PHARR – Aware that April is Autism Awareness Month, Anthony Salinas, a young autistic security guard in Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD is hoping to raise awareness and inspire his community by bravely sharing his personal story.
Diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) at age 4, Salinas did not let the condition stop him from pursuing an education and living his dream of working in the law enforcement field. With the support of his family and school district, Salinas graduated from PSJA Early College High School with his diploma and a Level II Security Guard Certification from South Texas College in May 2018.
As a student in the PSJA Special Education Program, Salinas was able to take part in his school’s Criminal Justice Club where he got to interact with students and earn invaluable work experience as an intern. This opportunity prepared him for his current position as a Security Guard at PSJA ISD.
“My teachers and mentors at Bears (PSJA ECHS) helped me get here,” shared Salinas. “It feels good. It was my dream to work for PSJA and now I am here.”
Autism refers to a variety of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, and nonverbal communication, according to the advocacy organization Autism Speaks. People with autism have different sets of strengths, challenges, their way of thinking, and even problem-solving that ranges from highly skilled to severely challenged. While some individuals on the spectrum require support throughout their lives, others may need little support and even live independently.
“To my PSJA Family and kids with autism, look at me here working,” said the PSJA alum. “I have autism and I am working with PSJA now. Don’t tell your kids to give up. Tell your kids to keep on pushing.”
Over 360 students in PSJA ISD are currently diagnosed with autism, according to the PSJA Special Education Program Director and Salinas’ mother, Debra Salinas.
As per the CDC, 1 in 59 children is diagnosed with ASD with boys being four times more likely to be diagnosed than girls. While the timing and intensity of autism’s early signs vary greatly, Salinas advises parents and caregivers to learn the signs and become familiar with the typical developmental milestones that can be found at AutismSpeaks.org.
Among the many signs include repetitive patterns of behavior and repetitive movements such as rocking, spinning, or hand flapping.
“I applaud PSJA ISD for giving students the opportunity to succeed and participate in these programs,” said Mrs. Salinas. “I am very grateful because Anthony’s dream was to get into criminal justice. He has always been included among the rest of the students.”
According to the PSJA Special Education Program Director, early intervention can improve learning, communication, social skills, and brain development. PSJA ISD parents who may suspect the signs in their children ages 3 and up can contact the PSJA Special Education Department at 956-354-2200 or seek professional evaluation with their medical providers.
As for Anthony, working at PSJA ISD is just the beginning. The young security guard shared that he is currently pursuing an Associate Degree in Criminal Justice at South Texas College.
“I want to be the first autistic firefighter. I am trying to get into the fire program at STC,” said Salinas who plans to take the entrance exam later this month. “I have faith it will happen. God believes in me and I believe in myself. Thank you to my mom and my mentors from Bears.”