Saturday, 23/1/2021 | : : UTC-5
Harker Heights Evening Star
Harker Heights Evening Star

Christmas for all

Christmas for all

ACI Learning Center gives Christmas experience in autism-friendly environment
By Sara Escobar
Harker Heights Evening Star

During the holiday season, children all over the country eagerly look forward to participating in Christmas traditions. Such customs may include decorating the Christmas tree, writing Christmas lists, and of course visiting Santa and having their picture taken; some of these practices, however, are not all-inclusive.
Children with behavioral disorders, like autism, face challenges this time of the year. Sometimes, visiting Santa at the mall or other public setting can mean long lines, and a noisy atmosphere that can be very overwhelming for children with autism. This year, the ACI Learning Center in Harker Heights, along with five other ACI locations throughout the states, participated in a meet and greet with Santa that aimed to be autism-friendly.
Manager Tori Evans says this was their third or fourth year participating in the Friendly Santa event. “We have staff on hand to keep our kids calm, so that they can really enjoy this experience. Many of the children here today also come for therapy and other social building programs, so it’s another way we bond with them. We want to create a welcoming atmosphere with low pressure,” Evans went on to say she strives to make big moments for the families who come to ACI. The families who attended this year’s event were able to see Santa individually and have their picture taken, with a separate play area for children.
For parents Adryanne and Franklin Pangelinan, they are more than thankful to have a full service facility so close to home to better assist their eight -year-old daughter, Analu. The family moved to the area from Fort Lee, Virginia, where there were little to no resources for children with autism. “It was a long process for us,” says Adryanne, “From getting her diagnosis to learning what her qualifications were. It’s been a huge relief and we’ve seen a major improvement in her social skills,” Adryanne also commented on how much she enjoyed the Harker Heights area, along with commending the school her daughter attends, Skipcha Elementary. Franklin expressed his concerns about needing more facilities like ACI, which focuses on applied behavior analysis services. “I’ve been in the army for over 10 years,” he said, “So when it comes time for us to move to a new duty station, it’s a little scary to think there may not be services like this,”
Analu, nicknamed LuLu by some of the staff, was all smiles as she played with other kids before going in to see Santa. When the time came, she was the star of the room and remained joyful throughout the experience. For staff member Alexander Agosto, it’s another fulfilling aspect of the job. “To know you’re making a difference in someone’s life is the best part. I get to help children and I also get to see their parents’ smile with gratitude. This is the most rewarding job I’ve ever had,”
For more information on the services ACI Learning Centers have to offer, call 254 213 1924.


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