Maria Hernandez, SLP
As founder of the local organization Growing Roots, families are referred to Maria Hernandez for free, culturally-competent services. Her organization is one-of-a-kind on a national scale, and so is Maria herself. She is a speech therapist by trade who, through her work with monolingual Spanish families, noticed that many parents were not only unaware of their children's educational rights and opportunities, but they were lost and ashamed. Maria saw that mother after mother did not have an understanding of their child's disorder, merely that a doctor had made a diagnosis and then were handed a requisite pamphlet. Often, the parents only have ten minutes total with a doctor to ask questions.
Maria set out on a personal quest to help these families and in the process, Growing Roots was founded. Using meeting rooms in local libraries and with no budget except her personal money, she hosts monthly community meetings. At these meetings she educates parents on their child's diagnosis, proper treatment solutions and, just as important, she lets them know that they are not alone.
Perhaps the best way to illustrate what Maria does is through a story. During the first parent meeting she planned, Maria carefully crafted a two hour agenda to include icebreakers, a thorough description of what a school ARD meeting is and to explain the different parts of a child's Individual Education Plan. But at the end of two hours, the group had yet to make it past the introductions. Tears and tissues were still flowing around the room while mothers poured their hearts out to each other.
For dozens of local families and hundreds more to come, Maria Hernandez is truly an Autism Champion.