Campaign Champion, Georgia
Campaign Champion Heidi Fernandez knows the importance and benefits of early detection of a developmental delay. Heidi’s son Andrew was diagnosed with autism at 2½ years of age. But before his official diagnosis, Heidi and her husband began to see signs of developmental delays and took action right away. Once they learned of Andrew’s diagnosis, they took steps to help him develop to his full potential.
“As soon as we learned about Andrew’s diagnosis, my husband and I contacted the local Babies Can’t Wait provider to get him into the services and activities he needed,” Heidi says. “The past 9 years have been a challenge, and the progress Andrew has made is amazing. Getting a diagnosis early and starting intervention has definitely been the reason for his progress. We are so proud of Andrew; sometimes it brings tears to my eyes.”
Today, Andrew, age 12, participates in basketball camps and local swimming lessons, and he has been chosen “Most Friendly” by his peers at school. Last year, Andrew‘s school chose him to be a “Star for a Day,” and he had the opportunity to recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the entire school.
With Andrew’s experience, Heidi is passionate about efforts to educate parents about the importance of monitoring developmental milestones and of early intervention. She co-chaired the 2006 Cure Autism Now Walk in Atlanta, is an advocate for Georgia Community Support and Solutions, and has coordinated many candidate forums for legislators. Heidi also distributes “Learn the Signs. Act Early.” campaign materials and talks with parents and health care professionals when she attends conferences or hosts events.
“Knowledge is power—informing parents about developmental milestones and the importance of early intervention is a collaborative effort between doctors and champions in changing the lives of children,” says Heidi. “The campaign has really helped facilitate this collaboration and helps parents and doctors begin a dialogue.”
A lesson learned firsthand, she explains that parents should feel comfortable talking with their child’s doctor because it will open discussion about the child’s development. She says that the more parents work with their child’s doctor, the faster they will be able to find the best way to help the child.
For her work in the community, Heidi has been recognized by many organizations, including the Georgia Chapter of the Autism Society of America and the Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities. She has been featured in Atlanta Parent and The Autism Perspective (TAP) magazines about her involvement in and contribution to grassroots efforts.
Heidi wants to spread hope and the campaign’s message to all parents. “If I could tell parents one thing, it would be that early intervention can forever change a child’s life—Andrew is living proof of that message.”
- Page last reviewed: December 6, 2010
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