Foreword by John Spesak, CEO/President
Hello Team SIS!
One of the greatest aspects of my role is the opportunity to meet and interact with each of you throughout the organization. It is during these interactions that I hear your stories, see pictures and learn what motivates and inspires you. Although each of those moments is memorable, some are extraordinary, which is why I am writing — so that I can share an extraordinary story about one of our own.
I would like to introduce all of you to Mr. Mo Bautista. Mo is assigned to our Special Operations division as a Law Enforcement Coordinator, based in our Culver City Office.
The details of Mo’s journey demonstrate the incredible character, commitment, passion and soul that I believe is a quality shared by many within SIS. When hearing Mo’s story, it truly caused me to pause; in that moment of reflection, I could not have been more humbled, or more proud to know that Mo is the type of individual who wears the same SIS logo that I do. Mo is a tangible example of the difference, individually and collectively, that SIS has grown to represent.
I would like to share one of my favorite quotes that I believe describes Mo, better than any of my words ever could…
“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
Mo Bautista, we are better because you are here and make the difference in the world that you do! Thank You for leaving a trail!
I now turn the article over to his story . . .
An interview with Mo Bautista
Interviewer: Tell me a little about the [Talk About Curing Autism] race itself. What was the hardest obstacle?
Mo: The rope climb was the second obstacle of the race. I told ‘em, if they’d have put it at the end, I wouldn’t have been able to make it. That thing man, right from the shoot I had to crawl over a little six foot wall, “Alright, this is kind of easy.” Then once we got to the top of this plateau there was that rope, and I was like, “Aw man, they’re just starting right out. Punching right from the start.”
But man, after that my forearms were thrashed. I couldn’t even brush my teeth the next morning. I woke up and it was just, [groans]. I just shook my head across the brush. I couldn’t do anything with it. That hurt big-time. After that it was pretty simple, a lot of rolling hills, flat land.
Oh! And the ice bath! Good God that sucked! You get to this above-ground pool. It’s about chest deep and there’s a big-rig backed up to it that’s a reefer big rig, and there’s this guy in the back opening bags of ice and throwing them in the pool. You lower yourself into the water and you’re like, “Oh my God!” And they have a piece of wood halfway across the pool that you have to go under. I was up against the wood going, [pants hard repeatedly, psyching himself up]. I came up swinging and cussin’! It went from rated G, happy, to just rated R. Cussin’ and screamin’. People were like, “what the heck?!” That’s my only weakness. I can stand fire, heights, piranhas, anything, but I cannot stand cold water man. Yeah it was interesting to say the least.
Oh! I had taken my pack, because I knew there was going to be a lot of crawling under obstacles, you know, barbed wire, there was this long tube filled part-way with muddy water, and I was like, “You know that’s not going to be able to fit,” so I rigged up a rope. It was about 20ft long, so I could tie it around my waist and drag [the pack] behind me. That helped out a lot. But yeah, other than for those two low obstacles that pack never came off my back. Well until the very end and I was like, “Get rid of this damn thing!” [Laughs].
Interviewer: So in the end it was 39lbs?
Mo: Well [laughs], it was going to be about 35 and change, but when I got there … Well, the night before I had military packed this thing. I had the rocks taped up and sealed in plastic bags. You know those floating foam tubes for little kids? I had cut one so it fit all the way around the rocks in the pack so it wouldn’t shift, plus if my head banged on it, you know?
I had that all sealed up, but when I got there to register there was this older lady there who had heard what I was doing and she said, “My son’s autistic. Do you think you could put a rock in there for him?” [Long pause, continues, exasperated] “Yeah!”
I mean, I spent like 3 hours last night, but I unzipped it, and she just grabs this big rock. You can see it in the pictures because I painted all the other ones and hers is this big, gray one off to the side.
One of the TACA trucks had a scale in it, so I went and weighed it after putting her rock in and it was 37.9lbs. I was like, “That’s it! The pack is closed!” But yeah at the end, by the time all the mud was caked on and everything, I’d guess it came close to 45lbs. Mud and water just seeped in to different cracks around the pack, and man, it was heavy!
Interviewer: What did the organizers think of what you were doing?
Mo: I got there and registered and they were like, “You’re the one with the rocks, right!?” And I was like, “Yeah…?” They said, “We need you over there at that tent, they want to talk to you!” And I’m thinking, “Oh my gosh…” So I got over there to the tent and the TACA organization had a VIP area for everyone that donated, but they were like, “Oh, you’ve got your own little awning!” I was like a prized cow at the fair or something. I’m just standing there, everyone else is walking by, and I’m sitting there like, “What the heck is this man?”
Then, after the race, they put all the rocks on that table there for everyone to see. Then they were like, “Well, what are you going to do with them?” And I’m like, “I don’t know, put ‘em under a tree I guess,” and they’re like, “Well, can we get them from you? We’d like to put them in our corporate office in Orange County.” They took all the rocks and I’m like, “Oh thank god! I don’t even want to lug those things to the car.”
But yeah, there were two older ladies there who were volunteering and they were crying when I was telling them the story, like, “You’re the best!” And I’m like, “Hey man, just seemed like something cool to do I guess.” I was so beat though. I got home, gave the kids some money and was like, “Order a pizza. Here’s some matches and some knives and some pizza. I’m going to be over on the couch dying and stuff.”
Interviewer: Did the kids come watch?
Mo: No, my son, he couldn’t go. He’s not a big fan of hot weather. It makes him cranky. If I would have ran with no rocks it would have taken about an hour, if that, and he would have probably been able to hang with my daughter baby-sitting him, but it took about an hour and half, two hours, and just [laughs] my daughter would have been sitting there with a black eye. He would have been just like, [roars], he is not a fan of hot weather.
Interviewer: Your son’s name is Zeke?
Mo: Well, Ezekiel. I wanted a really cool name, long name, and it’s a nickname as well, you know,?“Zeke.” That’s what everyone calls him at school. That’s what he’s been known as since kindergarten.
Interviewer: How many people donated?
Mo: Oh geez! Man it took me a while… [Trails off] Let me see how many people I sent that email to. [Starts counting the recipients all the way up to 35, laughs] It was a lot! [Continues counting up to 66] 66 people.
Interviewer: And you said yours was the largest donation to TACA this year?
Mo: Yeah, for individuals it was the largest, and it crushed everyone else by like three grand. Then they had teams, and if I had just been a team by myself I would have come in second. I was only like 300 bucks behind a team that was first that had 15 people on it. I was still bummed about that. I just wanted to crush everybody. Even other people that donated a lot were like, “Jesus Christ, that guy… 4,600 bucks?” And I got one $100 donation late, so it’s actually $4,750 now. There were people who donated a lot. One coworker, an hourly employee, donated 100 bucks. I was like, “Jesus!” For some people $100 might be like a drop in the bucket or whatever, but for the rest of us, 100 bucks? That’s a hit!
Interviewer: [Pointing at the medals pinned to his cubicle wall,] So you’ve done this before, this mud run thing?
Mo: Gladiator was actually the very first mud run I ever did, but the one at the Rose Bowl. That was last year. Then I did another one last year in Orange County. Then there was a ‘Super’ one in San Diego last fall.
Interviewer: For the Gladiator run, TACA’s not the only charity associated with it, correct?
Mo: No, they’re not. You know, there a few different mud runs. Like Spartan? The profits go right in to the pockets of Reebok. Most people don’t know that. But when you go to the Gladiator website, it’s thrown out from the start, “Boom!” Who they donate to. There are a few different charities.
Interviewer: Did you get hooked up with TACA through the Gladiator run or did you know them from before?
Mo: No, you know, I didn’t even know they were connected to TACA until this one. [Points to the medal from the run he did in Orange County] From there I was like, “Hell yea! I’m going to start raising money.” And then, this one, [points to the medal from the ‘Super’ run he did in San Diego] I got like 2,500 bucks raised last year, which was definitely good, but this year I was like, “You know, I think we could do a lot better than that.”
I got like 2,500 bucks raised last year, which was definitely good,
but this year I was like, “You know, I think we could do a lot better than that.”
Interviewer: How many of these races do you do a year?
Mo: You know, this year I wanted to push it. I wanted to see. Last year I did 12, one per month, and this year so far I’ve done 13, and I’ve got them packed in the rest of the six months. Mud runs, 5ks with my daughter, Halloween ones, Christmas ones, one mud run with my son, and this fitness epic series next month, which is almost like the Crossfit games.
And you know, they can be expensive, but if you volunteer to work for one of the days of the weekend, they give you registration for free. I was like, “How the hell do people afford this,” but that’s how. They volunteer.
I think I got something like 8, 8 or 9 more races by the end of this year. So I’m… this month’s been pretty brutal. July, August and September are going to be the hardest months. It’s a hobby.
Interviewer: TACA is an awareness organization, right?
Mo: Yeah, it is. I never, we never, got in it and participated in it. We didn’t know when my son was diagnosed, so we’ve basically, up until this point when he’s 14, we’ve just been muddling through it. Going along as we get along. You find out someone is offering this, so you take advantage of it. But there’s a lot of people that just don’t know what to do. And even now, autism has been out there for a while. There’s still questions about it, you know? They blame it on immunization this year, last year they blamed it on the Mom, and next year they’ll blame it on the Dad. You know, the rotation to the Earth. And no one really knows anything. The only thing they’ve been able to do is break it down into levels, which helps out a lot. Because you look at it, 30 years ago, there was no autism. If there was a kid with autism, he was called mentally disabled.
So education wise, they were put into class with a lot of kids that were pretty severe. And I don’t want to say that they didn’t need help, but, you know, you’re teaching Flinstones when they should be getting taught Jetsons. So because they are starting to identify the different levels and the stages, now for education, like my son, they actually have two different special education classes for the school, and they cater to those kids. Like for his class, once a week they ride the bus. They go up North and they eat at a park. And this way they get used to riding buses, because they might not be able to drive.
So it gets them used to that. And they’ll walk to the market and buy groceries. The next day in class they’ll cook the groceries. So it gets them ready. Something that the other class, maybe they don’t do because they’ll probably be cared for the majority of their life. But this actually gets them ready for life. That actually helped out my son a lot. He’s… [Trails off] Before… [Trails off]
It’s just like leaps and bounds. He never talked. I mean, he didn’t need to, he didn’t want to. He was like, “I don’t need to talk. I know what I need to do.” He could make a sandwich, he could throw a football, he could climb a tree. You know, but now we can’t shut him up.
It’s all because they keep pushing and pushing. I mean, they can take a lot. Autistic kids and with Asperger’s, they can take a lot. They just absorb it a different way. Like, for me and you, we remember stuff like a video. So if we want to remember something, we have to rewind the video back, but it’s fuzzy. Well, autistic kids and kids with Asperger’s take snapshots. So they may not get the whole minute of a video. They might get 4 or 5 snapshots of that. But when they do get it, it’s ingrained. They can remember stuff from 2 or 3 months ago, like [snaps his fingers] like that.
We were driving to Disneyland, and he was in the back seat playing his video game. And I go, “Zeke, look out the window. There’s a monster truck!” It was a 909er, big redneck truck, big wheels and everything. So he’s looking at it and says, “Wow! That’s awesome! Cool!”
So we go to Disneyland all day, then we get home and he takes out his drawing stuff. He drew the entire truck down to the stickers. The amount of holes in the rims, everything. And that’s the way their brain works. They remember something and it’s just ingrained like stone. Every little detail, you know?
Those tasks and stuff that require a lot of memory, they remember that. But fitting into society, you know… When they’re happy, they’re extreme. When they’re sad, they’re extreme. When they’re angry, they go off the chain. So they’re hyper-sensitive. Like with him, heat, he doesn’t like heat too much. Doesn’t like loud sounds or noises. We went and saw the Transformers when it first came out and it had Dolby Surround Sound. He wanted to watch it so bad, so he sat in the movie theatre like this the whole time [places hands over his ears]. He didn’t want to leave, but he sat like that the whole time, because the sounds, and the laser blasts and everything.
So, for me, I had to slow down, had to slow down. Because for me, I was raised in a house with no mom, and it was me, my dad, and my little brother, so there was no weakness. “What’s for dinner? .. I don’t know, whatever you cook yourself.” That kind of thing.
Then you get told that you have an autistic kid and you can’t move at the same pace. You have to down-shift a lot. You have to repeat things more than 2, more than 3 times. In a sense, it’s made me better. Everybody is like, “Dude, this is slow?” [Referring to his impressive energy and pace-of-life] I mean, oh yea, I couldn’t sit still. I mean, in my early years, when I was in the military and stuff like that. But yea, you get an autistic kid everything comes to, I wont say a grinding halt, but it’s a slower speed, because it has to.
Interviewer: How old is he?
Mo: He just turned 14 last week. So that was kind of cool too. I wish he would have went, man. But I didn’t want to… It was hot that day. I got the weather report the night before and I was like, “Nah.” Just to have him out there, he’s going to be cranky. It’s his day, you know? But I was like, “Nah, it’s not going to be good for him.” Because he’ll be pissed off for like 2 to 3 days straight.
I mean, he holds a grudge if you take him to something like that when he doesn’t want to go. Like with school, first day of school, doesn’t matter, same teacher, same friends. It’s just, he’s had a rhythm with summer vacation. Now you’ve just shoved school right back into his face. He’ll look back like, “Oh, Dad’s here. I can’t go off the chain.” He’ll look over like, “God, he’s still here. Go home.” But all he needs is one good day when I’m there, then he’s back into it. He’s smart. I mean, he makes these creatures and stuff. [Shows off a model Zeke made] He makes them out of pipe cleaners.
Interviewer: Oh, wow, that’s great! That’s amazing. It’s like a sculpture.
Mo: Like, I’ll sit there with him and try to make them, and I just can’t. His hands are moving a thousand miles an hour though. We’ll buy Pokemon books. He’ll sit there and look at the page, grabs the colors out of the box he’s got and he just goes.
The hard thing is getting them from him. I’ll have to wait till he sleeps, then sneak in his room and take it off the dresser, then go hide it in my backpack. Yeah, Holly got one last year. Holly, Tom Seltz, and Bao. Bao got a big, huge, red dinosaur. And Bao knew who it was too, it was Charizard, from Pokemon. Bao was like, “It’s Charizard!” I’m like, “Jesus, how’d you know what it is?” He was like, “I know! He’s got the yellow-tipped tail, and the teeth and everything.” But yeah, he does it all from memory. He’ll just look, study the page, and boom. He’ll just take off and just start twisting.
And that keeps him calm, you know, and it keeps him sharp, actually, too. We’ll let him twist, and then we do homework. If you don’t let him twist before homework, you’re not getting any homework done. Oh, goodness, no. He’s just going to sit there and look, like, “Nah, I ain’t doing it.”
So, yea, you’ve got to be smart around him. He’s sneaky.
When I was a cop, my old partner, she and her husband went with us to the fair, the LA County Fair. So we met in the parking lot, and Zeke was like 7 or 8, and he was giving her googly eyes and holding her hand, and she was like, “Mo, he’s not bad. I don’t know why…” And I was like, “You just wait. It’s coming.”
So the whole time, we’re just at the fair, and he’s just holding her hand and laughing, and we go to one of the booths, one of those big exhibit halls. It was geared with, like, winter snow. They had an ice rink in the summer, which was kind of cool. So they went over there and I saw this booth that was selling snowboarding stuff. So, I was like, “Oh! I’ll be over here, just give me 5 minutes. I need to look for binding stuff.” So I go over there and they didn’t have my binding stuff, and I come back and everybody’s gone. I’m like, “Where the hell did everybody go?”
I look out on the ice, and there he was out on the ice, workers are trying to tackle him, everybody is trying to tackle him. Her husband is rolling on the ground laughing. She’s out trying to tackle him. I’m like, oh my God, “Zeke!” I yell out across the rink and he just stopped and everybody tackled him and brought him over. I’m like, “What the hell happened?” They go, “The minute he saw you had walked into that tent, he looked up at me and gave me a big smile. I looked down, and then he’s just gone.” I’m like, “He’d been planning that move all day since the parking lot.” Just, the minute he sees me go somewhere he’s like, “Oh yea, it’s time.” He’d been baiting them the whole day, man. But yea, that’s the way he is. He’s patient and smart. He’ll wait for his time.
He just wanted to go, just wanted to run. Just, “BAHHHH!” [Waving arms]. Just lose his mind real quick. He’d been planning that the whole day. But that’s the way his mind is. He’s a maniac. But he’s probably one of the kindest-hearted kids you’ll ever meet. Him and his sister, who is 2 years older, are like best friends. And she’s protective of him. I remember when I took them to…
Interviewer: What’s her name?
Mo: Britney. Yeah, she’s 16. When they were little, I took them both to the dentist. I have to go because you’ve got to tell them, “Hey, I got to go, because I have to be in the room, because if I’m not, he’s going to lose his mind and probably throw one of you through the window or something.” So we’re sitting there and I’m talking to the nurse before we go in, and I go, “I have to go in. Because my son is autistic.” And she goes, “Oh, it’s no problem. I’ve had a lot of experience with handicapped children.” And my daughter, who was 8 at the time, grabs her by the arm and says, “He’s not handicapped. He’s special.”
The lady was like, “OK. Note to self.” And I was like, “That’s my baby girl right there.” She’s definitely protective of him. She babysits him during summer break. They have their own rooms, but they’re always together in one room. In her room, if he wants to play video games. Or in his room, you know, goofing around. But they’re always together, they’re pretty inseparable. It helps out a lot too. He misses her. He’ll be like, “Britney come home from school?” When he has a half-day, or something. I’ll say, “Not yet, buddy. She’s still at school.”
Interviewer: So, you’re raising all this money for awareness. I know you said that there have been big improvements in education. By increasing awareness, what are you hoping to improve further or change?
Mo: You know, it’s just to help out parents that, you know, have questions. That’s the biggest thing, and that’s what TACA really helps on. You go into it blind-folded. You go in, one, to get your child evaluated. What stage is he? What level is he? Is he high functioning or severe? That’s the start, getting him in and getting him identified. What’s the stage?
The resources that they now have for it, a lot of people don’t know. We didn’t know. I mean, I guess you can say that we’ve graduated. But there’s a lot of people that they’re at the very beginning of it, when it’s just a whirlwind. You don’t know what to do! And believe me, it’s painful if you don’t know. You struggle through it, and struggle through it. And then you find out some information or, gosh, who did we find? For example, we didn’t know about these Inland Regional Centers until four or five years after he was diagnosed.
Interviewer: And you found out about that through TACA?
Mo: Yeah, through TACA and the school district. The IRC taught him how to swim. They will challenge the kids. Baseball! I never thought he’d be able to do a sport. So that came out of it. Just all these little things.
Easter Seals, they come by 2 nights a week for reading. They read with him, he reads to them, they read together, they play games that are associated with reading and learning.
But these are all programs that, if you don’t know they’re out there, you’re going to miss out. All the little things, the challenge, baseball, interacting with other kids. He never had that before, just his sister and the kids at school. Getting him outdoors, keeping him active, that’s great.
Sometimes, whereas you hate to see it or say it, sometimes when you have a special needs kid, you just lock them up. You know what I mean? They can still do things, but it’s easier just to put them in a room, throw a bag of Fritos in there and some colored crayons, and let them do their thing. You gotta to get them out, challenge them.
Believe me, it was the hardest thing getting him out there, but towards the end of the season, he liked playing baseball with the kids. First it was, “I don’t know what I’m doing out here. I don’t like it.” But it got him interacting with the kids and keeping him active. That’s what TACA does, they educate.
And they don’t just identify the kid, they identify the parent. They sit down with each of the parents and the kid and see how the kid is with the parents. With me, he listens. He’s strong, he’s focused. But with mom he just runs amuck, and they identified that. They actually help train parents on what you can improve on.
So they don’t just help with the kids, they help with the parents. For me, I had to calm down, but mom had to step up. With me saying that, she’s like, “Ah, whatever. He’s you’re son..” I’m like, “Naw, you need to step up.” But some trained professionals come in and…
Interviewer: Sure. They’ve got no stake in it.
Mo: Right. It’s like, “Hey, you’ve got to step up, and you’ve got to calm down.” And that helps a lot.
Interviewer: Even though you now have that information from TACA, do you interact with them regularly? Or is it something that is mainly more of an orientation, like in the beginning?
Mo: They deal with it as the kid gets older and the child learns, they evolve as well. So they identify, what does your child need? And they attack it. Like right now, its like, “Is he going to be able to get a job? Alright, where’s he at with his education? Oh well he’s at this stage? Well, let’s push him more.”
Before, gosh, at the beginning of sixth grade he could barely count to 50. Now, he’s buying stuff at the store, and making change. You know, he’ll say, “Dad, let me have $5 for school tomorrow. We’re going to the store.”
“Well, what are you going to buy?”
“I’m going to get 1 diet 7-up, 1 bag of Fritos, and a banana.”
“And how much does that cost?”
He knows these things now.
Interviewer: Does he like to swim?
Mo: Pssshh, like a fish. Like a fish. But he didn’t know how to swim at first.
Interviewer: Right, you said it was the Inland Resources…
Mo: Yeah, the Inland Regional Center. They took him once a week to the pool, and they had a bunch of other children there. They take him to those jump parks with the trampolines.
What else have we done? Oh, they’ll have picnics in the park in the summer. And they’ll do games and arts and crafts at picnic tables and stuff like that. And, yeah, it helps parents to not feel like their kids are written off or something like that.
Interviewer: Going from counting to 50 to that. That’s amazing.
Mo: Yeah, some of the changes that he’s done and that he’s gone through. It’s just… [Trails off] I mean, yeah, it seems like just yesterday I was chasing him around the house in his diaper trying to potty break him, you know? Now, he sits there and recites songs. He sings Frozen songs all day. He can sit there and probably recite half of the Transformers movie and not even stare at the screen. He’ll just sit there saying, “Optimus Prime and blah blah blah.” And I’m just like, “Good lord!”
And Pokemon, he loves Pokemon. You could show him Pokemon, like a picture, and he could probably get 95% of them right, by name. And their evolutions too. He knows them all. It’s just like, “Where does he learn all this?” And my daughter doesn’t know them all. She’s just like, “Pssh, I just remember like that first 150.” There’s like 500 or something!
Interviewer: Oh really? I was just thinking the first 150.
Mo: That’s what everybody remembers, but now there’s like 500 of them and he knows them all. And that’s the hardest part, I mean, it was a blow to me, I’ll be honest, when he got diagnosed. Because first you get told you’re having a boy; I had dreamed about having a boy. “We’re going to name him Zeke, and we’re going to go to wrestling camps in Oklahoma, and I’m going to groom him to be, just like, I know where I got to take him and train him.” And then you get sucker punched right in the face, you know? “He’s got autism.” And then your whole thing stops. But it doesn’t stop, it just changed.
And I guess that was an ego blow for me. But it’s not over. It’s just a different way of doing things. But yeah, that was a shot to me. Like, “What do we do, what do we do?” And it was a freakish thing. He wasn’t crawling at the age my daughter was crawling, he wasn’t talking at the same stage and time that my daughter did. But you always hear, “Girls do everything faster.” They run, they learn, they walk, they crawl, just everything faster than boys. So we kind of wrote that off. But after a while, you’re like, “He’s 2 and not doing anything.”
On my side of the family, I’ve got 4 relatives that are deaf. So I was wondering, “Oh, I wonder if we got hit.” I took him in to get his hearing checked and this older lady, she was in her late 60s, she was doing hearing tests for 40 some odd years. She gives him the hearing test, and he passes it. And she goes, “I’m not a doctor. But after my 40 some odd years, he kind of seems to be autistic.” And I’m just hear like, “OK. How did we go from partial hearing problem to autistic?” And she just goes, “I’m not a doctor, but you may want to look into that.”
Sure enough, that’s exactly what it was. If it wasn’t for that lady with all her years of experience, I would probably never have known until school or kindergarten, when they identified it. And that’s another 2 to 3 years away.
A lot of parents really don’t until that first year in school. They write it off as, “They’re just a slow kid.” But the more you can do at the beginning, the more of a head start, the better. So yea, we’re one of the lucky ones.
That’s what TACA does. They help identify it as soon as possible. They help get them into whatever they can. A lot of it is free. And Easter Seals, they work with families that financially can’t do this.
I mean, that’s another thing too. You hear like, Jenny McCarthy, “Oh we have autistic kids too and we changed them for the better.” Well, yea! You’ve got all the money in the world. You can afford a live-in therapist. A lot of stuff, it’s money talks.
So that’s where TACA comes in, they get you financial aid or they just outright get you it for free. With this thing with the rocks, I just thought I could help them help out some parents that are just starting out.