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Partner Spotlight

Partner Spotlight: Theresa Diaz, Campaign Champion

Theresa and son Merced playing in his sandboxAs a mother of two and former teacher, Theresa Diaz is familiar with children’s developmental milestones. Before her son was a year old, Theresa began to notice signs of developmental delay.

“I knew something was wrong with Merced. After the first 10 months, he lost language progression,” said Theresa. “Even though I suspected a problem, Merced was 2½-years-old before he was officially diagnosed with autism.”

After Merced’s diagnosis, Theresa prepared herself for potential challenges by researching various autism treatments. Through her investigation, Theresa soon learned the importance of early intervention and began to practice therapies and set goals that worked for her son. Not only did she work with Easter Seals providers, but the Texas Early Childhood Intervention program also supplied Merced with a 6-month, in-home intervention program.

“Every child diagnosed with autism is affected differently. When choosing therapies and treatments, parents cannot take the one-size-fits-all approach,” she explained. “I work with a team of health care professionals to personalize therapies and intervention for Merced so he gets the treatment that he needs to live up to his full potential.”

Driven by her personal experience with Merced, Theresa recently took on another full-time job as president of her local Autism Society of America (ASA) chapter. “After I learned that Merced had a problem, I was compelled to help other families,” said Theresa. Realizing that her community lacked resources and general autism awareness, Theresa was searching for valuable information and discovered the “Learn the Signs. Act Early.” campaign website and materials. She valued the emphasis on early intervention offered in the materials and wanted to share the information with her community.

“The later a child is diagnosed, the harder it is for him or her to catch up,” said Theresa. “Because of early diagnosis, my son is closing the gap between where he should be and where he is.”

Since September 2005, Theresa, along with former ASA co-president Shaun Ipock and parent volunteers, has distributed health care professional kits to local pediatricians. They have also reached out to churches, local businesses, day cares, schools, and libraries with informational kits, reaching hundreds of parents and health care professionals in Texas.

Aside from community outreach, Theresa has also explored several nontraditional avenues to spread the message of early intervention using the “Learn the Signs. Act Early.” campaign. In upcoming months, Theresa and a team of ASA members will be passing out campaign flyers at Sam’s Clubs and Wal-Mart stores in the area. She hopes to display campaign posters in post offices and involve local television stations in spreading the campaign’s child development messages. Recently, Theresa explored the idea of a “Learn the Signs. Act Early.” campaign float for city parades and has encouraged early childhood education programs in local colleges to include early intervention information in their curriculum.

Theresa realizes the impact of her outreach, and she stresses the importance of parents’ roles in the early diagnosis of autism. “Parents must trust their instincts, be persistent and educate themselves,” said Theresa. “Most parents notice that something is wrong with their child, but are reluctant to ask questions or believe that their child has autism. Like most parents, I am driven by the hope that I can create a better community for my son.”

For more information on how you can reach out to health professionals in your area, visit the How to Get Involved page of the “Learn the Signs. Act Early.” website.

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