Mr. Armijo is the Physical Education teacher at Spectrum Academy in Pleasant Grove. Spectrum Academy is our 12-year-old son’s fourth school. Erik is now in 7th grade and has been diagnosed with Autism, severe depression, anxiety disorder, and ADHD. He has always struggled in social situations. School has always been especially difficult for him. He has told me on many occasions that the teachers don’t like him and that he doesn’t have any friends. I was just supposed to accept that he would never have friends and he would never do well in school, according to him. The school has been a Godsend for our son and our entire family. Erik’s growth has been immeasurable since the school opened there last year.
I attribute his success to many of the teachers at Spectrum Academy, but Mr. Armijo in particular, has played an influential role in Erik’s life. In past years, Erik has not even tried to participate in physical education. He worried that the kids were after him in soccer, kids were out to hurt him and only him in dodgeball, he had no confidence in basketball or baseball. Group activities have been incredibly difficult for him because he doesn’t like being touched or anyone in his “bubble” (what we would call our personal space). Needless to say, we gave up on PE long ago. In fact, he spent his PE class with the principal, secretaries, or the librarian at the last school. They were his best friends.
At the same time, he also spent all of his recesses and ate his lunch with the same group of people, the principals, the secretaries, and the librarians. He was terrified of being in a group and always felt bullied or threatened. I was devastated that Erik had no friends, no peers to share his interests with at school. He acted out in class since he felt so lonely and frustrated. His teachers didn’t understand his diagnoses (Autism, severe depression, anxiety, and ADHD). They, understandably, didn’t know how to integrate this “difficult child” into their day. This lead to a spiral for our son. He lost his confidence, he missed out on friendships, activities, and extracurricular activities no matter how hard we tried to help him.
Mr. Armijo came into the picture last year as Erik’s PE teacher and Advisory teacher. The Advisory teacher is there to help each child at Spectrum feel connected and be a resource for the parents and child. The first week Erik wouldn’t even go into the gym from the hallway. Mr. Armijo didn’t push, he just made sure that he was safe and okay. Over time, he got him to come into the gym, but not much further than the front door. Before we knew it, he got Erik involved. Erik smiled a little more and became the kid that couldn’t wait for Friday – DODGEBALL DAY! Mr. Armijo identified kids that Erik seemed to relate well with and put them together often so that they could form relationships. Guess what! Erik was invited to three birthday parties this year – we haven’t had any invitations for more than 4 years. When I asked him at the end of the school year who his best friend was that year he replied, “I don’t have a best friend. I just have a bunch of good friends, Mom.”
He is the only teacher that I have ever seen Erik warm up to this way. He was so excited to see him at Back to School Night and gave him a hug. He knows that he can talk to him if he is ever feeling unsafe, stressed, or upset. Mr. Armijo obviously loves our son. He provides a place for him to de-stress when he has had a hard time in any of his classes. He gives Erik an opportunity to serve by allowing him to help clean up the gym, something that is not intuitive for someone with Autism, but Erik is doing it and gets such a sense of pride from helping his teacher. He watches for him and contacts me if something doesn’t seem quite right. These things seem to be a given for any teacher-student relationship, but when you have a child with Autism and the challenges Erik has, it is exponentially harder to create these relationships. Mr. Armijo is a natural with our son and it brings me to tears to watch them together.
We are incredibly grateful for Mr. Armijo for giving Erik the confidence he has needed to grow academically, emotionally, and behaviorally. I hope that you consider him for this award because his efforts have changed our son’s life in an unbelievable way, in a way that I don’t think we will ever be able to quantify.