When you think of modern day heroes, you’re likely to think of firefighters, doctors, and those in the armed services. I believe it’s important we acknowledge those who aren’t commonly adulated or appreciated. I’ve always had great respect and admiration for the many who decide to dedicate their lives to helping children with special needs. I met a woman who made it her life’s mission to help autistic children. Everyday she touched the hearts of these children, giving hope in the unseen. After meeting her, I felt it was my responsibility to learn more about the kids she helped everyday.

As most of us know, being a kid isn’t easy. Now imagine growing up with autism. For those who don’t know, autism is a complex developmental disability. It’s the result of a neurological disorder that affects brain function and affects how one interacts and communicates with others. For example, children with autism can:

  • Have poor eye contact
  • Seem to not hear when spoken to
  • Start talking later than age 2 and have difficulty having a conversation
  • Move constantly and make repetitive movements, such as rocking back and forth or flapping the hands
  • Rigidly follow routines or rituals and become upset when something interrupts them
  • May speak like they’re singing or in a monotone voice
  • Be ultra-sensitive to touch, sound, and light, but not to pain

Unfortunately, there is no cure for autism, but early treatment can significantly improve an autistic person’s life, making early diagnosis crucial. Diagnosing Latino children in particular is crucial, as there is a lack of resources for Latino parents, and few studies have been conducted on autistic Latino children.

For autistic children, learning the traditional way can be a complex task. Understanding the subtleties of language can cause hurdles as well when trying to teach autistic children. Social situations can be problematic as people with autism have difficulty dealing with others. At times they can have what is called sensory overload, when any of the senses amplify because of a loud or abrupt sound. This causes panic attacks or major anxiety. Behavioral issues can come to play as well, as some children with autism can easily be agitated or angered. One can imagine it takes a person with great patience, heart, and determination to give their all to these children.

Many schools have programs specifically for autistic children. For example, James Hedges Elementary School and the Chicago Autism Academy both have programs with a dedicated and great staff and faculty. Teachers customize their lesson plans to include more visuals, as most autistic children are better visual learners. One teacher I met actually has most of the parents’ numbers on speed dial to inform them immediately if students are not feeling well or to give them the heads up when the bus arrives to get them. The amount of effort put into caring for these children can only be described as astounding. These teachers serve as both teachers and caregivers. They are always there to show autistic children the compassion that helps them have the best quality of life possible. As someone who has a brother with a hearing disability, I know how important a positive, caring environment is for children with special needs.The main reason my brother has had a successful life is partly due to the caring people who helped him. That’s why those who help children with special needs should be commended, this month and every month.

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