Parent to Parent: Advocating for Autistic Students

HildaCentenoApril is World Autism Awareness month, which exists to build awareness around autism spectrum disorders and the difficulties and challenges that children with autism face. We interviewed YES Prep Gulfton parent leader, Hilda Centeno, who is partnering with teachers to ensure that her son with Asperger’s receives an excellent education.

Did you face challenges due to how others perceive Asperger’s?

Yes. He was diagnosed in first grade, and we had to educate ourselves and his teachers. Some of his elementary school teachers told me that he was not going to go to college because of his condition. They said he may not even finish high school. But now he’s a senior with excellent grades who has been accepted into college. As a family, we decided we were not going to listen to what others say. We will support and push him so that he can achieve his dream of being a paleontologist.

What brought you to YES Prep?

His elementary school special education teacher was helping us figure out where he could go to middle school and be supported. I read an article about YES Prep Gulfton moving to where it is now, and I applied for the 6th grade lottery because I knew it would be a smaller school. Luckily, he got in, and it has truly been the best school for him. The teachers always want to help him and us. They’ve always remained in close contact with me.

HildaCenteno2What has been key to supporting your son at school?

I think communication is crucial. It’s teamwork between the parents and the teachers. Every year before schools starts, I meet with his teachers. I always ask for permission to send them e-mails and texts if I have concerns and invite them to reach out to me. At that meeting, they ask me what seat he prefers, if he likes to work alone, if he needs extended time for tasks, how to respond if he’s upset, and more. The routine has helped a lot, and YES Prep has become a beautiful part of our family.

How are you preparing for his transition to college?

The special education teachers at YES Prep are wonderful and are helping us investigate what college might be the best fit for Ozkar. He plans to major in geology and wants to start volunteering with the Houston Museum of Natural Science this summer when he turns 18. We think that will be a good start for him.

What advice would you give to parents who have a child on the autism spectrum?

Many parents don’t know that they can work with the school and seek help outside too. I go to an Autism group at Legacy Community Health every other Tuesday. I learn so much, and I love to share information with other parents. That’s why I’m part of the PTO at Gulfton.

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