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Heart of Autism: Autism Speaks, So Does Selena

This Heart of Autism post tells the story of Selena Vale, a 12-year-old with autism who decided to teach her class about autism, and more about herself, in celebration of Autism Awareness Month! The post is written by Jaclyn Lowdermilk, Selena’s Resource Specialist. Jaclyn met Selena this school year and will never forget all that she has learned from this amazing young lady.

April 16th marked a monumental day for the students and staff at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary. It was on this day that 12-year-old Selena Vale enlightened us for the rest of our lives.

After meeting Selena, I quickly learned that she knew very little about her autism. When I revealed that she was a person who was on the autism spectrum, Selena finally began to understand why she did the things she did.  From this point on, Selena’s goal was to gain information about ASD. Through the use of workbooks, articles, and web searches, Selena became consumed with her findings. She stumbled upon story after story of people who were just like her, and for once, I believe, she felt accepted. School staff and parents also began to notice positive changes in Selena’s behavior.

During one of her research sessions, she discovered that April was Autism Awareness month. I asked Selena if she would be interested in sharing her research findings with her classmates, and without hesitation, she agreed.  In my mind, I knew that this would push Selena beyond her comfort zone, so I was hesitant to bring it up again.

To my surprise, after several months of research, Selena had compiled her information into an organized Power Point slideshow. When she was ready, I reached out to Autism Speaks and they graciously sent us additional materials to enhance her presentation.  Selena was supplied with pamphlets, magnets, pins, bracelets, hats, and a t-shirt, but the one thing that caught her eye was a blue, satin cape that she would eventually wear on the day of her presentation. To make her special day extra special, we asked that all of her classmates wear blue to support her message.

On the day of her presentation, blue crepe decorations hung from wall to wall, library books whose main characters with ASD were scattered around the room, and Autism Awareness posters hung on every door. In the sea of blue t-shirts, Selena waited patiently to begin. When it was time, Selena attached her blue, satin cape around her neck, walked to the front of the classroom, and confidently stood in front of her peers, current and former teachers, school staff, and family members.

She delivered her presentation, just as she had practiced. Her audience focused on every detail of every slide and at the end, she had not only informed us about her understanding of ASD, facts, and recent statistics, but she also included personal information that she had learned about herself, specifically her sensory likes and dislikes.

When she asked her peers if they had questions, the students in room 607 were genuinely curious about Selena and ASD. Question after question, Selena responded with quick answers and even humor! At the end of her speech, she joyfully handed out cellophane goody bags filled with blue candies and autism bracelets, as well as a blue packet filled with kid-friendly articles about ASD.  

The students and staff at MLK Jr. Elementary have been transformed forever. Selena managed to touch the minds and hearts of everyone who was in her room. Students and adults shared that on several occasions during her speech, they were brought to tears. And even now, when I reflect on that special day, I cry because of what I witnessed in every single person who listened to Selena—compassion. One MLK student said it best, “I have the cure for Autism. Friendship.”  

Now nearing the end of the school year, Selena reports that everyone at MLK is talking about Autism! Perhaps she feels a little famous, or maybe just understood.  

Thank you to the special contacts at Autism Speaks who sent Selena additional materials for her presentation. We are forever grateful!  

Click here to check out Selena's Power Point presentation to her class!

The Heart of Autism blog series tells the stories of individuals on the autism spectrum giving back to their community. Click here to read some previous entries!

We would love to hear from you! If you have a story you'd like to share, email us at heartofautism@autismspeaks.org!