I began my career working as a Speech and Language Therapist in the public schools of south Louisiana. I have always had a special place in my heart for children with special needs; however, I will always remember the day that I met my first student with the classification of Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Lamar was a beautiful little 3-year-old boy with big brown eyes framed with a facial expression of sadness and confusion. I remember his teacher had him strapped into a stroller, supposedly for his safety. However, I quickly realized that the teacher did not understand his needs, nor did she feel the need to even try.
It was at that moment I decided that I needed to learn everything I could to understand autism, as well as what strategies I could implement to help the boy behind the sadness. I read everything they had available at that time (this was before Google) and I attended any training that was available in my area. I was determined to become empowered with knowledge and skills.
During the 3 years that Lamar was my student, I implemented strategies as I gained knowledge and I worked closely with his parents in the home environment. I will always feel that I did not know enough to provide Lamar with what he needed, but because of the joy I experienced while teaching Lamar, 20+ years later, I have gained enough knowledge to support numerous families in the autism community. Lamar was the inspiration that led me to discover my passion as well as my purpose and since then, I have become an autism education specialist supporting families in the autism community on a global level.
Along this journey towards becoming an autism education specialist, I enjoyed over 10 years of professional experience as a speech therapist, returned to school to obtain a Master of Psychology specializing in child development, completed training as a behavior analyst, and obtained certification as a sensory enrichment therapist! The irony of this journey is that with all of the training and education I pursued, I actually learned the most from my students.
Lessons From My Students and Family
Lamar guided me to my purpose, and I am forever grateful. Walker taught me true forgiveness, with the simple gesture of “giving”. I will never forget my sweet Cassidy who taught me to trust and see the benefits of neurodiversity. Romalice taught me that there is always a “why” behind every behavior, and adults need to take time to listen to children. Leah and Ava reminded me that social engagement is based on the simple joy of the human connection, not the rules as stated in a textbook. Joshua, who has always remained his true self, taught me to accept Autism for its unique perspective. Finally, my dear Emerson has taught me that a square is not just a square and if you turn it slightly to the left or slightly to the right you will discover the beauty of a diamond.
In the midst of this journey, I became a mother; my boys were born into my passion for autism and they have supported the work that I do. They individually advocate as allies for neurodiversity, while supporting and encouraging me to continue to do the work, which often requires a sacrifice of spending time with my family.
When I decided to volunteer in Ghana for 6 weeks to provide autism education training to parents and educators, they gave their blessings. Since returning from that amazing experience, I have been able to provide support to families on a global level. Thanks to the world wide web, I am able to provide parent training to the autism community in 15 different countries by providing a customized plan geared towards the individual needs of each child, while incorporating tools tailored to the dynamic of each family.
After returning from Ghana, it became clear to me that it was time to take a “leap of faith,” and start building my business so that I could empower parents in a full-time capacity. I began networking with others so that I could impact the autism community by collaborating with other like-minded professionals. I took risks and submitted proposals, which led to the opportunity of presenting at the 25th Annual Texas Autism Conference, as well as the 5th World Autism Organisation Conference. After being nominated by a colleague, I proudly serve on the WAO Council Advisory Board. I never would have imagined that the impact of that brown-eyed little boy, would have led me to such amazing opportunities.
Over the last 20 years, I have immersed myself in the autism community with a commitment to supporting families on their journey towards acceptance and appreciation for all things autism. I want to bring about awareness to the needs of the Autism community. I want to encourage acceptance of neurodiversity while helping others learn to appreciate autism and its unique perspective. I want everyone to open their hearts and minds towards embracing “different” and I want people to understand everything autism, beyond the label.
This journey may have began 20 years ago but with every new family I meet, I feel as though a new journey is just beginning.