By: Christian J. Lorenzo
Néstor J.Arroyo Muñiz, 21, resident of Moca, Pueto Rico is an exemplary citizen even though society frequently casts him away.
Néstor has study studied all his life in public school because his parent’s couldn’t afford to pay for a private school or home schooling. At school Néstor had problems making friends because other kids labeled him as different. The reason they said he was different was because he suffers from a special case of autism called childhood disintegrative disorder.
This disorder can cause severe loss of social skills, communication skills and, sometimes, impaired motor skills as well. “Being different cost me a broken arm and a trip to the hospital,” Néstor said when he was asked to describe his experience in school. He showed me a scar in his left arm and proceede to retell its story.
When he was in 4th grade he was being bullied by a kid named Benny. One day he tried to confront Benny by fighting him but Benny was bigger and pushed him. Néstor fell down and hurt his arm with the root of a tree. Néstor had a cast for three weeks.
To prevent any other problems his parents asked his aunt if he could go to her house for lunch so he wouldn’t be in trouble at school. He went to his aunt’s house almost every day even when he was in high school.
Néstor also had a hard time in school when he had to give oral presentations. In one occasion a teacher laughed at him because nobody in class was able to understand the presentation. This experience traumatized him. “I was able to overcome my hard childhood thanks to the support of my parents and the therapies I had to take.”
Néstor started receiving therapies to help him speak clearly when he was 4 years old. He received most of the therapies at Centro Ayani where he now is a volunteer. Some of his duties as a volunteer are to take care of the children, most of whom suffer from down syndrome, clean the facilities and help with daily tasks. “When I got to high school I donated almost all my toys to them (kids at Centro Ayani).”
The black haired young man works as a bagger at a grocery store in Moca. “Having autism has affected the possibility of becoming a cashier but is ok because now I’m the fastest bagger at the store,” Néstor said.
Jean Carlos Gálarza, one of Néstor coworkers said, “Sometimes we compete to see who is faster and none of the other guys including me have been able to beat him.” Sometimes he has to work at the butcher section: “I hate to work there because it’s so cold that sometimes your bones start to hurt,” said Gálarza.
Even though Néstor likes working at the grocery store his dream is to work as a cartoonist. “I have always loved drawing because people appreciate your work regardless of who you are.” Néstor has been drawing since he was a kid and has participated in various competitions, winning some of them.
“Drawing was an important part in his therapies. It helped him express what he was feeling and when he didn’t want to talk it was the only way of communication,” said Néstor’s father, Néstor Arroyo.
Mr. Arroyo, 49, has worked since he was 17, has been Néstor’s best friend and mentor. “I know both of them are there for me but it is easier to talk to my dad,” said Néstor.
Previously he worked in a local store repairing electronics but he got fired because the store wasn’t making enough profit. Even though he has had many jobs, his psychologist suggested that he work in a place where he has to use his social skills so he could improve them and that is how he got to work as a bagger.
Besides drawing, the light- skinned teenager has a hobby he shares with his grandfather. They use recycled materials to create useful new inventions. At his grandfather’s house they have a small greenhouse that doesn’t require any human interaction to keep the vegetables watered. “The best thing I have created with my grandfather was our own train,” said Néstor who used an old four track as the wheels and some wood to create the exteriors. He also likes to go fishing at the river next to his house.
When Néstor was asked what advice he would give to other people who share his condition he said, “Well I suggest they surround themselves with good friends and stay positive. Yeah, some people may judge and treat you differently but with support you will be ok.”