Woman with autism overcomes odds

Terrilee Tatum teaches at Autism Treatment Center in San Antonio

SAN ANTONIO – Terrilee Tatum was diagnosed with autism when she was 17 years old in 2000 when autism was relatively unknown or misunderstood. 

Fast forward to 2016, Tatum works as an administrator and teaches arts and crafts at the Autism Treatment Center in San Antonio.

Tatum said she understands firsthand with what her students with autism are confronted. 

"I went through most of my childhood not knowing what was going on," she said. "I came across as either really shy and angst-ridden or just stuck up. Even then, a lot of people in Texas did not know what autism was."

Despite being bullied by kids in high school because she was different, Tatum managed to graduate from the University of the Incarnate Word with honors with degrees in art and kinesiology.  

Tatum has played tennis competitively and excelled. 

But one thing that has proven difficult for her has been the social problems that come along with autism. 

Tatum said she feels fortunate that she's been able to learn a myriad of social skills that have helped her in all aspects of her life. 

Her supervisor, Ivy Zwicker, said that people with autism deserve to have the opportunity to overcome their challenges.

Zwicker, director of ATC, said it's important that the general public are sensitive toward people with autism. 

"Just because they're different doesn't mean their outcomes should be different," Zwicker said.

She said ATC uses Applied Behavioral Analysis, which helps people with autism beginning at 18 months old. 

She said when ABA is used early on in life, it's enormously helpful.

"When a child can have access to ABA, they have such a strong likelihood of going into kindergarten without specialized education, which can save thousands of dollars every year," Zwicker said.

ATC is among only 11 organizations of its type in the nation that provides lifespan services.  

Zwicker said there are 30,000 people with autism in Bexar County. 

To learn more about the Autism Treatment Center, click here.