With help from The Arc, Billy Blau finds joy

DOWNEY – Sometimes the people who can’t speak are the ones who communicate the loudest. Billy Blau, 36, is autistic and rarely speaks more than a few words a day. But his emotions come across loud and clear through hand-holding, smiles, squeals of excitement and a twinkle in his eyes.

Billy has been a client at The Arc – Los Angeles & Orange Counties since 1999, and according to his family, his behavior has dramatically improved in the past 15 years.

Once agitated by crowds and new surroundings, Billy now spends his days exploring Southern California’s vast trove of museums, parks and zoos. There is a photograph of Billy sitting on rocks along a sandy beach, a wide grin on his face.

Sleep used to be next to impossible because ordinary sounds to you and me – like a truck rumbling down the street – would rouse Billy out of bed and keep him up at all hours of the night.

Today, Billy can snore through an entire night without interruption.

But perhaps most heartbreaking of all, before arriving at The Arc, Billy was void of emotion. His autism made him incapable of giving or receiving the most basic forms of human affection, such as a hug.

Thankfully that, too, has changed. As Billy was interviewed by this newspaper, he clasped his mother’s hand and massaged it against the back of his neck.

“I can kiss him on the cheek and the head,” said his mother, Mary Ann Perez, her voice a mixture of joy and relief.

Billy belongs to The Arc’s Excels program for people with developmental disabilities. Instead of wandering malls and food courts, the program exposes Billy and his 22 classmates to museums, science centers and similarly enriching sites throughout the region.

It has done wonders for Billy’s social capabilities and self-esteem.

“It has been life-altering,” Perez said of The Arc. “It’s made Billy more gentle and comfortable. It’s just such a relief.”

This Saturday’s Arc Walk for Independence is a celebration of Billy and others like him. The walk begins at 8 a.m. and participants have their choice of a 1- or 3-mile route.

ABC-7 traffic reporter Alysha Del Valle will emcee this year’s event. There will also be appearances by Warren High School’s marching band, the L.A. Clippers Fan Patrol, Cal State Long Beach’s Army ROTC, and local dignitaries.

Money raised from the walk will benefit The Arc and ensure it continues to offer services to people with developmental disabilities.

Register online at arcwalk.org. On-site registration will also be available starting at 7 a.m.



Published: March 20, 2014 - Volume 12 - Issue 49