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Every day is a new challenge for autistic kids and their parents
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Geoffrey Lum-Perez is an award-winning artist. Some of his unique drawings have also been used to illustrate a calendar.

His artistic talent has gained him quite a following of fans, thanks in part to his winnings at the annual Lathrop Mayor’s Art Purchase Award Show and Sale.

If his feats have amazed not just his parents and close-knit family but members of the community at large, it’s because rare is a human gem like Geoffrey. He was born with autism. Many autistic kids are rarely kept in public view. As Geoffrey’s mom explains it, “The nature of autism, with its many sensory and communications issues, makes it nearly impossible to predict difficult moments. As parents, most of us believe that our children’s behavior in public is a reflection of our parenting skills. The unpredictability of what can set off an autistic child in public keeps many families from taking them out.”

Lum-Perez, owner of The Learning Tree preschool in Lathrop which marked its three-decade milestone about two years ago, and Lathrop Planning Commissioner Jose Perez, adopted Geoffrey at a very young age. It’s been 20 years since they heard the official diagnosis about what was wrong with their son, but the words are still fresh in their minds. They came from the clinical psychologist who was part of the diagnostic team for Geoffrey.

“I wouldn’t wish autism on my worst enemy, but if there was ever a time to have it, it’s now,” Lum-Perez said, recalling that life-changing statement.

“The epidemic/explosion of autism today is unprecedented but the programs/funding for research is also unsurpassed in 2015. Many new theories and approaches have been formed since Geoffrey’s diagnosis, but autism is still a complex and difficult condition for many who are affected by it, for both the individual and their family,” she noted.

The good news today, albeit only to a certain extent, is that more people have become more aware and more understanding of those with disabilities, said Lum-Perez who says she is very “proud for every moment we’re able to share our amazing Geoffrey with the world.”

She added, “Every day spent with Geoffrey is a new day. I hope that he’s been taught as much as we have learned from him.”

Below, she shares some of the “many valuable lessons” she has learned from her son:

• Conquer your fears. Geoffrey had extreme fear of elevators as a small child. Today, we go to the mall specifically to ride the elevators. We don’t know how he turned around.

• Be truthful. Geoffrey has never told a lie. He has never been given a reason nor had a reason to not tell the truth. If you want his honest opinion, ask him.

• Show kindness and compassion. Contrary to common belief about autism, there is understanding and the ability to snow kindness, compassion, and love. He does this every day without fail.

• Always be the best you can be. Geoffrey is who he is – kind, generous, funny, caring. Without even realizing it, he has given me a wonderful, cherished gift. He makes me want to be the best person I can be – every day and for always. I believe that is why he has such a following of those who know and love him, too. He has the unique and rare ability to bring out the best in people…, and we all should keep paying it forward.

For struggling parents with children like Geoffrey, Lum-Perez’s encouraging advice is: “Remember that each day is a new day and a gift…, and so are our children. Don’t give up, for the best is yet to come.”