Six-year-old Aiden Lopez has brought abundant joy to his parents, Sarah and Freddie Lopez of Pleasanton.
“He’s not a burden. He’s a blessing,” said Sarah about her autistic son.
The youngster is a student at Pleasanton Primary School, which the family credits as a big part of the reason that Aiden has come so far. He has been enrolled at the school since he was 3.
According to the Autism Community Network of San Antonio, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex neurobiological disorder known simply as autism. It is a variable developmental disorder characterized by severe deficits in social interaction and communication, and by abnormal behavior patterns, such as repetition of specific movements or a tendency to focus on certain objects.
When Aiden was 18-months-old, Sarah grew concerned of Aiden’s speech delays. He was evaluated at Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) in Lytle, where he went three times a week. Sarah began researching autism on her own and contacted the Autism Network. It was ECI who helped with her son’s transfer to Pleasanton Primary, which went smoothly.
Aiden is enrolled in the Life Skills class, then pulled for part of the day to a general class, which is what the family wanted.
Pleasanton Primary first made the autism diagnosis, which was eventually confirmed 1 1/2 years ago. The school is aware of the family’s concerns regarding Aiden, such as his sensitivity to lights and loud sounds.
Sarah makes it a point to expose Aiden to the real world.
“I don’t want to shelter him.”
Aiden is well-mannered, loves sharks and sea animals as his first word was “whale.”
“He is polite, not hesitant and not quiet. He is very out-spoken,” said his mom. “He loves to try new things.”
The family does have a certain routine for Aiden when it comes to food. However, Sarah also wants him to grow and keep an open-mind.
Sarah and Freddie shape their lives around Aiden’s needs. They always think about what his future will be and they teach him to be independent.
“The Primary Principal, Assistant Principal, staff and aides are awesome. They have a sensory room to help the kids, instead of a playground,” Sarah said.
Her husband is employed by Karnes Electric, while she is employed by Smith Cattle and Hay. She is grateful to have a work schedule that allows her more time to pick up Aiden after school and spend more time with him. Sometimes Aiden goes to work with his mom.
“They have horses there and he loves to feed them. He loves looking at the horses and cows.”
Aiden also enjoys learning about dinosaurs and the solar system.
“He loves to read after school,” Sarah said. “That has helped with his speech.”
Aiden is also a sports fan and follows his two favorite teams: the Pleasanton Eagles and the Charlotte Trojans, as his mother is originally from Charlotte.
This past weekend, the family took a fishing trip to Laredo.
Aiden has a half-brother, Chris Lopez and halfsister, Erica Lopez and he looks forward to spending time together with them. His “Sissy” Erica is his best friend and always ready to greet Aiden after school. He is also close to his Uncle Tommy.
“He loves to visit Charlotte and his Nana, Popo and cousins.”
For the last two years, Aiden has had swimming lessons from Karla Woerner, who teaches children with special needs. The lessons play an important role, as Aiden is fond of the beach.
The family was also fortunate to meet autism advocate and Professor Temple Grandin at the National Cattleman’s Beef Association Conference earlier this year. They had the opportunity to do so through Smith Cattle and Hay.
Sarah has learned through speech therapists that autism is not about being a slow learner, but rather just learning a different way. The family has learned being consistent and repetitive with Aiden is key. He is now with River Kids Pediatrics in San Antonio.
The family uses Applied Behavioral Therapy, in which you emphasize positive reenforcement for any small step they accomplish.
“Whether it is listening to songs and knowing lyrics or learning a country song, he understands anything small is a victory. He blossoms that way,” Sarah said.
They also received much needed support from the organization Any Baby Can. They check in with the family regularly and see if there is anything they need.
Sarah appreciates having close family and friends nearby, such as those who have already been mentioned, as well as his Aunt Linda. She teaches Aiden to be aware of dangers and to look both ways. Linda and others are aware of Aiden’s sensory needs and will adjust the surroundings if he is uncomfortable.
Aiden is also close to his godmother and Sarah’s close friend, Nena at Security State Bank.
“When he’s not feeling well, he will call her to chat and laugh on the phone,” said Sarah.
To help Aiden work on strength and balance, he is enrolled at LoneStar Athletics tumbling classes.
Each morning, he smiles and greets everyone at school. His teachers are Mrs. Van Zandt and Mrs. Cordova. They keep Sarah up to date on Aiden. Sarah also credits his first teacher, Brandi Smith.
“It makes me want to tear up, when I think how far he’s come,” said Sarah.
She also gives thanks to her ACTS sister, Nurse Practitioner Diki Reyes who was the one (along with the office manager) to initially help Aiden and had him get evaluated. Reyes gave Aiden a CD with Christian songs. His favorite is “Impossible” by Building 429.
Her faith has also allowed her to see the joy Aiden brings.
One of his favorite activities his playing golf.
“He’ll take the club and start swinging away.”
Recently when Freddie was away during bad weather, Aiden said he missed his dad. He felt that playing golf would comfort him, which it did.
Aiden was also sure to watch the Masters golf tournament to watch Tiger Woods’ winning comeback. He even called his dad to tell him Tiger won.
Regarding autism, Sarah wants others to know about compassion, not being quick to judge and not to feel bad for the family.
“He has humbled us. He brings the good part of life to us. He wakes up in a good mood every morning. He does jumping jacks and asks what day it is. He always wants to go to school and wants to learn.”
Aiden brings out the good in others, always wanting to help and make others feel better.
“I thank everyone around us, who help make him what he is.”