JEFFERSON AWARDS

Hairdresser devotes time for autism awareness

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Jefferson Awards recognize the extraordinary achievements of people who volunteer and make their communities a better place. This month's award winner is Edith Naranjo, a hairdresser by trade, but in her spare time she is helping families and teachers understand the nuances of a very complicated condition called autism.

"One of the things that I feel they really need, and we all do in the beginning, is sometimes just a hug and say, 'You know what? I know what you're going through, I've been there, I'm there," said Naranjo.

Her own son, Eric, was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, a high-functioning type of autism, when he was just 6 years old.

For years Naranjo navigated the system alone trying to find the right doctors, therapists and school officials that would understand her son's condition. Now she feels she needs to give back.

She does in-home visits and helps families who don't speak English connect with the right services.

Miguel and Veronica Guzman say their daughter Alina barely spoke as a child. Now, thanks to Naranjo's help, which has come free of charge, they say the 6-year-old is a different person.

"Everything that an autistic child needs, my little girl has it thanks to her (Edith Naranjo). Our life has improved 100 percent," said Miguel Guzman.

Naranjo doesn't just focus her time with families with in-home visits, she also helps local teachers, helping them understand the characteristics and signs of autism.

"With Edith, she brings the 'child-first' perspective, where we think about what the child is like, how they perform in a home setting and in a community setting, before we think about the school setting," said Melanie Gomez, a teacher at De Anza Middle School in Ontario.

Naranjo will be donating her $1,000 in award money to a charity she works with called Open Doors Now. Open Doors provides outreach to more than 650 local families with children with autism.

Edith Naranjo is our Jefferson Award winner for the month of October.

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Tags:
public service, volunteerism, jefferson awards, subha ravindhran
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