Sunnyvale couple honored for autism outreach

Ryan Matranga was 6 months old when his father, Sunnyvale resident Jerry Matranga, first noticed that something was wrong. Ryan was not developing in the same way that his two older sisters had. He lacked basic infant communication skills, and was missing major childhood milestones, such as rolling over and standing up.

Concerned for his son’s health, Matranga took him to see a doctor, who diagnosed Ryan with failure to thrive. Failure to thrive is described as a growth failure often due to an acute or chronic disorder known to interfere with normal nutrient intake and absorption.

Nearly five years later, still concerned about the lack of developmental progress Ryan had made in comparison to his siblings, Matranga took his son to Stanford Medical Center. It was there that Ryan was finally diagnosed with autism.

Autism is a developmental disability caused by a neurological disorder that impedes the brain’s ability to function normally. It primarily affects interactive and communication skills, and leaves autistic individuals unable to socialize or communicate normally with peers. The disorder itself is what is known as a “spectrum disorder.” It affects each of its victims in different ways and to varying degrees of severity.

Ryan’s autism was particularly severe. “[Ryan] was more involved with objects and repetitive motions than with [social] interactions,” Matranga said.

Matranga tried to support Ryan in any way he could, driving him to Cal State Hayward for speech therapy, and even hiring behaviorists to work with Ryan in their home several times a week. Desperate for additional support, Matranga turned to the C. Thomas Foundation in 1986, which would eventually dissolve and regroup as the Pacific Autism Center for Education in 1989. Twenty years later, Matranga’s participation in autism outreach and education is still going strong.

Matranga has a bachelor’s degree in educational psychology, as well as master’s degrees in educational administration and business administration. He works as an associate superintendent for the Palo Alto Unified School District. This background made him ideal to serve on PACE’s board of directors, where he has been involved since entering Ryan into the program in 1986. He recently left the board of directors to serve as the chairman of PACE’s new advisory board, which will help with PACE’s community outreach.

“Our role is to help with getting the name of PACE out in the community and developing community support for PACE,” said Matranga.

Since PACE was founded in 1989, the organization has flourished and now provides numerous support programs to autistic individuals and their families. It provides an early intervention program–intensive programming of recognized treatment methods for children 6 and younger. PACE also offers vocational programs for autistic teens and adults, which are supported by local business who employ PACE members.

PACE also owns and operates six group homes for the autistic, two of which are located in Sunnyvale, with one named for the Matranga family. The homes serve 36 residents, ranging in age from 3 to 60. Ryan, now 27, resides in one of the homes.

One of PACE’s most impressive programs is its K-12 school, which was recently accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. The PACE School utilizes a multidisciplinary approach to meet the educational needs of students with autism, and all students are taught using an age-appropriate curriculum.

“The idea is to give them as normalized an environment [as possible],” said Matranga. “If they don’t learn the way you teach, you teach the way they learn.”

Matranga’s wife, Jan, also became involved with PACE after the couple married in 1999. She is primarily involved in fundraising and in organizing the annual gala, which is PACE’s largest event. Last year, the event boasted more than 400 guests and was credited with bringing in nearly a quarter of PACE’s funds for the fiscal year.

Both Jan and Jerry Matranga were honored at the 37th annual volunteer recognition luncheon hosted by the Junior League of San Jose. They were two of 16 volunteers who were honored with the Junior League’s prestigious Crystal Bowl Award for their efforts with PACE and autism awareness and education. Jan Matranga called the award a “complete surprise,” and added receiving it “was a humbling experience.”

The two plan to continue their work advocating for PACE and promoting autism education throughout the South Bay. Jan Matranga is currently in the process of planning PACE’s fifth annual gala, scheduled for Nov. 11.

For more information about PACE and its upcoming events, visit http://www.pacificautism.org or call the administrative offices at 408.245.3400.

This piece originally appeared in The Sunnyvale Sun.

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