- Laurence Anthony De Guzman,14, was born and raised in the UAE
- At the age of two-and-a-half, he was diagnosed with high functioning autism with speech delay.
- Now, he is the Emirates Autism Awareness Ambassador
He’s got talent. He’s got perfect pitch. He plays the piano at a very young age, and performs in front of thousands of people. He’s a gifted child and determined to succeed.
Laurence Anthony De Guzman is Emirates Autism Awareness Ambassador. The 14-year-old was born and raised in the UAE. At the age of two-and-a-half, he was diagnosed with high functioning autism with speech delay.
His mum, Mylene said: “Early screening/detection is critical in every child. We did multiple assessments. Take note children don’t cooperate often. So, it is really important for parents to not just depend on the assessment. Be more observant with their skills because in the end it is only us, parents, who can bring out the extraordinary capabilities of our children with this condition.”
He has difficulties with social interaction and communication, and he is less conversant. He is having difficulties making friends. No focus. Not much of an eye contact or small talk. He likes routine and order. Therapy, understanding and mind-conditioning - that’s how the family deal with him.
Laurence learnt to sing and play the piano early. Mylene said: “Laurence loved to listen to music on my old mobile phone when he was four years old. We thought it’s just a thing that ordinary children like to do. As we noticed his great interest in music, his father taught him to play the piano at 11 years old; we discovered something bigger that he is gifted with a ‘perfect pitch’ - a rare musical talent that every musician wishes to have.”
Laurence’s love for music started when his family were jamming and singing together.
He said: “My mum posted that video online when we were jamming. My teacher Ava saw the video and spotted my musical abilities and invited me to perform at a school event, and the audience appreciated my performance. I was so excited and from then on, I started exploring and fully enjoying my music. I am happy to say that through music I was able to find my place in the society.
“My mum posted that video online when we were jamming. My teacher Ava saw the video and spotted my musical abilities and invited me to perform at a school event, and the audience appreciated my performance.
“At the age of nine, I started communicating and engaging with everyone through music. When I began uttering the words from the songs I’m singing, my thought process had sped up, and I started to connect with people. My parents said that I have a gift in music, and I should cooperate to develop it. I felt confused as I didn’t know what they were talking about. Then, my dad started to do some ear training exercises so I began to understand what they were trying to say. My dad told me that I have a perfect pitch. I didn’t know what it means, but just hearing the notes tingles my ears, and I can easily recognise the tones. Then my dad taught me to play the piano. From then on, I started performing in numerous public gatherings.”
Recently, he performed with his sister Charlene in front of thousands of people for the opening ceremony of the Special Olympics World Games, a sporting event for people of determination, which was held in March 2019 in Abu Dhabi.
Denial and acceptance
Looking back when Laurence got first diagnosed with autism, the family’s transition from denial to acceptance was never easy.
Mylene said: “Upset and confused, we didn’t know what to do and where to start. Thinking what went wrong during the pregnancy, I kept on digging answers online and then I read a medical study that enlightened me - fraternal twins, who shared the same womb before birth but have different DNA, were more likely to both have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) than siblings who weren’t twins. Laurence has a twin sister but we lost her due to a congenital problem after a month she was born.”
“As a mum, it’s one of toughest responsibilities as there’s no end but that was nothing compared to how we have to find ways to make things as normal as it can possibly be; to say that raising a child of determination is a monumental task is a understatement, it’s a career of its own – need to learn so many things other than the usual stuff that a mother does and loads of issues to deal with.”
His family wanted Laurence to be in a mainstream school, to interact with regular students so they sent him to the Philippines at the age of six from F2 to Grade 3 along with his sister Charlene. He received regular schooling, special education plus weekly Occupational Therapy and Speech Therapy.
Mylene said: “Then we brought them back here in 2014 at the age of nine where he was accepted at Abu Dhabi International School from grade 4 to grade 7. Then he took time off due to financial constraints and to focus more on music while he was getting online support from St Mary’s of the Woods School in Manila. Simultaneously, receiving music lessons from his dad at home. He went back to his academics this time at the Philippine Emirates Private School (PEPS) in grade 8.”
This Filipino family have been living in Abu Dhabi for 22 years and they are grateful for the tolerance and acceptance from society.
#ChooseToInclude: Break the barriers
Mylene added: “My advice to parents of children with special needs - accept it, it should start from home. Society will be able to accept and understand your child’s situation when they see this. We must understand that the road towards that path will never be easy. It is in fact littered with endless roadblocks along the way. There were loads of arguments that sometimes could be frustrating. But as we face each challenge, we discover new ways to handle the situation and subsequently bond us stronger as a family. You need to discover networks to help nurture kids of determination and to guide us as parents. Let us encourage everyone to see all human beings as equally normal. More importantly, we wish to use this powerful platform to spread awareness, break the barriers of isolation and instead #ChooseToInclude.”
My advice to parents of children with special needs - accept it, it should start from home. Society will be able to accept and understand your child’s situation when they see this. We must understand that the road towards that path will never be easy.
Laurence has big dreams. He said: “I wish I can be a pilot someday and travel to see iconic structures such as the Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building and Brooklyn Bridge and live in New York."
He added: "I promised to continue my commitment in spreading autism awareness. We should not focus on disability but on our strengths, talents and ability to perform. I hope the community will be able to accept and embrace us, and we will be all right.”