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Autism a daily struggle for families, schools

By Jimmy Alford | Published Saturday, April 27, 2013

Andrew Breceda’s eyes were glued to his phone, where small, angry birds vaulted toward small green, dismayed pigs.

It’s not a stretch to say Andrew is really into the game Angry Birds. In his room, Angry Bird toys, clothing and bags make up the landscape. It’s no wonder a recent prize from Chico Elementary has meant so much to him.

Andrew’s name was drawn during a fundraiser benefiting school field trips, and his luck brought him a stuffed basketball-sized red Angry Bird.

Playing-Around

PLAYING AROUND – Andrew Breceda plays Angry Birds in his room. The brightly-colored game characters adorn his walls, clothes and even sit around his TV. Messenger photo by Jimmy Alford

Andrew has come to be well-accepted at his school by both the teacher and his classmates.

“They love Andrew, and they walk him to the bus every day, and they look forward to that,” said Stephanie Amador, Andrew’s mother.

LIVING WITH AUTISM - Andrew has autism, and like many autistic children, he struggles with communication and social interaction. Messenger photo by Jimmy Alford

LIVING WITH AUTISM – Andrew has autism, and like many autistic children, he struggles with communication and social interaction. Messenger photo by Jimmy Alford

Andrew has only been attending Chico schools for a year. Before that, he was in Bridgeport ISD. Now his mom is planning on taking him to Paradise ISD for the next school year. He is as well-known for his love of drawing as for Angry Birds – he even created the design for the 2011 Wise County Olympathon T-shirts.

While Amador said she truly appreciates Chico and would prefer Andrew stay at the same school his brother attended, Andrew’s special needs make it tough.

Andrew is one of about 2 million people affected by autism in the United States. Autism is called a spectrum disorder that has a wide, varying range of symptoms and characteristics.

The Centers for Disease Control report that as many as 1 in 88 children are on the Autism spectrum, either low, moderate or high functioning. Often children diagnosed with Asperger syndrome are on the highest end of the scale.

Usually, autistic children display significant language delays, limited or severely challenged social and communication skills, and unusual behaviors and interests that can include the compulsive need to put objects in special patterns or intense reactions to textures in foods and clothing. Many also have intellectual disabilities.

“We couldn’t get him to talk so we took him to see someone, and he was diagnosed when he was 3 years old,” Amador said. “He has really come a long way. Before, he didn’t know how to write his name. Now he counts up to 100, writes his name.

“We moved him over to Chico to try and get him to socialize with other kids, just to see if that would work out.”

She admits having Andrew in classes with children not affected by autism can be tough for everyone.

“It’s hard for other kids in his class because he does disrupt class sometimes,” Amador said. “He gets over-excited, and it has its ups and downs.”

Wise County Special Education Cooperative Director Carla White said children with special needs are a real challenge for rural schools.

“It is putting a bigger burden on these schools,” White said. “You want those students to be included.”

Based out of Bridgeport ISD, the co-op supports five other districts including Slidell, Chico, Paradise, Boyd and Alvord.

“Kids with special needs require costly services, and a lot of rural districts pool the services and money to better serve them.

“We put together a staff and equipment and help serve all those districts, instead of it being lop-sided where one set of kids gets a lot of services and other don’t.”

White said the number of children with autism in Wise County has quadrupled in the last five years. Part of that stems from better testing and diagnosis. She said this is a nationwide trend that is hitting home.

With more kids developing and being diagnosed with autism, community awareness has become an important issue.

“Parents a lot of times need that awareness,” White said. “These parents are dealing with this every day. Sometimes it’s a challenge for parents out in the public, like at the grocery store. It can be hard for other people to recognize that the child has autism.”

For Andrew and his mother, the struggle with autism will not go away, but he is happy with his games and his drawings. Amador said she continues to try and help her son and has so much appreciation for Chico Elementary and the WCSEC.

SUPPORT CHILDREN WITH SPECIAL NEEDS

The annual WCSEC Olympathon starts 9 a.m. Tuesday, April 30, and lasts all day at Bulls Stadium in Bridgeport. For information, call Juawanna Atkins at 940-683-8361.

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