Since National Autism Awareness Month was first recognized in April 2008, numerous organizations have come together in their communities to bring attention to the disorder.
Autism, or autism spectrum disorder, is a range of neurodevelopmental disorders characterized by social impairments, communication difficulties, and restricted, repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior according to Team Mario, a local organization that educates, supports and advocates for children with autism and their families.
UTRGV’s National Student Speech Language Hearing Association currently has 87 members who give back to the community through volunteer work.
President Ivon Ramirez said the organization is primarily composed of juniors and seniors who have been formally accepted into the communication disorders program.
Ramirez was introduced to the organization her junior year and NSSHLA sparked her ever-growing interest as a leader.
“It completely surrounds the field of speech pathology. With the program, we intend to either be a speech language pathologist or an audiologist,” the speech pathology major said. “This organization is perfect for those individuals because it pretty much gives more insight on the profession, it connects you with other SLPs in the [Rio Grande Valley, as well as] more information on research and innovation technologies coming up.”
NSSLHA gave out free food–hot dogs, chips and drinks–April 5 in observance of Autism Awareness Month. The organization also participated with Team Mario, another organization in support of those with autism, in a Superheroes Unite 5K April 2.
The Student Organization for Unique Learners also promotes awareness of different disabilities, including autism, throughout the campus and the community. SOUL also partners up with Team Mario and other community organizations.
Co-President Susanna Perales was introduced to SOUL through her sister, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in education with a concentration in special education.
“Basically our mission is to promote awareness [of] different disabilities throughout campus and the community,” Perales said. “We partner with a lot of outside organizations as far as volunteering, dedicating our time, fundraising … as well as some of the events they have here on campus.”
Perales joined the organization her sophomore year after her sister graduated in 2013 with a degree in special education.
“I always knew that I wanted to work with special needs kids,” the special education major said. “At first it was more rehabilitative services, but once I started school, I got into the UTeach program to have something to fall back on and as soon as I got into the program, I fell in love with it. I was working with special needs kids … and I just loved interacting with them and figuring out new ways to help them learn.”
For the community, Team Mario hosts sensory friendly movies for families with autistic children.
“Families are able to go in and take their kids and not have to worry about their kids standing up or making noise throughout the movie,” Perales said. “[Families], basically, let [their kids] go and have a good time and they don’t have to worry about other families looking down on them.