News Article Details

Chehalis Mother Recognized as an 'Unsung Hero' for Working on Autism Awareness

The Chronicle - 2/8/2020

Feb. 7--Chehalis resident Victoria Romero is a mother, wife, Link Coordinator with the Lewis County Autism Coalition and is in training to become a home care aid through the state. On top of all that, she teaches a "social kids" class for kids with autism every Saturday with the goal of spreading awareness and helping people affected by autism.

Romero is being recognized as an Unsung Hero during February through a state-wide campaign run by the Washington State Department of Children, Youth and Families to honor parents that are having a positive impact on their community.

"Victoria leads by example, as a parent who has learned what autism services exist and how to advocate on behalf of her child's needs. She recognizes the great potential in her son and inspires other parents who are on the same path, as well as those who are just starting this journey. The secret is out, Victoria is a hero and our community is stronger as a result," said Bill Weismann, a facilitator with the Lewis County Autism Coalition.

Romero was nominated by Alison Jenkins, the Family Resource Coordinator for the Growing Together Program at the Summit Center for Childhood Development. Jenkins said that over the four years she has known Romero, she was impressed by how much Romero does for the community and how much of her work is behind the scenes.

"You're such a good voice and you've learned so much," Jenkins said to Romero on Thursday afternoon. "Just watching her grow and see how she has helped her son and everybody else has just been a privilege."

After Romero's son, Luis, who is now six years old, was diagnosed with autism shortly after he turned 2, Romero realized she didn't know much about autism and started finding resources to learn more and reaching out to people and services within the community.

"So I went through all these classes when I was pregnant, how come I didn't know a whole lot about autism? It wasn't something that I knew what the process was, I thought it was something a doctor would check for at a certain age but I learned that that's not the case. It is a parent-led thing to get a diagnosis based on symptoms," Romero said.

Romero explained that she noticed that Luis hadn't started talking and some other symptoms at around 14 months and decided to go to the doctor, who suggested speech therapy. She said that at around 18 months, after learning more, she started to notice signs of autism. She started Luis in occupational therapy and said she noticed the sensory work was helping him quite a bit.

Romero has been working as a Link Coordinator with the Lewis County Autism Coalition since the summer of 2016. She meets with and supports families who are searching for a diagnosis, want more information or are looking for more resources.

"There are so many resources that can't be found on Google. My job is to be that one place that knows about all of the local resources and can direct them to the information they need," Romero said.

Romero has also served as the voice of a parent with a child on the autism spectrum or various organizations and has helped train people at places, such as the library, on how to understand and help children with autism.

"I want to spread awareness and help people," Romero said.

Families with children with developmental disabilities can qualify for personal care hours so they can have a bit of a break and a little bit of help. Romero is currently in training, a total of 75 hours, to become a home care aid.

"The problem is that in this area there aren't a whole lot of individual home care aids for those families. So the kid might have the insurance waiver to receive those services but there's nobody to provide those so that's why I got into that so I can help fill that need," Romero said.

Jenkins said Romero really goes above and beyond by doing things like a Halloween costume drive that she has done for six years now and a toy and clothing drive called the Misfit Toys Project which she started two years ago to help out families during the holidays.

The Chronicle asked Jenni Olmstead, Prevention Partnership Specialist with Washington State Department of Children, Youth and Families why she feels it's important to recognize parents like Romero.

"The work that we do here is focused on strengthening families and building supports and nationally, February is recognized as parent leadership month and so for our state, we get a proclamation from our governor to honor February is Parent Recognition Month. A lot of the work we do is around supporting parents and knowing that to build strong families and communities it's about showing up for parents and supporting them where they are," Olmstead said.

Romero is working toward creating more awareness within the general public.

"In the grocery store, my son makes loud noises sometimes so instead of glaring--smile. Something simple like that can make a difference especially for a parent that just got a diagnosis and they have a lot of mixed emotions about it. Sometime's what's harder is people around us, not necessarily our kid," Romero said.

Romero would like to work on getting information out to parents to promote earlier intervention and she would like to see more services for those with autism continue into adulthood.

"You always hear that someone with autism can be in their own world and instead of trying to get them out of their world, try to enter their world," Romero said.

Romero said that the Lewis County Autism Coalition is always looking for more volunteers and encourages people to reach out and get involved and attend a meeting. More information can be found at lcautism.org.

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(c)2020 The Chronicle (Centralia, Wash.)

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