivergent traits). His interest/hyperfixation in history, specifically infodumping the Napoleonic Wars, was a clue to me that he only took the programme he is into because the uni has no programmes in history and is, currently, focused on STEM after being designated the national engineering university of our country recently. I am not sure if my colleagues have the same observations, but the fact that he was fascinated with my teaching style (since I taught history and humanities there) made me realize that some students just wanted to get over with their bachelor’s degree and will do everything in their power and (given their limited resources) talents to excel outside what they studied and perhaps incorporate it. You see, the students I handled were scholars who are very much struggling financially, with some of them having to juggle school and work
As for advice for neurodivergent students, all I can share is for you to try looking for your own niche in the programme you’re in. It’s easier said than done, but as someone who has a bachelor’s degree in Communication Arts but has hyperfixations and special interests in history, defense hardware and strategies, touring historical sites, geopolitics, and Catholic theology and liturgy (the order of interest varies for all of them), work upon the things in your studies or degrees that interest you the most (for me, it’s video and audio production, news media monitoring, and perhaps, basic journalism) and try to find a connection between that and your hyperfixations and special interests.
(And in speaking of Catholic theology and liturgy, I would like to give a huge shoutout to Fr. Matthew Schneider, LC, aka Autistic Priest, for his witness to our common faith, his efforts to bring the topic of neurodiversity in the Catholic Church, and for his book “God Loves the Autistic Mind”. I can only hope that his book will be distributed in the Philippines soon, given that a majority of people here are Catholics.)
Carole Jean: What is the most important point you'd like to share around accessibility in Education?
Ian: Perhaps, what I can contribute to this discussion is that everyone should not only be aware that autistic students exist, especially those who are masking for a variety of reasons, but should also take action by accepting them as they are, appreciating their efforts to learn, accommodating them if they need help about anything and everything without spoon-feeding them (especially the older students), and advocating for them without patronizing or infantilising them.
Awareness, Acceptance, Appreciation, Accommodation, and Advocacy. These are the five “A”s everyone should do in dealing with autism and autistics. In the end, I would like to share that all of us should remember that autistics and other neurodivergent people just have a different wiring of their brains; and aside from that, they are just like the rest of humanity.
About the Amazing Ian Joseph Rinon and Where to Connect
Ian Joseph Riñon is an independent alternative media practitioner based in the Philippines. He graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Communication Arts from the University of Santo Tomas in 2013, and has since had experiences in the corporate, freelance, and academic worlds.
His advocacy for neurodivergent Filipino individuals was sparked when he was told by his mother in 2021 that he displayed mild signs of autism and/or ADHD during his childhood, and has surfaced in his recent experiences and in his interest in mental health in the Filipino context.
Ian has since produced several videos about autism, neurodiversity, and mental health (among other things) on his YouTube channel "Intrepid Ian Riñon".
Ian Joseph Rinon: Education
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No one seems to ‘get it’. Friends and family think you just need to push through or "self-care" more. Internally, so many people in late identified life (me included) feel broken, ashamed or like they are failing or have never reached their full potential, when all along they've had a brain and sensory system that is different from the masses. It can take a lot of strength to keep going.
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