When Elvia Espino’s son, Alex, was diagnosed with autism in 2014, she spent countless nights researching the developmental disorder. She started looking for responses on Google and joining Facebook groups for moms of autistic kids. 

“Hearing that my son had autism was basically like saying, ‘OK. We knew something was off,’ ” she said. “Finally, we have a name for this.”

As she gained a better understanding of her son’s diagnosis, Espino, who currently lives in far southwest Fort Worth, quickly realized that autism doesn’t discriminate and sought to fill the knowledge gap relating to the disorder. In 2016, she created Mom-on-a-Mission with the sole mission of educating people about autism. Mom-on-a-Mission, as Espino describes it, is a one-stop shop for autism resources.

Community Space

Mom-on-a-Mission is a one-stop shop for autism resources. The organization’s Facebook group offers insight and information on how to navigate life with an autistic child. Elvia Espino can also be booked to host workshops on topics relating to autism. You can contact her at elvia@drelviaespino.com or by calling 832-851-8183. 

“I use every opportunity when Alex is around or introducing Alex to educate people because if you don’t educate people, I find that they’re never going to learn,” Espino said. “Quite honestly, Alex is the entire reason I know anything about autism.”

Autism is the fastest-growing disability in the nation and Texas, according to a Texas Autism Council report.

Data from the Texas Education Agency shows 84,431 Texas students during the 2020-21 school year had autism and received special education services. Last school year, 1,270 Fort Worth ISD students got services relating to autism.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes autism as a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. 

Many medical and educational barriers exist for children with autism. While Mom-on-a-Mission is a well of resources and information to help parents tackle these obstacles, it’s also a community for caregivers of children with autism to find support among themselves.

“When you think about how taxing and how exhausting it is, not only to be a caregiver but then you take into consideration the everyday life of fighting insurance companies, fighting for doctor’s appointments, fighting for just basic necessities for your child to receive basic care, not only within the medical community but then the education system — it’s beyond frustrating,” Espino said. 

Language barriers are another obstacle for non-English speaking parents who are looking for information. That’s where Espino steps in by also providing resources in Spanish.

“How many Spanish-speaking experts are out there that are knowledgeable in autism?” she said. “That’s another big population that I’m grateful that I’m able to help.”

Audrey Van Hook, an American Airlines employee and member of the Transport Workers Union Local 513’s working women’s committee, found herself reaching out to Espino after several parents approached her with questions about raising special needs kids.  

Van Hook ended up inviting Espino to host a workshop on appropriate verbiage. 

Breaking barriers

While Elvia Espino works to break down obstacles surrounding children with special needs, she herself has accomplished a lot. Growing up in Pasadena as a Latina in the 1990s, she was labeled “at-risk” by her teachers. She ended up being the first in her family to go to college. In 2017, she ran for Irving mayor.

“The takeaway was how brilliant children with autism are,” Van Hook said. “The culture in which we live now is different than it was 30 years ago. For example, we learned that you can’t just call somebody ‘retarded’ because that’s offensive. You have to look at that and kind of take that word out of the vocabulary because you never know who you’re talking to.”

Espino’s workshop has shown her how to be more compassionate toward people with autism, especially children, Van Hook said. She hopes to bring Espino back to host more workshops with other Transport Workers Union committees. 

“I don’t have an autistic child or anything, but I actually work side by side with a gentleman who’s autistic,” she said. “My journey with him has been different since learning about autism and being more patient with him and helping him out wherever because he says that he wants to be treated like a regular human being. And I understand that.”

Her dedication to researching and understanding Alex’s disorder prompted her to seek out a doctorate of education in organizational change and leadership, focusing her research on autism. Espino said when people find out she’s a doctor, they encourage her to teach. However, that was never her goal.  

“I find it ironic that I am teaching people about autism, about the importance of advocating for their children. So I definitely feel that I am teaching, just in a different way,” she said.

Fort Worth Report fellow Sandra Sadek may be reached at sandra.sadek@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Sandra Sadek is the growth reporter for the Fort Worth Report and a Report for America corps member. She writes about Fort Worth's affordable housing crisis, infrastructure and development. Originally...

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