Jack Nacmias, of Brooklyn, has an autistic son named Billy, who grew up a mild-mannered boy lost in the bewildering maze of his affliction. As Billy reached puberty, he was beaten by a teacher in the now-defunct Beach Channel High School. Billy’s reaction was to eat uncontrollably until he hit 280 pounds. His anger grew in proportion to his body.
“Some days, Billy would just suddenly go berserk and destroy the whole house,” said Jack. “The cops would have to come to restrain him. My wife, Jane, and I would clean up the mess and weep—not for ourselves—for Billy. We didn’t know how to help him.”
Jack and Jane, loved Billy as much as their other kids, James and Danielle, but Billy had reached an age when keeping him at home was counterproductive to everyone’s quality of life—especially his own.
Because the teacher hit Billy, the Nacmias’ sued the city. As part of the settlement, the city offered to let them pick an institution of their choosing to try to rectify the harm done to Billy. Jack and Jane searched for the right place, where experts might re-channel Billy’s rage.
He was placed in the Center for Discovery in the Catskills, where professionals transformed him from an overweight, unhappy, often violent teen into a trim, joyful and productive young man. “When we visited him, Billy rushed out and hugged us and proudly showed us the house he shared with four other kids,” Jack said. “There’s a full-time nurse, all kinds of dedicated counselors, and Billy works with horses and sheep. He dropped from 280 pounds to 168 pounds, and he’s the trail leader on team hikes. He’s also studying drama.”
Jack, not prone to sappy displays of emotion, wiped a damp eye. “On Thanksgiving, we took Billy to my cousin’s house and he ate with perfect table manners, using a knife and fork. He ate responsibly, and when he was done, he asked if he could be excused.”
“The Center for Discovery uses a holistic approach,” says their spokesman Loren Riegelhaupt. “All the food the students eat is organic, farm fresh. They also work. As they lose weight and detoxify from chemical additives, they tend to calm down, sleep much better and act out less. They also can focus and learn more. In his 18 months here, Billy went through an astounding transformation. We’re thrilled with his success.”
Nacmias is thrilled, too. The only sad part of the story is that Billy will soon reach the age of 21, when he must transfer out of the center.
“But his progress has been so remarkable that the counselors are trying to see if they can hire him to work with new kids. If they can, he’ll have his place in life. There is no better gift than watching your son’s life being saved,” Jack concluded.