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(NECN/NBC: Norma Rubio)- A childhood diagnosis of autism can be confusing and scary for some parents, but a California mother created a better future for her now 24-year old daughter, Samantha.
Everyone pitches in at breakfast time in the Meza family home. It's just what mom, Rita Meza, decided 20-years ago when her daughter Samantha was diagnosed with autism.
"Understanding what autism was and how her brain functioned, that really was the key for our family to kind of be able to do things together as a typical family," explained Rita Meza.
But that road hasn't always been easy, especially in the beginning.
"It was just starting to come out in assessments and so she was kind of the first wave of kids that were being diagnosed with autism. I was really confused and numb because I didn't know what that meant."
Following Samantha’s diagnosis, Rita learned everything she could about autism.
"We started school and they were willing to give her speech and language services, but their main focus was full inclusion," Rita continued.
Full inclusion meant that Samantha joined general education classes at school while working with a specialist.
When it came time to start thinking about Samantha’s future, Rita says paying attention to her interests early was key.
"Sam growing up was so enamored by animals. Everywhere we went, if there was an animal, Sam’s got to touch it."
So Rita helped nurture that passion for animals.
Now, at 24-years old, Samantha is living in campus housing and studying to be a veterinary technician.
"They work with the animals, like they do all the stuff that the animals that the veterinarian doesn't have time for, you know, taking the physical exam, you know, running lab tests, you know, drawing blood, doing all that," explained Samantha.
She's a self-proclaimed geek too, who loves to knit. And she's even found love.
"It's not impossible to find that person, I mean like even if you have autism, it's really not, so I’m grateful,” expressed Samantha.
Being grateful is an attitude the whole family seems to embrace.