I have always been extremely anxious about change. Sometimes that change would lead to various levels of panic, sometimes in public. And that panic would inspire panic in those around me. Instead of getting help for that public panic, people would drift away from me, and I would be alone—in my worst moments. Through my issues with autism spectrum disorder, health challenges and anxiety, I had my mom. And in a softer, quieter way, I had my dad. So even when I felt like I was alone in my thoughts, I was never alone in their presence, even while my education situation has changed many times. Although it’s taken my teenage years to recognize all the ways that my parents have worked and sacrificed to get me to this point of emotional stability and academic success, I wouldn’t be here on my way to college if it weren’t for my parents and their efforts to put me on that path. My mom went to war with the Baldwin Park Unified School District over the educational eligibility, education needs, supports and accommodations that I needed. This wasn’t the kind of war the U.S. government engages in all over the planet—there were no drone strikes—and it wasn’t even the kind of war that is still waged on some Los Angeles streets. My mom fought a war with the educators and administrators who wanted to deny me an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Since autism is an invisible disability, the Baldwin Park Unified School District refused to acknowledge my diagnosis and made it hard for me to learn without the appropriate resources and services. My parents were forced to homeschool me until they found the right placement at Partnerships to Uplift Communities (PUC) Santa Rosa Middle School.
My mother’s battlefront experience with public school districts over the selective standards in servicing underprivileged communities, along with her commitment to special needs students, has made her a locally known education advocate. Her grassroots labors have refined her expertise in organizing for social justice, educational advocacy, disability rights and equity for communities of color within the greater Los Angeles area. I am proof of my mother’s dedication to ensuring that all students in Los Angeles receive a high-quality education by accelerating the growth of progressive and committed public schools. My parents made it possible for me to get into eCALS, the PUC Early College Academy for Leaders and Scholars, a free public charter school in Los Angeles. PUC has been operating public charter schools in Northeast Los Angeles area for more than 15 years. My time at eCALS has been a wonderful and positive experience leading to my academic advancement. Because eCALS is a charter school, it has more flexibility in how it handles students with special needs. Teachers at eCALS must participate in tutoring hours for students who are not advancing scholastically with the majority of students. There is also a special study hall class that offers additional tutoring with assignments for students who have IEPs. Teachers at my school also have routine professional development. I have an IEP team covering all my different subjects, and I can use dedicated rooms to take tests if I need silence to concentrate on an exam.
Music Helps My Autism
Music is my favorite subject. It’s helped me to communicate with my peers. It has been able to regulate symptoms specific to my autism. I started playing guitar in the ninth grade, and switched over to bass in 10th grade. I now play upright bass in the advanced school ensemble and electric bass in spirit band. I have discovered that music has helped me improve my math scores on the SAT, and I am not even into mathematics. So [pullquote position="left"]I can deduce the study of music has helped me base my logic with numbers and counting. Music has also helped me socially. It’s helped me find friends, and playing songs with them is a great way to communicate. I’ve been named eCAL’s Musician of the Year for two consecutive years, and I play in another advanced ensemble group at CalArts. I received a scholarship from CalArts, and I might be attending college there next year. Financing my college education is still a concern for my family and me, but I’m hopeful that I will earn additional scholarships. My experience at eCALs has vastly improved my social skills to the degree that I can now speak to large audiences. I was a part of the
Los Angeles Mayor’s Youth Council last year, and I am currently the Community Liaison director at the
Autism Society of Los Angeles. These leadership activities are proof that people with autism can find their way through this maze of life and achieve their scholastic dreams. As I now prepare myself to enter the next phase of my educational journey, I must never forget how I made it to this point and how the advocacy of my mom and dad helped me get here.
Enrique Duarte IV lives in East Los Angeles. He enjoys reading, traveling and composing music. He recently graduated from Partnerships to Uplift Communities (PUC) eCals Charter High School. He is a board member of the Autism Society of Los Angeles, serving as the Community Liaison Director. He served on the Los Angeles Mayor's Youth Council. From the age of 9, Enrique has been an active ...