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A Booneville teenager sheds light during autism awareness month

April is National autism awareness and acceptance month, and one Booneville teenager is speaking out about navigating life with autism.

BOONEVILLE, Ark. — Autism Awareness Month is about acceptance and inclusion toward those who may seem different on the surface.

"Autism is not actually an illness and it's not a condition— autism is just simply a slightly different or maybe more than the slightly different way that their minds are wired. Honestly, people that are on the spectrum or people who are autistic are just regular old people," Said parent Angela Rhodes. 

18-year-old Aaron Rhodes has high-functioning autism and is a musician in the Booneville high school band. Growing up wasn't an easy path, but Aaron persevered. 

"At first it was challenging because whenever I first started school I was doing special education," said Rhodes.

Rhodes overcame his struggles in 6th grade to the point where he was able to pay attention and focus through the help of an individualized education plan known as IEP. IEP is a plan put together by parents, teachers, and counselors to provide modifications for students with special needs. 

In midst of his journey, Aaron says he found his own sense of therapy.

"Whenever I was first on IEP towards like the middle, that's when I first learned to play the trombone," Rhodes explained. 

Brian and Angela Rhodes did not catch the early signs of autism until they visited his pediatrician when he was just under a year old and she recommended early childhood intervention. Angela says catching it early was key for their family, and raising Aaron has taught them how to help their son individually, but it's also made them better educators for the Boonville school district.

"The kinds of things you do to modify for a student like Aaron really does help with all kinds of kids, to be honest. We've had several students over the years with the same tendencies and this really does help us help more people," Angela and Brian Rhodes explained. 

A few words of advice from the Rhodes family on raising a child on the spectrum is to not be scared to ask for help.

"Whatever happens ... just make sure the child understands that they are valuable wherever they are on the spectrum. They are valued and valuable and they're not a burden on anybody," said Angela and Brian Rhodes 

And for anyone on the autism spectrum who is facing challenges in life, Aaron says to not never give up, and that "if they persevere they'll see the results at the end." 

Aaron Rhodes is graduating high school with honors and is going to UCA in the fall. 

Dr. Marti Shakey with the City of Fayetteville says a few signs of autism that parents should look out for in their child's adolescent years include:

  • Trouble bonding
  • Tantrums when routines are broken
  • No interactive play

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