For parent Marissa Guerrero, the first ever proclamation signing declaring April as Autism Month in the CNMI is an achievement and a significant victory for parents of children with autism.
Soon after the proclamation signing yesterday by Gov. Benigno R. Fitial and Lt. Gov. Timothy P. Villagomez, Guerrero couldn't help being emotional, saying it took over 20 years for the local government to finally make this happen.
With tears in her eyes, Guerrero said she waited four “long” years to make the community recognize and understand children living with autism.
“I believe the community lacks knowledge on autism,” she said, wiping her tears. With the proclamation signing, this will go a long way toward raising people's awareness and understanding of this disability, she said. “The community needs to be educated about this disability.”
Guerrero and her husband John are members and officers of the newly formed Autism Society of the CNMI, a non-profit group offering support and assistance to friends and families of children living with autism in the CNMI. Members and other officers of the group witnessed the proclamation signing yesterday.
Guerrero said the group is relatively new as it was formed only in 2006, starting out as a support group. Marissa said during their meetings, parents share their “challenges” in raising their children with autism. “The stress level is very high as parents,” she said.
As parents, Guerrero said she and her husband need to be stronger in raising their child, Maria, 7.
Marissa hopes that this annual event will make the community understand that these special children have the same wants and desires as any other child.
“They [children with autism] want to make friends. They crave to make friends. They crave to play baseball and things that a child could do,” she said. “Children with autism share the same hopes and dreams as others do.”
Public School System Special Education specialist Julie Sarich, who also attended the proclamation signing yesterday, said she is also glad that the proclamation signing finally happened. “It's been a long time. I'm very happy that the group was able to organize this,” she said.
Sarich, a five-year SPED specialist in the CNMI, also appealed to the community: “A person with disability is still a person. Children with autism are very loving, intelligent, and they want to be around with people.”
Autism is a developmental disability that affects the brain in the areas of reasoning, social interaction, behaviors, and communication skills.
CNMI Council for Developmental Disabilities led by director Antonio M. Chong, Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, NMC, and CNMI Association of Families with Disabilities, among many others, also attended the event.