Autism specialist found life’s calling

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Every child can learn; it takes someone special to teach.
As executive director of the Autism Center of Tupelo, Sharon Boudreaux believes even the most difficult children want to succeed. They just need extra guidance.
“All children want to be successful,” Boudreaux said. “They want to please. You just have to help them find a way.”
Boudreaux was living in Athens, Ga. running a special-education program when her sister called from Fulton one day, frantic. Her 3-year-old daughter stopped talking, screamed all the time, and began engaging in repetitive behavior.
Because of her background, Boudreaux immediately knew her niece had autism. She quit her job and moved her family to Northeast Mississippi so she could work one-on-one with her niece.
It was a tough move, Boudreaux said, but one that opened many new doors. Within a few months, Boudreaux had an opportunity to head a new center offering free assessments and specialized services to children with autism.
The Autism Center of Tupelo formed in October 2009 and opened in January this year. It currently serves 12 students, with 50 more on the waiting list.
“I’d like to expand and provide early education services and train teachers,” Boudreaux said, “so the early intervention will follow the kids throughout their academic careers, into elementary school and beyond.”
Autism is the fastest growing developmental disorder in America, currently affecting one in roughly 100 children. An estimated 1,500 children in Northeast Mississippi alone suffer from some form of autism.
It causes deficits in communication and socialization, and children affected by it often have restricted interests and engage in repetitive behaviors like rocking or hand flapping.
There is no cure, but studies show that early intervention and intensive therapy can significantly lessen its affects.
For Boudreaux, helping children is a calling, but it’s one she found later in life. Before, the Louisiana native had a successful career as a marketing executive for an international company.
“I made a lot of money,” she said, “but I was unfulfilled.”
After visiting the special-education class of a friend, Boudreaux realized she wanted to work children. She returned to college and earned a masters in teaching, focusing on autism and emotional and behavioral disturbances.
“I found my life’s calling,” Boudreaux said. “It’s incredible what I get to do every day. I am truly fortunate to be able to work with these children.”

Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.

Autism Center of Tupelo
www.autismcenteroftupelo.com
(662) 821-2012
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