By Lauren Wanko
Eighteen-year-old Genare Valiant loves spending time with his brother, playing catch and watching movies, just like most teens. But unlike many teenagers, Genare faces a different set of challenges. He’s autistic.
“I see him go through challenges an adolescent boy would go through — the highs the lows. And it makes me believe there’s a perfectly normal little boy that just can’t express himself,” said father Gino Valiant.
Genare’s dad Gino says they first recognized a problem when Genare was about 18 months and was not speaking clearly. He was diagnosed with autism at 2 1/2 years old. The family’s greatest challenge — communication. Genare often communicates by texting on his iPod Touch. He can read, write and understand conversations.
“But sometimes he gets very stubborn and he doesn’t want to answer us back with what his problem is and often he can’t put his emotions into words,” Gino said.
It’s especially difficult for the father of four. He only wants the best for his boy.
“It’s horrible because I really wish he as able to express himself to be part of the community in the most normal way,” said Gino.
Older brother Michael longs for the same things.
“It’s heartbreaking. There are lot of things that I wish I could do with my brother like the kind of stuff I do with my other brothers. The memories we have traveling together and stuff I can’t share with Gerare but as a family we’re strong and we try the best we can to include him on everything we do,” Michael said.
Gerare attends Academy Learning Center in Monroe, but his father worries what he’ll do in a few years after Gerare finishes school.
“It’s intimidating. It’s scary,” Gino said.
That’s because school entitlements for those with autism ends at age 21. Caregivers must apply through Medicaid and the Division of Developmental Services so autistic individuals can be eligible for housing services, day programs and employment.
And there’s a long wait list.
“I believe there are currently about 3,000 adults with autism on a waiting list. It could be as high as 5,000. I know the state is doing as much as they can to service as many people as possible. Collectively we just need more money,” said Autism New Jersey Executive Director Suzanne Buchanan.
“When he doesn’t have school, it’s the worst days. The schedule, the regime of going back to school to home, those are wonderful days because he knows what he’s gonna do,” Gino said.
Gino hopes his son will ultimately land a job when he gets older. Meantime this family promises to do whatever they can to help Gerare reach his goals.