TUCSON, Ariz. —
Inside Sunnyside's Mission Manor Elementary School children with Autism are thriving. This is the only independent K-6 autism program in the district.
"He runs in. He's eager to be here. He gets dressed in the morning by himself. He knows the routine, said Ronna Chavez, the mother of a student in the Autism Program.
Ronna has two children on opposite ends of the Autism spectrum and says when you have a child with Autism you learn as you go.
That's where help from the Autism program here at Mission Manor comes in. Ronna's son Anthony is eight. She says she's seen big changes in him since starting.
"He is thriving here and he likes to be here, There were times when we would take him to preschool and he would just throw himself on the floor and start crying," Chavez said.
The growth is possible thanks to all the love and understanding from the teachers involved. Teachers like Ms. V and Ms. Garino. She started 27 years ago and only had 13 students. Now, the program at Mission Manor has grown to 64.
"We work really hard. We have a great staff with a lot of experience that is very caring," said Ms. Garino.
She says children with Autism are so special and very smart. Each child in this Autism program has an educational plan unique to them.
"We work a lot on functional skills, community based instruction, We do do academics but every student has an individual education plan. So, its based on the plan. The parents are involved as well they are part of our team," Ms. Garino.
There is even an option for some kids to spend most of their time in general education. Shawna Schott's son is in general education 80% of the time.
"He is still getting that kindergarten experience while getting help with the sensory stuff if he needs to decompress." said Schott.
The autism program is helping families find the right fit. One of the biggest concerns for parents.
"You sit there and you think, well my child may have autism but how are other people going to see him," said Schott.
The teachers and staff also serve as a reminder to Ronna she is not alone.
"I have to brush his teeth for him in the morning. I have to change his diaper for him. That can be a little difficult when you're out in the public. You have to take an eight year old that's this big in the restroom with you. You get those stares."
This is a safe place where families know they will face no judgment and where hope can grow as parents dream of a bright future for their children.
"I just want him to be able to grow up in a world where there is you know more understanding about Autism," Shawna said.
Beyond the classroom, Ms.Garino has been involved in a summer program, Yo Si Puedo.
Now the summer program is facing funding cuts. Ms. Garino believes Mission Manor will still host the program, but the cuts will probably impact how many teachers they will have.
For more information on Mission Manor, visit their website at susd12.org.