“I think there is a negative stigma that comes with the diagnosis,” said Hernandez. “I want to expand the definition of what autism is and show that our strengths really play into a lot of our successes.”
The students’ response to Hernandez was incredible. They were excited and engaged, and many of them shared with her their own personal experiences.
Seventeen-year-old Tyler Wahl said he has faced many of the challenges Hernandez talked about, especially dealing with other people’s expectations. He added that the right guidance from his teachers at High Road Academy helped him focus on his own goals.
“People told me I can’t do things because I’m autistic, and I started to believe that. But my teachers here say not to worry about that,” Wahl said. “When I was in middle school, I didn’t know how to read, and my teachers told me, ‘You are the only person who can tell yourself you can read. Don’t hold yourself back.’ When I stopped holding myself back, I can read really well now and I’m able to do a lot of things I couldn’t do.”