AAAP’s resident artist, Victor Francesco “Vico” Cham, is no stranger to media attention. He has held a one-man show for his artwork, bested “normal” kids in art competitions and garnered TV and print coverage for his unique talent.
By Angelo G. Garcia
13 December 2010
MANILA, Philippines — In 1999, then eight-year-old Victor Francesco “Vico” Cham was playing in the office of his parents who are both architects. The office was filled with art materials that Vico could play with. He grabbed a blueprint, some poster paints and a brush, sat on the floor and started to paint his favorite cartoon show on the back of the blueprint.
“I was in the shower and I did not know that he was in the office. When I asked what he was painting, he replied ‘Blues Clues, mommy.’ So if you observe the painting, there’s a house, there’s the garden. Immediately, after he finished his painting, I had it framed. That’s the time I realized that my son could be an artist,” recalls mommy Cathy Cham. It would have been a mother’s ordinary discovery. Only, Vico has autism and the fact that he could produce beautiful artworks brought immeasurable joy, and hope, to his mom.
Now at 19 years old, Vico is the pride of his parents, and the Autism Society Philippines (ASP). He is now known for his artworks, which were even featured in a television show. Earlier this year, he had even held his first one-man exhibit at SM Marikina, featuring more than 50 of his digital and hand-drawn artworks.
Vico was diagnosed with autism at the age of two. He had all the symptoms of the autism spectrum disorder. He did not communicate, he flapped his arms around, and had no eye contact. “He was diagnosed when he was two years, eight months. When the doctor said that your son has ASD, sabi ko, ‘Ano po iyon?’ At that time kasi wala pang masyadong information about autism, awareness-wise, it’s very low,” Cathy recalls.
Upon reading all the books about autism, Cathy realized that her boy was indeed very much different. It took her about a week to finally accept her son’s condition. Back then, it was extra difficult for her because she was alone, raising two young boys while her husband was working abroad. “I had to research and face my problem. I just told myself to accept that my son has this condition and I must do something about it. When I accepted, it was not heavy. It was a lot easier for me because I know what I was supposed to do,” she says.
She started to work on her son, following what the doctor recommended. She immediately started Vico’s intervention such as speech and occupational therapies. And in just three months, Vico said his first word — “Mama”. “We were very emotional when we finally heard him talk. It was the first time I heard my son talk in three years! Every progress we saw in him we’re just very thankful for,” she says.
Developing an artist
When Vico was eight years old, he transferred to Shine SPED Center in Pasig City from another school in Greenhills, San Juan. Cathy admits it was one of the most challenging phases in Vico’s education. “It was really more on the change of venue. In his first two months, it was very difficult to explain to him that he just transferred from a small school to a big school. He still had tantrums. The adjustment was the hard part, the change,” she shares.
But slowly, Vico started to open up and really show his talents. Specifically, he started to excel in the arts, which his school also supported. “May skill na siya talaga. In our art and crafts activities dun lumabas ‘yung skills niya, ‘yung talent niya na ‘yun. His mom honed his skills further,” Shine SPED Center case manager Debbie Enriquez says.
People with autism tend to have compulsive and ritualistic behaviors, which involve the same pattern of daily activities. While children with autism are usually given structured teaching to matche their repetitive behaviors, Vico was given more leeway by the school. “What we did was just gave him the materials and we just let him do whatever. So what he did were all his ideas, no patterns. Ideally, activities would be structured, there must be a creative routine, following a pattern. But with Vico, we just let him develop it,” Enriquez explains.
From Vico’s parents was full support all the way. His dad, Victor, even gave up his work in Hong Kong just to be with his son and help him through his development. “On our side as parents, we focused on his artistic side. So everything that he would create, we would support. We buy him different materials he could try. And almost everything he does looks very nice, it’s natural for him to create something,” Cathy says.
Vico’s artistic development was natural, especially coming from a family of architects. His older brother, Carlos is also taking up Architecture in college. Vico was also trained by Gabby Atienza, a professor at the University of the Philippines who has Asperger syndrome, which is part of ASD. Atienza taught Vico how to draw human figures.
Eye for detail
“I like drawing a lot. I enjoy my drawing. I like to draw the garden, the butterfly,” Vico says, oftentimes just answering with a simple “yes” or “no’’. But his mom and teacher guide him to answer the questions properly.
Vico also likes to draw celebrities. He usually copies from a photograph of the person. He has already drawn celebrities he really admires like Iya Villania, Tweetie de Leon-Gonzales, Myx VJ Robi Domingo, and American Idol runner-up David Archuleta. He has also drawn people close to his heart like his mom, his teachers, and other relatives, and of course, his self-portrait. “I like Enchong Dee, the Gigger Boys, A-Pop, Diva Girls. I like watching television, ‘Shoutout’. I have a lot of drawings,” says Vico who also likes to sing and dance. ‘’I like Owl City’s ‘Fireflies’ and I like Justin Bieber and David Archuleta. I like to sing ‘How Great is Our God’.”
His eye for detail is what makes his drawings really stand out. “Every little detail he sees on that particular person he draws,” Debbie Enriquez shares.
Today, most of Vico’s drawings are done on the computer using the Paint application, which he learned to operate back in 2007. He has a huge collection of artworks that his mom has already lost count of. After holding his successful one-man exhibit, selling 18 of his artworks, Vico won the Couples for Christ Got Talent last December 5, besting normal contestants.
For Cathy, what’s more important is the level of awareness people get every time they see Vico and his drawings, that even if he has autism, he can do whatever ordinary people can. “That exhibit was very overwhelming, people appreciated the set-up. They were able to appreciate a special person doing an on-the-spot drawing,” Cathy shares.
Vico is considered as one of the school’s most independent students. In fact, because of his effortless skills using the computer, the school has designed a module on computer graphics. It is now part of the school’s curriculum and they are trying to have it accredited by the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).
Vico does not only seem to alter what other people know about autism but he defies all the misconceptions about people with autism. He proves that anyone, whether abled or not, can do things exceptionally through practice and the right developmental process.
Like what he writes below his signature in every artwork, Vico Cham is proudly autistic.
See one of Vico’s drawings come to life here.