“My name is Rosemarie Pacheco, and I was born with Autism and still struggling with it,” reads the first sentence in 21-year-old Rosemarie Pacheco’s high school essay.
In the compelling work, which she titled “Per Ardua ad Astra” (Through Struggle to the Stars), she recalled while receiving behavior therapy of having a “shadow” — someone who was assigned to assist her in school. She recalled her overwhelming challenges with autism, including one occasion when her elementary school was in lockdown while school authorities searched for her because she used to run out of the classrooms and hide.
She’s come a very long way.
“What drives my dreams is to prove that anyone, even with disabilities, will succeed despite the odds against them,” she writes.
With hard work and support, Rosie is a notable example of what an individual with autism can accomplish.
In 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, “Rosie” (as she is called by family and friends) earned degrees in Graphics and Web Design, and 3D and Animation at Mission College. This year she has earned more degrees in Video Production, and Arts and Humanities.
Rosie was accepted to Woodbury University, and will begin attending in the fall in pursuit of her Bachelor’s of Fine Arts (BFA) in Game Design and Art.
This summer she’s also participating in a school called “Game Gen” where she will receive additional training to design and create video games [her life’s ambition], paid for by the North Los Angeles County Regional Center — a nonprofit organization under contract with the California Department of Developmental Services to coordinate and provide services to persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Rosie has been fortunate to have the unwavering support of her grandparents, Kay Pacheco Deitch, 60, and husband Kenneth Deitch, 74, who have raised her since she was a baby.
Pacheco Deitch said Rosie’s mom was a single mother and “could not give her all of the regional services and care for her daughter that she would need.”
“We knew something was wrong when she was two-years-old, and she was diagnosed around 3 ½,” recalled Pacheco Deitch.
Among the tell-tale signs often associated with autism were language problems, frustration, tantrums, miming to replace language, repetitiveness, and difficulty with food and clothing textures.
Pacheco Deitch said she had “no clue” what autism was when Rosie was diagnosed, but agreed to behavior and speech therapy for her at an early age.
From age 3 until she was 10- or 11-years-old, someone would come to the house seven days a week and work with Rosie on developmental skills.
“It was about putting in 24 hours of time just working with her for years,” Pacheco Deitch said.
After dropping Rosie off at the school, she would stay there for a couple of hours just in case she needed some help. She would also show up early just to watch her, and help her in any way she could.
“We were always there, always available,” the grandmother said.
The therapies and support have helped Rosie, although she still struggles with her social skills.
“If you had a conversation with her, she would be fine. But for her to go into the world and make a friend or go to the movies, that doesn’t happen,” Pacheco Deitch explained.
Rosie excelled in her school work. She graduated from North Valley Military Institute High School with a 4.3 GPA and was also Commander of the school’s Color Guard.
It was during her time in high school that she also began to take classes at Mission College through dual enrollment.
An avid “gamer,” Rosie is the first in her family to get a college degree. She wants to be a game designer and the foundation for her to accomplish that dream has been put in place.
Pacheco Deitch is full of joy and pride for her granddaughter. “For her to accomplish all of this is amazing,” she said.
Unfortunately, because of COVID-19, Rosie was unable to have a normal graduation at Los Angeles Mission College. So, Pacheco Deitch reached out to Mission College President Monte Perez and asked if he could take a picture with her granddaughter instead.
Perez readily agreed, and even gave her a private graduation ceremony, as well as a tour of the school.
“Ms. Pacheco is really a shining example of how far an individual with autism can go and is still going,” Perez said. “Her professors were really amazed with her talents.”
Watching Rosie achieve her degrees and seeing how far she’s come “made everything worthwhile,” Pacheco Deitch said. She recommends other parents become advocates for their children.
“A lot of parents don’t want to put an (autism) label on their child — [they don’t realize] that label means nothing,” she said. “It’s about the services they get and the earlier the better so they can be successful.
“For a lot of kids, if they would have had the extra help and support [when they were young] they would have got through. But, [without support] they struggle as an adult,” Pacheco Deitch said.
She shared that for a long time, she and Kenneth thought Rosie would be living with them forever and worried about what would happen if they weren’t around.
For now, they’re cautiously optimistic.
“Our hope is for her to be independent, be able to drive, and have a good paying job,” Pacheco Deitch said.
She added there are already people who have seen Rosie grow up and are willing to help with internships to help her start her career.
“The University is going to be harder and we’re going to be there for her,” Pacheco Deitch said. “For people and families that think college isn’t in their reach for whatever reason, it is in their reach and they shouldn’t give up. They should push the kids.
“Go for your dreams. Don’t let anything stop you,” she encouraged. “Anything is possible; you just have work for it.”