tony hernandez, autism speaks, autism spectrum disorder
via Tony Hernandez

Tony Hernandez as a child in Puerto Rico and today as an advocate for people with autism.

True

When Tony Hernandez Pumarejo was a young child growing up in Puerto Rico in the early ‘90s, his family felt there was something “different” about him. At the age of three, when most children are uttering full sentences, Tony did not speak.

Tony’s family sought out more information regarding their son, but they received conflicting opinions about his condition. Teachers asserted that there wasn’t much hope for Tony’s future, with one telling his mother that he was “never going to do anything in life.”

“There was a lack of education, there is still to this day, especially in the Hispanic community, about autism,” Tony told Upworthy. “Stereotypes and other misconceptions are obstacles many families face in seeking answers, making it difficult to get the help and resources we need.”

Finally, Tony’s family found a doctor who diagnosed him with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The diagnosis was a huge relief for them because it meant he could finally get the correct therapies and enroll in special education classes.

According to Psychology Research and Behavior Management, early diagnosis and treatment with evidence-based interventions “can significantly improve the quality of life of individuals with ASD as well as of their caregivers and families,” as it lays a strong foundation for better outcomes and will help a child improve mentally, emotionally, physically, and socially.



via Tony Hernandez

After obtaining the proper diagnosis, Tony received speech therapy from the ages of four to eight, and over the course of his lifetime, received vital support and assistance from teachers and therapists.

“Getting the right therapies was crucial in improving my verbal skills. I still faced a number of challenges over the years, including struggles with social communication, short-term working memory, anxiety disorder, and building relationships,” he said, “but an early diagnosis made all the difference in my life.”

In 2012, at the age of 21, Tony moved to Florida where his mom was living.

Since then, Tony has excelled in academics and professionally. He graduated from Seminole State College with a bachelor's degree in Business and Information Management with Magna Cum Laude honors.

MY GRADUATION FROM COLLEGE: DECEMBER 14TH 2016 www.youtube.com

Tony has worked in customer service for companies such as Sherwin Williams, Sam’s Club, and Home Depot and has been a tireless advocate for people with ASD for the past decade. He’s also regularly appeared on Univision Orlando for the past two years where he hosts a segment called “Tu Proposito” which in English translates to “Your Intention” and delves into the obstacles people on the spectrum regularly encounter and how they can rise above them.

Additionally, Tony is an accomplished author who released his memoir, “An Autism Unscripted Life,” in 2018, which was translated into Spanish in 2019 as “Una Vida Autista Sin Libreto.” In his free time, Tony loves to go hiking, explore new places, attend church, and exercise. He is currently working on putting together a 1,000-piece “Star Wars” puzzle.

Tony now works full time for Autism Speaks, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting the needs of individuals with autism and their families, as a member of their Autism Response Team where he helps to support people with ASD and their families.

Although it probably seemed impossible at the time, the young kid in Puerto Rico who had a hard time finding his words would flourish into an in-demand public speaker in both English and Spanish. Tony regularly does presentations for schools, businesses, and other community organizations on the topics of autism, disability rights, and neurodiversity.

He believes that being diagnosed early played a huge role in his success.

“I was fortunate to have been able to get an early diagnosis. It led me to getting the support I needed to overcome challenges in the early years of development in my life,” Tony told Upworthy.

Learning that your child has ASD can be daunting at first. However, there is nothing more fulfilling as a parent, than to experience and support your child in reaching their full potential.

“An autism diagnosis can trigger feelings of panic and uncertainty for many families,” Tony told Upworthy, “but it is important for parents to take a deep breath and focus on the next steps to take to help their child achieve a better life."

Tony lives by a simple, but powerful motto, “Each person has a purpose in this world. Never give up on achieving your dreams.”

If you have questions about your child’s development, Autism Speaks offers access to a free Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT-R) test on its website. The test can help assess whether your child needs further evaluation, bringing them one step closer to unlocking their full potential and realizing their dreams.

Joy

Meet Eva, the hero dog who risked her life saving her owner from a mountain lion

Wilson had been walking down a path with Eva when a mountain lion suddenly appeared.

Photo by Didssph on Unsplash

A sweet face and fierce loyalty: Belgian Malinois defends owner.

The Belgian Malinois is a special breed of dog. It's highly intelligent, extremely athletic and needs a ton of interaction. While these attributes make the Belgian Malinois the perfect dog for police and military work, they can be a bit of a handful as a typical pet.

As Belgian Malinois owner Erin Wilson jokingly told NPR, they’re basically "a German shepherd on steroids or crack or cocaine.”

It was her Malinois Eva’s natural drive, however, that ended up saving Wilson’s life.

According to a news release from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Wilson had been walking down a path with Eva slightly ahead of her when a mountain lion suddenly appeared and swiped Wilson across the left shoulder. She quickly yelled Eva’s name and the dog’s instincts kicked in immediately. Eva rushed in to defend her owner.

It wasn’t long, though, before the mountain lion won the upper hand, much to Wilson’s horror.

She told TODAY, “They fought for a couple seconds, and then I heard her start crying. That’s when the cat latched on to her skull.”

Keep Reading Show less

Moricz was banned from speaking up about LGBTQ topics. He found a brilliant workaround.

Senior class president Zander Moricz was given a fair warning: If he used his graduation speech to criticize the “Don’t Say Gay” law, then his microphone would be shut off immediately.

Moricz had been receiving a lot of attention for his LGBTQ activism prior to the ceremony. Moricz, an openly gay student at Pine View School for the Gifted in Florida, also organized student walkouts in protest and is the youngest public plaintiff in the state suing over the law formally known as the Parental Rights in Education law, which prohibits the discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in grades K-3.

Though well beyond third grade, Moricz nevertheless was also banned from speaking up about the law, gender or sexuality. The 18-year-old tweeted, “I am the first openly-gay Class President in my school’s history–this censorship seems to show that they want me to be the last.”

However, during his speech, Moricz still delivered a powerful message about identity. Even if he did have to use a clever metaphor to do it.

Keep Reading Show less

Sandy Hook school shooting survivors are growing up and telling us what they've experienced.

This story originally appeared on 12.15.21


Imagine being 6 years old, sitting in your classroom in an idyllic small town, when you start hearing gunshots. Your teacher tries to sound calm, but you hear the fear in her voice as she tells you to go hide in your cubby. She says, "be quiet as a mouse," but the sobs of your classmates ring in your ears. In four minutes, you hear more than 150 gunshots.

You're in the first grade. You wholeheartedly believe in Santa Claus and magic. You're excited about losing your front teeth. Your parents still prescreen PG-rated films so they can prepare you for things that might be scary in them.

And yet here you are, living through a horror few can fathom.

Keep Reading Show less