anything goes

because change is inevitable


on March 1, 2011

Donning a classic bright-red shirt, yarn dye cargo shorts and a pair of sneakers, Franco Cagayat seems to look like a regular 25-year-old guy at first glance. He exudes confidence and talks about his daily routine, favorites and pet peeves in a casual, friendly manner.  He smiles and giggles whenever I crack a joke or two. He responds quickly to every question being thrown at him.  

Gifted with a remarkable talent in wood carving, Franco enjoys spending most of his time carving cars at his father’s shop. “My father’s customers, when they see my creations, usually order from me. Some of them want to have a wood replica of their cars and placed in their dashboards. Others use wooden automobiles in promotional activities,” says Franco.  His clients include big car companies such as Honda and Mitsubishi.

A skilled entrepreneur, Franco shows us his new masterpieces: a minicooper and a Ford 2009 edition, which he patiently and laboriously carved for 10 days. “I regularly browse catalogs, magazines and web pages for new car designs,” he explains. Descending from a family of woodcarvers in Paete, Laguna, it is no wonder where he inherited his carving talents.

Engrossed as I am in listening to him talk of his trade, a thought somehow crosses my mind: Franco is very much his own person, and does what he wants to do just like everybody else, until his mom, Dominica Cagayat, says matter-of-factly, “Try to be with him even for a week and you’ll know the difference.”

Isolated in a world of his own

When Franco was 4 years old, it became apparent that he was different. He had severe tantrums and easily got annoyed over simple things. But he possessed an extensive vocabulary which he was able to use pretty much. Although his behavior was odd than that of his 2-year-old brother, his parents thought it was normal.

“Later on, we realized he was not interacting well with other kids in school. He was bullied most of the time because he was socially awkward,” explains Dominica.

At age 9, Franco was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, a developmental disorder that affects a person’s ability to relate and communicate effectively with others.

A mild form of autism, children with Asperger’s syndrome have a consuming interest in, or obsession with, one subject—often something unusual for their age. In Franco’s case, he was obsessed with cars. “I am obsessed with cars.  I remember drawing cars of different shapes and sizes. When I was 13, I chiseled my first boxed-type Nissan Vanette,” explains Franco.

Franco’s father, Justino “Paloy” Cagayat, is a master carver behind the original “Machete,” the sculpture used in the movie of Cesar Montano with the same title. A mining engineer graduate, Franco’s father, has immersed himself in the family carving business, which is spanning three generations now. To ensure business continuity, he has been training Franco and his two siblings to sculpt.

Franco’s parents had to move him out of his secluded world and introduce to him the realities of life. “Even if we want to, we can’t be with Franco forever. That is why we want him to be functional and do something productive,” Dominica explains.

At age 17, Franco underwent a cognitive and behavioral therapy. “Through therapy sessions, he learned to control his emotions and deal with other people. But it was expensive, so eventually we had to stop sending him to his therapist and find alternative way for him to learn,” Dominica says.

“I remember my mom saying that I am not getting younger so I have to do something worthwhile. I joined the regular school and graduated with a degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management (HRM) from Philippine Women’s University-Sta. Cruz, Laguna.”

When asked if he wants to work in a hotel or establish his own food business, he replies, “I love what I am doing now. I earn money out of this.”

On having Aspie

According to Worthy Habla, a speech-language pathologist, “children could be diagnosed as early as 3 years old but there has been no definite cause. Several studies show that there may be neuro-chemical problems as well as underdevelopment of the brain. Other studies indicate that it could be caused by genetic abnormalities or heredity.” 

However, it is important to note that Asperger has different manifestations. According to, often Aspie kids have no obvious delays in cognitive development or in age-appropriate self-help skills such as feeding and dressing themselves. Although they may have problems with attention span and organization, and have skills that seem well developed in some areas and lacking in others, they usually have average and sometimes above-average intelligence.

“Children who have this disorder [Asperger’s Syndrome] generally exhibit a triad of impairments concerning speech and language: social interaction, language as used in communication and symbolic or imaginative play,” explains Habla.  

Habla enumerated the following signs of Asperger Syndrome which is akin to autism:

  • inappropriate or minimal social interactions
  • conversations almost always revolving around self rather than others
  • “scripted,” “robotic,” or repetitive speech
  • lack of “common sense”
  • problems with reading, math, or writing skills
  • obsession with complex topics such as patterns or music
  • average to below-average nonverbal cognitive abilities, though verbal cognitive abilities are usually average to above-average
  • awkward movements
  • odd behaviors or mannerisms

“I advise parents to try and understand their children, especially when they exhibit these symptoms. Consult a developmental pediatrician right away. Early intervention or early consultation and therapy are needed since this condition is not curable but controllable. Children with this disability need to be taught how to interact with other people as well,” says Habla.

There may be no cure for Aspie, but kids like Franco can lead a full and happy life with adequate support, education and resources. “Parents should accept the fact that their kids have Asperger because only through acceptance can they help their kids become functional adults,” advises Dominica, who is now an active advocate and member of the Autism Society of the Philippines.

Fitting in our world may seem hard for Aspies.  To us, they are odd. But for them, it’s the other way around. To stand out, the likes of Franco have to struggle to live outside their own world on a daily basis. What we can do is to patiently share our world with them and break into theirs.



  1. Roehl Restrivera says:

    curios lang po,how much 1978 corolla. magpapa carving,
    also an american station wagon( estimate ) no actual year

  2. Pepe says:

    My family visited JAC jr. WOODCARVINGS and met this kid. He seemed very normal and friendly. And he showed us his current work (unfinished yet): a van including the intricacies of its engine! What an awesome kid!

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