Lea was not as aware of the camera. She protested a little bit when her teacher tried to put the microphone on her and she wasn’t as fluent as Arabella.
Arabella sang “Twinkle twinkle little star” and Lea danced to it. They are both 4 years old and they are both in the autism spectrum.
To celebrate Autism Awareness Month, the Imperial County Center for Exceptional Children put together a mural of a heart, the emblematic puzzle piece and the hand prints of all the students in the center diagnosed with autism.
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Anthony Lopez has been working at the center for two years and he was amazed how the number of students with autism grew from the first year to the second.
He said he started thinking about doing something special and as soon as he asked around everybody was on board.
“We decided to do the hand print and the name because we figured that would be unique to every student,” Lopez said. “It’d be something great.”
Shaping the heart was the hardest part about it, but it was also the most fun, he said.
Autism is on the rise. Not only have the teachers noticed it based on the number of students they get each year, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that there has been a 78 percent increase in autism over the previous five years, based on a 2008 snapshot of 14 monitoring sites.
Special education teacher Laura Domenzain said that since autism is growing at alarming rates it is important for the community to be aware and to really know what autism is.
Autistic children many times have tantrums because they need to follow a routine and when their routine gets modified they have a harder time processing change.
Domenzain said that this is one of the main reasons families with children in the autism spectrum are isolated, because they fear people will be judgmental and not understand that the fits are part of a condition.
The autism spectrum is broad and there are many different kinds of symptoms. There are low- and high-functioning people depending on where they fall on the spectrum.
“My students are capable of learning, they just learn different,” Domenzain said.
Lopez is committed to creating awareness for autism because he said that awareness will bring education.
He is proof of that. As soon as he started getting more autistic children in his class, he decided to research it and started attending Autism Support of Imperial County meetings.
He discovered that another way people create awareness about autism is to light a blue bulb outside their house so that people will be inclined to ask about the blue light and the explanation will follow.
Another wall at the center displays a big paper blue light bulb. Lopez hopes that the light bulb initiative will catch on and soon every April the Valley will shine blue.
“It’s just about passing around the word,” Lopez said.
Multimedia Producer Laura Gonzalez can be reached at 760-337-3440 or firstname.lastname@example.org