Living with Autism
WESLACO – Families of children who have autism say they’re affected in many different ways.
The diagnosis can impact relationships within the family and choices have to be made.
CHANNEL 5 NEWS met a Rio Grande Valley family who found a way to help their child move past shattered dreams and make a commitment to stay together.
Hector and Rosie Zuniga said they never imagined the path life would take them after their marriage in 1994.
Hector Sr. said he had plans for his sons.
“According to me, my son was going to play football and his number one duty was going to be in charge of touchdowns,” he said.
Rosie Zuniga said she had a normal pregnancy. Hector Jr. was born in 1996.
“Everything was fine, he cried and [the] doctor said he was OK,” she said.
The Zuniga family said they overcame many challenges in their lives when Hector Jr. grew older. Their second son, Javier, was born about 18 months later.
It was then that they noticed changes with Hector Jr.
“Before Javier was born, he would say bye-bye very clear, mama, papa and a few of those little words they say. And all of a sudden, everything disappeared,” she said.
After a visit with the family’s pediatrician, the Zuniga’s said they were sent to Houston so doctors could check their son.
“That’s when the doctor said it was PDD. Back then, they didn’t want to diagnose him as autism because he was too young,” Rosie Zuniga said.
PDD, Pervasive Developmental Disorder, is considered to be part of the autism spectrum.
“We were very scared, because if it’s something you never heard, you don’t know how bad it’s going to be,” she said.
Hector and Rosie said they were shaken.
“It was a bad period in our lives. I threw myself into my work as much as I could,” the father said.
But in the darkest hours of their lives, the couple said they had “lots of love and understanding.”
“I was always worried. But the understating, the communication, patience – lots of patience – I think that’s what helps,” the mother said.
Javier, Hector Jr.’s younger brother, had to take the responsibility of a role model.
“I was kind of questioning, ‘Isn’t this supposed to be the other way around?’ But then as I started growing up, I started saying because he needs someone to look up to,” he said. “I feel like he looks up to me a lot. In so many case, it could be from – if I’m doing something, ‘Oh, I want to copy you and I want to see if I can do it too.’”
The family said Javier had to learn how to grow up fast.
“To a point, we were trying to make Javier the best therapist his brother ever had. Hector would pay attention to his brother,” Hector Zuniga Sr. said.
He said he was determined his son would not be lost.
“The more we expose him to, we find out whether or not – we find out what he’s going to be capable of,” he said.
The Zuniga’s said Hector Jr. proved to be a fast learner.
Rosie said her strength was constantly tested until now.
“Now, it’s like somebody stares, I don’t care. I’m so proud that I want them to look. He’s my angel,” she said.
Both said the family said sibling competition is alive and well.
“Well, we play Super Nintendo all the time when we were younger. He beat every level and I’m just there struggling,” Javier said.
He said he has dreams for his big brother.
“I wish him happiness. I hope he can be, like my mom said, independent. He can take care of himself, do what anyone else can do,” he said. “Sometimes, I would want to switch roles to see, maybe, he can see how it is, like how I live life. And maybe to be in his eyes, how he lives life. So I say, ‘Oh, this is how he is.’ To understand more of what’s going on in his life, and maybe him to understand, ‘I can do this, I just need some help.’”
The family said they feel their lives are no longer like scattered pieces of a puzzle. They said many years of therapy and support groups also helped.
Hector Sr. said he believes others are also looking out for his son.
“A lot of doors have opened up for him. I think that’s just God watching out for him. I really do,” he said. “I’m very proud of our boys. They make me happy. I’m glad to be their parent."
The family said Hector Jr. will soon age out at the rehabilitation facility he has gone to for years. Those services were made available through the school district he attended, per state and federal regulations.
Rosie Zuniga said they will need to look for other resources so their son can continue with services that will help him in the years to come.
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