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  • Ceara Agay

Human Alarm Clock

Our lives often revolve around the ticking of the clock. Our days are usually ruled by our schedules: meetings, appointments, places to go, people to meet, things to do. Our existence is often controlled by the time we have, and the number of things we can do in that time.

Our lives often revolve around the ticking of the clock. Our days are usually ruled by our schedules: meetings, appointments, places to go, people to meet, things to do. Our existence is often controlled by the time we have, and the number of things we can do in that time.

People with autism (PWA), on the other hand, sometimes have a different way of perceiving time.

A love affair with time

Osel Tonato is 21 years old. He loves motorcycles, and he has a particular affinity with time. He also has autism. Ask him what time it is in any part of the globe, and he can give you an answer without skipping a beat.

Osel’s obsession for time stemmed from his love for computer games, particularly Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPG). MMORPGs are online games that allow players from all over the world choose characters, go on quests, and defeat monsters in a virtual setting. His curiosity was piqued because he wondered why there were more players online at some times, and fewer players at other times.

His mother, Rowena, shared a different story. She said that Osel loves motorcycles. He dreams of visiting Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, so he can ride one around the city. Because of this, he looked up the time difference between Manila and Ho Chi Minh, and adjusted his clock to see the time zones. Since then, he started to learning and memorizing the time zones of other countries.

Whatever might have sparked Osel’s fixation, there’s no doubt that his is an unusual talent. Because of this, he stands out in the workplace.

A son’s accomplishment is a mother’s joy

Osel studied Programming at AMA Computer Learning Center. After graduating, he stayed home to help out with household chores. Mommy Rowena and the rest of the Tonato family were worried that his disability would keep him from finding work. “We cannot hide it, and we want people to know that he is special, but [still] employable and teachable. He is too bright and smart not [find] a job.”

Osel really wanted to work, even before he graduated. He had many questions. How much of a salary would he get? Would he have a schedule? Would he be able to wear a uniform? Could can still visit his friends at school? He wanted was an 8-5 job, with a fixed schedule like he had at school.

A year after graduation, Osel still hadn’t landed a job, despite sending his resume to different employers. “So we just waited. And hoped. And prayed,” said Mommy Rowena.

Their prayers were soon answered. One day, Mommy Rowena received a message from her second son. He told her about, Project Inclusion’s job matching portal for Persons with Disability. Osel signed up and became part of the jobseekers pool. He waited patiently for two months before Project Inclusion found a job that matched his skills.

Osel was matched to Southstar Drug. He underwent the regular application process of the company, from interviews to examinations—all of which he passed.

The challenges were many and the wait was long, but eventually everything fell into place. In December 2016, Osel was hired as an Information Data Processing (IDP) clerk at Southstar Drug.

“He felt more confident. Parang naniwala rin siya sa abiity niya,” said Mommy Rowena. After he was hired, Osel became more focused as an individual, perhaps because he wanted to become regularized. He also became more determined to not only do his job at work well but also he chores he’s assigned at home.

Time in and time out in the work place

Osel’s dedication at work is undeniable. But his fixation with time was not immediately welcome in the workplace.

His officemates were often distracted by his frequent declarations of time. “Kapag dumadaan sila sa harapan niya, sinasabihan niya ng time [tapos] pinapakita niya yung clock niya,” shared Karen, Osel’s seatmate. He was also very talkative at work, and Karen often hasd to remind him to focus on his tasks.

Ronald Inosanto is the assistant manager for HR Talent Management, and Osel calls him “Principal.”

Ronald shares that, after Osel’s first paycheck, he was able to buy his very own alarm clock. Osel now carries this clock everywhere in the office, and sets alarms throughout the day. Some of the alarms remind him that it’s lunch time, or that it’s time to go home. He goes around the office and tells everyone that it’s time for lunch, ringing clock in hand. More than once, his supervisor and his officemates have pointed out that the loud school bell-like sound his clock makes each time the alarm goes off.

This quirk is sometimes distracting, but it has turned out to be an asset at work. Osel is so time-conscious that he finishes work quickly. Sometimes, they have to give him additional tasks, just so he doesn’t get bored with his current workload.

He also records the time his officemates come to work. Because of this, Ronald says that Osel has become their unofficial time keeper. Their attendance check is web-based, so sometimes there are errors in the time-in of the employees. If there are disputes about employee tardiness, they turn to Osel. He keeps a hard copy record of all their time-ins. And because most persons with autism rely on factual information, Osel’s record is irrefutable. Ronald fondly calls him their “Human Alarm Clock.”

Osel’s unforgivable punctuality has rubbed off on his officemates. When it is almost time for the work day to start, and there are only a few people in the office, Osel goes out to the gate and waits. He exclaims to arriving colleagues, “Bilisan niyo! Male-late na tayo sa time zone!” (Hurry up! We are going to be late!)

Although they have a 15-minute grace period, and the official time-in is 8:15, Osel always times in at 8:00. If he is late by even just a few minutes, he becomes uncomfortable, slinking to his desk in embarrassment.

Good for the team

Ronald shares that having Osel and other PWDs in their workplace has created a positive atmosphere. “Pambalanse sila.” (They bring balance to the office).

Sometimes the office is so quiet, and they are all very serious. Then the alarm goes off, and they all just laugh. Sometimes they take their work too seriously, and then they see these employees who enjoy their jobs so much, working diligently to finish the tasks assigned to them.

Ronald shares that now, many of the other employees are particular about time too. “Wala na masyadong nale-late kasi i-a-announce na, ‘O late ka na naman!’ [Osel] even tells everyone to properly tuck in their shirts and tells them “Hindi ‘yan yung proper.’” (Hardly anyone is late anymore, because Osel will say, ‘You’re late again!’ He even says, ‘That’s not the proper attire.’) He even once told Ronald that the pants he was wearing was not allowed, because it had pockets.

Osel is not the only PWD employee working at Southstar Drug, and Ronald says most of them share his insistence on punctuality, his dislike of absences, and his accuracy with details. This is common with PWAs, who like routine. They sometimes act out when something disturbs their schedules.

Osel’s job at Southstar Drug did not change only him, but also his co-workers and the rest of the company. His influence among his peers is great. And although it’s not always all easy, Osel and his co-workers continue to adjust to each other, and end up bettering themselves in the process.

Persons with autism may not perceive time in the same way as neurotypical people. They sometimes need reminders when it’s time to do something. Their clocks may also tick differently, be it to another country’s time zone or a virtual world. But their attention to detail, strong sense of punctuality, and dedication in the work place is something which employers are both eager and fortunate to have.

Ceara is an intern at the Unilab Foundation. She is an incoming senior student at the Ateneo de Manila University, studying AB Literature in English. A night owl and a binge-watcher/reader, she often stays late at night to write stories, read novels, and watch films, series, anime, or dramas. She dreams of traveling around the world with her family and their two beloved dogs, Merlin and Sheldon.

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