FORT MYERS, Fla. — Taking a look through baby pictures it’s easy to see that Carlos Zamora was a happy baby boy.
He and his twin sister were captured by photographers holding hands and smiling in the cutest outfits.
But, his mom, Pat, says it wasn’t long before she noticed that something might be up with her son.
“He was always seeking input, you know, do the head banging, and he'd sort of walk a little clumsy. His speech wasn't really clear until he was about four and a half,” she explained.
While doctors diagnosed Carlos with many different things through the years, it wasn’t until he was 17 that he was finally diagnosed with autism, specifically Asperger's.
His mom said it was heartbreaking and relieving at the same time.
She finally had an answer about her son’s struggles, but the diagnosis was scary and came as Carlos was trying to navigate high School and the social challenges that sometimes come with autism.
“I didn't really know I couldn't connect people in the same way that other people connected,” Carlos explained
“When it comes to friendships, I really didn't have a lot of friends at one time. Like, I had A friend.” He shared.
That was a common theme for Carlos as he became an adult but a drive one day through Fort Myers would change that.
His mom, Pat, saw a billboard that caught her attention.
“It advertised My Autism Connection and so I went on the website and checked it out and I said, Carlos, I think you might want to check this out.”
“I was nervous at first. I really haven't met other people in this kind of scenario,” Carlos shared.
But after a few weeks of going on outings and meeting up with other adults with autism, things got easier and more comfortable.
Sandra Worth says that’s the idea and the reason she createdMy Autism Connection.
“There are so many things that they can do, like social interaction with peers, complete socialization, but also skill building.”
Sandra knows the challenges all too well. His son was diagnosed with autism when he was 15 years old.
She quickly learned that services for Adults with autism are lacking.
There are all kinds of services for children but once you’re over 21, that changes.
“On their 22nd birthday, there are no more services through the system through the government or the schooling, so, you fall through the cracks, Worth explained.
Worth and her team are working to change that.
Members of MAC join together with people from the organization and go on outings to places like the Zoo, Escape rooms, and bowling and they have guest speakers come and talk to them about things they can learn like career development and teaching life skills.
“For so long in the schooling years, you know, you're told you're not good enough or that you can't do something and so we wanted to shine on what the abilities were and it was important to just show that if you're giving them the tools, you know, they can do more,” Worth explains.
Carlos, nervous when he first joined MAC now has more confidence and that can-do attitude. His favorite activity so far is painting.
“My favorite one was actually the art workshops in our classes here because I like art. I paint,” he shared.
Brittany Reimer is 32 years old now, but she was diagnosed with autism when she was a toddler.
Reimer says being with people who understand her is a huge benefit of joining My Autism Connection.
“We all have autism and we are all learning together. We’re not on one island, alone,” Reimer said.
Aside from the friendships, the food is something Brittany is really enjoying. She and other members often join in on cooking classes that teach them skills they can use at home.
“Well, from the very beginning, I learned how to follow a recipe,” she shares. “So I had to make sure I chop all of the vegetables into one and make sure they’re all cooking and it’s going well.”
Judging from the dinners that she’s now cooking after a few classes, I would say things are going really well for her in the kitchen.
“I like to cook pasta Puttanesca with olives and capers because it's really fun to mix all the ingredients together with like the sauce and it's really fun.”
She’s proud of the pasta, but the goal Brittany is probably most proud of is buying her first car all by herself and learning, with the help of MAC, to be comfortable driving around town by herself.
Worth says whatever the need is in a family life or member’s life they want to help
“We never leave anybody in the lurch. If there's something that is asked of us. We try to dig deep and try to find the answers,” she explains. “To help people realize that they're not alone and that there are resources, and we can help them with that,” Worth adds.
It’s a help that Carlos and his mom are so grateful for. They say joining MAC has truly been life-changing.
“It gives me more comfort. Before it was like, I was very isolated before, but here I'm not really isolated,” Carlos shared.
“It's really been a game changer for him,” says Carlos’ mom Pat. “It's just really reassuring, and really makes me feel good about him and his possibilities and opportunities and development and his future, really,” Pat said.
A future that looks pretty bright!
If you want to learn more about My Autism Connection to volunteer, contribute or if you have an autistic adult if your life that you think could benefit from MAC’s services you can find all kinds of information by clicking here.