By Ciara Hansen, Children’s Village intern
My name is Ciara Hansen, and I am a recent graduate of Naches Valley High School. In the past four years, I have been a reporter for Unleashed, a high school journalism program. Unleashed publishes teens’ stories, photos, and artwork in the Yakima Herald-Republic. Being a member of this team has enhanced my writing and taught me new interviewing skills. This summer, I am interning at Children’s Village, where I will use these abilities to write articles for blogs and newsletters. I believe that my past experiences will also give me a unique advantage in telling the Village’s stories and developing a greater understanding of its families.
At the age of three, I was diagnosed with autism; autism was something that people were just becoming aware of during this time. My parents did extensive research to help me overcome my challenges. Determined to work through the process with me, my family used holistic and traditional methods. My parents also made sure that I interacted with people and was introduced to my surroundings. Without language, I found it difficult to convey my emotions. It wasn’t until kindergarten when I learned to talk and finally began to explore the world around me. Even then, I still had room to grow.
My parents collaborated with teachers and paraprofessionals to help me both socially and academically. In school, I struggled with reading and math. Comprehending a story or set of instructions was one of my weaknesses. Years of tutoring and guidance from my family and teachers eventually led to academic improvement. As a result, special education and paraprofessionals were no longer required for me. Starting in fifth grade, I moved to general education. Since then, I became studious and driven. It was important for me to improve. This helped me succeed in middle and high school.
Socializing with others was another obstacle. Due to limited communication in primary school, I often felt out of place and judged by my classmates. I kept to myself at school and was quiet and shy. In the end, my fear of rejection had created a wall between me and my peers. By the time I was in high school, this had changed. Getting involved in extracurricular activities such as Unleashed, National Honor Society, and choir allowed me to meet people with common interests. My loved ones have also showed me that autism is a small part of who I am, not who I am entirely. In fact, autism has made me a stronger person and has given me the chance to develop my own perspective. Still, I have my struggles and personal insecurities, but I take it one day at a time.
In my sophomore year, I did a story for Unleashed about Children’s Village’s services and autism resources. As I interviewed Parent to Parent coordinator Tracie Hoppis, she asked me to talk about my autism experiences at the annual Views from My Shoes presentation. Giving hope to families of autism made me realize that there are people who accept me as I am. I also saw how my story could inspire others. Feeling empowered by the Village, I chose to do my senior project there by leading its November and March teen clubs. I was invited to speak at Views from My Shoes again this past spring. I was honored to return to the Views from My Shoes panel. I was also invited to the Yakima Autism Community Symposium at ESD-105 on August 11-12. I am looking forward to speaking at this event and sharing my experiences with the community.
I am also excited to attend Central Washington University this fall. At CWU, I intend to major in Elementary Education, and graduate with a Bachelor’s of Arts degree. Going to college will build my skills for my career, my independence, and ability to help others in the future. I have always been passionate about working with children. Volunteering at Children’s Village has given me confidence in my leadership skills and ability to connect with others.
I can’t wait to give back through this wonderful internship. Writing articles about the Village will help give it the credibility that it deserves in the Yakima Valley. Because the Village’s families supported me with my story through Views from My Shoes, I am privileged to support them by telling their stories.