INSPIRING: Fresh graduate with autism shares college journey

One’s disability is not a hindrance towards achieving goals and dreams. Other than withstanding academic struggles in getting a college degree, Christine Cipriano, who was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) at four years old, did not use her situation as a setback to finishing school.

According to the National Autistic Society, autism is deemed a “lifelong, developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with an relates to other people, and how they experience the world around them.” Autism is, sadly, a fast-growing developmental disability and could be detected as early as 18 months, according to Autism Pinoy. Thankfully, we have non-profit organizations who are also dedicated to persons with autism spectrum disorder. As members of the society, we must also do our part in helping them become the best version of themselves.

Cipriano, who recently finished BFA Visual Arts and Design, shares to WHEN IN MANILA how her journey with ASD started when she was a young girl. Travel time for her occupational therapy sessions was physically exhausting, but she and her family were determined nonetheless.

I used to go to an occupational therapy session and there was only 1 OT in whole region six. We had to travel from Kalibo to Iloilo when I was 4. It took us 8 hours to and from and often we would have to spend the night at a hotel. So the costs build up in time. Financially, mahal talaga. I attended regular class setting in the morning and SpEd class in the afternoon from pre-school to high school.

She shared that she also experienced discrimination because of her ‘condition’ when applying to colleges. She was admitted to St. Scholastica’s College in Taft Avenue, Manila. Adjusting from the province to city life was not easy, but Cipriano wanted to step out of her comfort zone.

I wanted to study in Manila just like my ate. I want to learn how to be free and independent. I wanted to experience how it was living away from my parents. To commute, to go to places without companions. One time tumakas ako sa bahay, wanting to do just that. My sister caught me and I got grounded. That was the last time I tried.

Like everybody who is graduating from high school, you have your dream school. I took the entrance exam and passed. However, I was denied because of my ‘condition’. It was hard for me to accept that this kind of discrimination happened to me.

In the province, it’s laid more back. Everybody practically knows each other. Like any ordinary freshman, I missed the comforts of home. Mahirap mag adjust sa city, you need to be cautious with your things and you have to be alert.

Cipriano at one of her art classes in St. Scho. Photo by Juan Carlo Lim Maala

Photo from Max Cruz

Like many college students, the road wasn’t easy in getting a degree. Cipriano recalls the number of plates and deadlines she had to accomplish, and how sometimes her workload can affect her.

Fine arts wasn’t my first choice. Like what I mentioned, I was supposed to study at my dream college but was denied because of my ‘condition’. It was devastating but Fine Arts was my second choice – I love to draw, sketch and paint.

Because it is art, hindi pwede na madaliin para hindi macompromise yung work mo. (You can’t rush it so that your work doesn’t get compromised.) There is the art critique, ‘yan kung saan yung classmates mismo mag cricriticize sa plates mo (this is where your classmates criticize your plates) It hits your ego, hard. Kung nagustuhan nila ok pag hindi, malaki possibility uuwi ka ng bahay ng pagod and iiyak ka na lang (If they liked it, okay. but if not, there’s a possibility I go home tired and you’ll just cry it out.).

There are only 7 students for visual arts and design graduating this year. They accepted me, they welcomed me. Like in my Facebook post, there would be times that it just gets overwhelming, with plates, assignments and thesis. It was hard processing all these emotions all at once and napapaiyak na lang ako (it makes me want to cry) and I panic. I really appreciate that my friends and classmates from St. Scholastica try to comfort me when that happens.

Photo from Christine Cipriano

My parents surprised me at my thesis exhibit – I thought they couldn’t come, but they did!” 

Cipriano with her sisters. Photo from Christine Cipriano.


Cipriano
has her moments that she’d question herself “why” – why autism, why her, why she had to endure such. Despite her trials, Cipriano holds on to people that matter the most to her – family.

There were times na I questioned why ako may autism? Bakit ako of out of many people in the world? Kasi mahirap na kaagad mag adjust how much more na you have a ASD, diba? Most of the time, , lumalabas yung mga mannerisms ko na obvious talaga na i have ASD. Yung talking to myself, biglang running kahit sa mall pa yan or kung saan, making unnecessary movements and difficulty in following and understanding instructions. Pinakamahirap din is interpreting what other people are feeling.  Kung sarcastic ka minsan,  nagegets ko naman. Pero kadalasan I won’t even catch that you were sarcastic.

(Rough translation: There were times that I questioned why I had autism. Why me, out of many people in the world? Adjustments are hard, what more if you have ASD, right? Most of the time, my mannerisms show that I do have ASD. The circumstances of talking to myself, it suddenly happens when you’re at the mall, or wherever – making unnecessary movements and difficulty in following and understanding instructions. What’s also difficult is interpreting what other people are feeling. If someone is sarcastic, sometimes I could understand. But sometimes I won’t be able to catch that person is sarcastic.)

My parents inspire me so much because they work really hard to provide for us and they live a very simple life in the province. My cousins and I are very close, parang mga kapatid ko sila (they’re like my siblings). They are my kuyas and ates who protect and guide me. They treat me like a little sister. We love going on road trips and going to the beach on Sundays. I talk to them as well when I need advice.

Cipriano with her cousins. Photo from Fae Cipriano

Cipriano encourages parents who have children with ASD not to give up and to continue to support them through “necessary sessions and to love them amidst the trials”. 

“These are hard times, but they can be good as well. Persevere, and the rewards shall be worth it.”

Cipriano when she volunteered for Manila Art. Photo from Anya Avecido

Congratulations to you, Christine! More power to you!

To know more about autism in the Philippines, you can reach out to our local NGO, Autism Society Philippines. The non-government organization has ‘been in the forefront of providing services and training to families living with autism’ in the country. You may reach them at +63917 556 2075, +63923 638 3771 or (+632) 903 5496. Check their website out here or email them at autismphils@­gmail.com.

What do you think of this story? Let us know in the comments below!






Related Stories