When Maj. Jo Blas learned her son was autistic, she had scant knowledge of what that meant. She had strong familial support, though, as well as years of service in the Guam National Guard. That training instilled in Blas the belief that she would find a way.
“As great as you plan to carry out a mission, there’s always going to be an obstacle,’’ Blas said. “Being able to deal with those obstacles definitely helps me deal with my son.’’
Joseph Blas celebrated his 12th birthday in May. He is nonverbal but full of hope, just like his mother. Blas, 52, is president of Autism Community Together in Guam, a U.S. territory in the western Pacific about one-fifth the size of Rhode Island.
About one in 54 children in America is diagnosed with a form of autism, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Jo made us come out and say, ‘Don’t be ashamed of your kids. Bring them out. Let everybody know there are different people here on Guam. Be proud of your kids,’’’ said Maj. Geneve Apuron, whose 10-year-old son, Bryce, is autistic.
Joseph was diagnosed shortly before his third birthday.
“With autism, you just never know what to expect, and that threw me for a loop,’’ Blas said.
Blas read books, surfed online and sought out other parents with autistic children – anything to educate herself and help Joseph. A single parent, she went to a fair in 2011 that led to her joining Autism Community Together. The first event she attended was a Mother’s Day luncheon.
She became president in 2017. Autism Community Together, a nonprofit organization for any family touched by autism in Guam, has nearly 700 followers on Facebook.
“[The organization has] been helping me to stay calm and relaxed, knowing that I’m not doing anything wrong,’’ Blas said.
When Joseph is not watching YouTube videos on his iPad, he enjoys being pushed by his mother while she runs. He attends special-needs and mainstream classes at a school on the naval base in Guam and undergoes physical, occupational and speech therapy.
Evelyn Claros, a former president of Autism Community Together has known Blas for a decade. At one point, Blas feared her son might not walk, Claros said.
Now he runs.
“We have challenges that sometimes you feel are overwhelming, and you feel like you don’t know how much more you can take of these challenges,’’ said Claros, whose 23-year-old son, Nicolas, is autistic. “She is the best mom for Joseph.’’
Blas said she could not do it without the National Guard.
Her cousin’s husband was a recruiter and encouraged her to join. That was 19 years ago. Blas intends to retire in the next year.
Blas has spent most of her career in the National Guard in public affairs. That training helps her handle the swirling dynamics of life with an autistic child.
“Sometimes I would feel like I was having my own meltdown, but in the past few years, I’ve organized myself, organized my thoughts better, just being able to adjust,’’ said Blas, who now serves as a special projects officer. “A lot of it, my mindset is, ‘It just happens, and we just deal with it and move on.’’’Read comments