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Graduate student Alison L'Heureux will combine her passions of running and helping children with autism, when she races in the Boston Marathon in April as a representative of the Doug Flutie Foundation for Autism.
The Uxbridge native is one of 15 people selected nationwide to represent the organization and is expected to collect $5,000 for the cause. To raise funds, she's started a drive on campus and in surrounding communities to collect recyclable cans and bottles for deposit. Combining that with other efforts, she has raised more than $3,200 in a few months.
For Ms. L'Heureux, the marathon represents the latest step in her drive to improve autism education. She brought the idea for using the iPad to teach students with autism to the Annie E. Fales Elementary School in Westborough and is seeking to do the same at BSU. Additionally, she provides home care and is currently working with an 11-year-old child with autism in Rhode Island each weekday morning. We talked recently to Ms. L'Heureux about her work and the upcoming marathon.
What is it that drew you to special education?
While attending Uxbridge High School, I participated in a program where half the day was spent in a kindergarten classroom, where a few students had learning disabilities. My heart went out to the students. I reached out to them and saw the progress students can make when they receive proper support. That was my first step and from there everything started unfolding.
Why autism specifically?
I completed my student teaching at Johnson Early Childhood Center in Weymouth, where I worked primarily with preschool students diagnosed with autism -- many were non-verbal. Throughout the years, my fascination has grown in the field, since each student with autism is so unique. Teaching students with autism is a rewarding experience, where I am able to see substantial progress in students, when proper interventions are in place. It is like fitting the pieces of a puzzle together.
We know you've done some work with the iPad and children with autism. How does that work?
Through use of the Proloquo2go application, the students expressively communicate through pictures, and teachers use it to enhance receptive language for students. Students with autism are highly visual learners, and the need for a device that allows the owner to take pictures and quickly import them is crucial. Through this innovative technology, communication barriers are coming down and many doors are being opened. Students who have no verbal language- now have a "voice." The possibilities are endless.
How does it feel to represent the Doug Flutie Foundation in the Boston Marathon?
It's a humbling experience and I'm honored. It's a way for me to demonstrate my commitment to all families affected by autism. I've run in the marathon the past three years, but this is the first year I'm able to combine my two passions, teaching and running.
What good would you like to see come from the money you raise?
There are a lot of struggling families out there who need help and are searching for answers to a diagnosis that still remains such a mystery. I hope the money that I raise for the foundation will provide a way for families to access resources that otherwise would not be financially feasible and that the funds will support continuous research for ongoing improvements in interventions.
If you would like to donate your cans and bottles to Alison, e-mail her at:
To make a donation for her marathon run visit her donation page here.
(Story and photo by Rob Matheson, '07, University Advancement)
Check out Alison L'Heureux's YouTube video below.