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Family’s home-based effort working wonders for autistic boy

Posted on November 26, 2009

Before mom’s very own eyes, 6-year-old Zach continues to discover a world outside his own.

The Auburn boy is beginning to come out of his autism shell.

Such progress was evident innocently in a play area inside a shopping mall.

Therese Verzosa’s adventurous son was sharing giggles and smiles with a little girl. She ran, he chased. In the language of their play, words were unnecessary.

When she paused to get a drink, he waited patiently, ever mindful of her presence.

Zach never before paid close attention to other kids, especially at play. As a child, he never really showed interest in other kids except for a familiar few.

But that appears to be changing. A Lakeland Hills family is doing its best to assimilate a lovable boy to mainstream life. Such a challenge is difficult and ongoing, but its one they are willing to tackle.

“We have fought autism for many years now since the time of his diagnosis,” said Therese, a registered nurse by profession who has devoted considerable time and effort toward understanding the disorder and working with her youngest son. “In his own unique way, Zach has battled against this monster every day. I have seen him struggle through it all. He is our family’s hero.

“He laid the foundation of patience, persistence and most of all, faith,” she continued. “Through him, we had decided that little things are better than the big ones. Through him, we realized happiness is not expensive nor hard to reach. It is a choice. It can be acquired easily if you so desire.”

Through Zach’s autism, the family has discovered an immense capability within to appreciate people for what they are and live in an attitude of total acceptance.

The Verzosas are not alone.

Autism, once a rare and mysterious disorder, is no longer so rare. A generation ago, only two to four of every 10,000 children were labeled autistic. Today, it’s more like 60 per 10,000 by some estimates.

But no one knows why. Experts say there has been an actual increase, and the reasons for that are not entirely clear — though there are plenty of theories.

Autism Spectrum Disorders, usually noticed by the time a child is 3, is four times more common in boys than girls. It affects social interaction, communication and behavior, but there is a wide variety in symptoms. Some children don’t speak. Some are talkative, but don’t make eye contact. Some are clingy, while others hate being held.

The Verzosas confronted those symptoms in Zach. It has been a rough ride.

As Therese explained, Zach’s third year was excruciatingly difficult for him. His communication was impaired to the point he could not communicate what he wanted. There were numerous times that he would scream endlessly, a scream that was ear-splitting and heart-wrenching, almost like the wail of a beaten child.

The family sought professional help. Speech and occupational therapy have done wonders. Today, he attends special education pre-school class at Dick Scobee Elementary.

With the help of multiple treatments, Zach can now communicate much more effectively. However, he still has social anxiety disorder, interaction disorder and attention deficit.

The family has decided to do more at home.

This year, Therese and her husband, Jude, a physician, were introduced to Son-Rise – a stimulating, high-energy, one-on-one, home-based, child-centered program. The program, provided by the Autism Treatment Center of America, provides training for parents and professionals caring for autistic children. The program places parents as key teachers, therapists and directors of their own programs and uses the home as the most nurturing environment in which to help their children.

“It was so basic, accepting the child as who he is,” Jude said.

The Verzosas have seen an improvement in Zach with the program. His vocabulary has picked up, as has his motivation to interact.

“The program taught us the wonderful message that before we ask Zach to reach out into our world, we have to invite ourselves first to be into his world and accept it without judgements,” Therese said.

Progress has come with time. They are seeing more gleam in Zach’s eyes.

“This is what I am thankful for,” Therese said. “There is never a day that goes by that I do not thank God for giving us Zach and his special world of autism.”