Profiles, Stories

Art Defying Taboo: The Tejada Family Story

Autism has been a sensitive subject among different cultures. It is often treated as a taboo, or worse, a disease that makes parents hide their children even to their closest family members.

“But people are more understanding now. I guess because having a kid with autism in a family is more common than it used to be years ago”, Alvin Tejada shared.

Alvin and Maricel are a Filipino-Chinese couple. When they discovered that their unica hija, Erin, has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), they felt that they have some genetic incompatibilities. However, there are no studies that prove it causes ASD among interracial kids.

The couple said Erin seems to be normal during the first two years but when they have observed that she was not responding whenever they call her and that she wasn’t speaking her first words yet, not even ‘mama’ or ‘papa’, they immediately consulted their pediatrician, who then referred them to a developmental pedia.

Erin Tejada was two years old when she was diagnosed to have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Accepting Erin’s ASD

Alvin admits it was difficult for them at first to accept that their daughter has limitations. They always think of how hard it is going to be to find the right educational institutions in the city that can support Erin’s needs.

“As they turn into young adults, parents, of course, keep on thinking what they would become in the future, or what vocations that they can be into so they will be able to enjoy their lives”, Alvin and Maricel said.

For the Tejada family, communication has always been a challenge. Alvin and Maricel often do not have a clue on what Erin is thinking of. On one hand, Erin gets frustrated whenever her parents don’t understand what she is trying to say.

But along with the world crisis on the COVID-19 pandemic this year, comes a lightbulb moment for the couple.

Erin as a #Quarantist

Erin has been into drawing. Alvin and Maricel have noticed that she does good drawings for her school projects, but she was limited to basic crayons, pencil colors, and markers. During the lockdown, Alvin thought of giving his daughter some of his old painting tools and materials.

“We were really surprised and amazed by the artworks she produced. We searched for other art mediums and started buying acrylic paints, oil paints, and canvas to let her explore. We also watched YouTube tutorials, as I am not also a painter. I’m an architect but not really into the artistic side of architecture as my practice is more on construction and project management.”

From Mother’s day to several festivals happening in the country and even overseas, Erin never misses any celebrations as it inspires her to make art pieces related to them.

Filipiniana is one of Erin’s favorite subjects when she did artworks for Buwan ng Wika

Alvin shared they often catch a glimpse of Erin smiling and giggling whenever she does her research and builds an art concept in her mind. 

It reflects on her art. Her sweet, happy disposition and being a darling of the family.

For the couple, it is a pleasant and heartwarming feeling to see that their daughter has a vocation to pursue. What they are most happy about is that Erin’s artworks transcend cultures and religions and through her creative lines and strokes, she can express whatever is on her mind. 

“Art has been a communication tool of the heart.”

On September 11, the Tejada family received an email notifying that out of 850 entries from around the globe, Erin is one of the finalists at the Paralym Art World Cup 2020 in Japan. The competition, with the theme of ‘peace to brighten up a world that has been overshadowed’, is being held virtually. Winners have yet to be announced.

A Daughter’s love

When asked to describe their daughter, Alvin and Maricel picked the words lively, bubbly, and a visual learner.

ASD has been a huge part of Erin’s personality. But the family debunked the myth that people with autism cannot feel or understand the emotions of others. It has kept her mind pure, her soul – innocent, and has enabled her to love unconditionally.

As a father, Alvin encourages other parents of children with ASD to support whatever their kids are up to so that their condition would not become the definition of their being.

Alvin adds oftentimes, autism brings with it just as many exceptional abilities as challenges so they must be encouraged to make progress in any way. Erin may not excel in her academics but her artistic capabilities are beyond dispute.

“Erin’s condition makes her behaviors a bit different from others. But this is also what gave her the talent to visualize things easily in her head. Erin has never had any formal training on paintings or drawing but she is very motivated to keep on practicing. Disability is sometimes a different ability that we are not able to discover just yet.”

Creating art with a purpose

Aside from researching for her artworks, Erin is also updated with the news on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Upon seeing the Facebook page that Alvin and Maricel made for Erin’s works, the Awesome Spectrum Arts, a group of young doctors and medical students who are organizing a fundraising campaign for frontliners reached out to the family.

“We have hesitation at first because we are really not into selling artworks, and we don’t even know how to price it. However, because of the noble cause, we have agreed to support the endeavor.”

The family claims it was a very fruitful collaboration. One doctor even commissioned Erin to do a Filipiniana-inspired painting in addition to Erin’s artworks that were auctioned for the cause. Alvin shared that through the fundraising project, they were able to validate that Erin’s works are worth sharing.


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