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Phoenix Forward magazine

Alumna honored for work with special needs kids

Lisa Blue

Advocating on behalf of her own child with special needs came naturally to Lisa Blue. She soon discovered that helping other parents who were struggling with their kids who needed extra help in school and life came just as easily.

Blue received a University of Phoenix® Spirit of Service Award last year for her volunteer counseling work with families of special needs children, a mission inspired by her 21-year-old son, Logan, who has autism.

“Logan changed my life drastically,” Blue says. “I never wanted to be a teacher, but he’s what made me go back to college at 47. And I loved everything about it.” She earned two degrees at the University of Phoenix New Mexico Campus: a bachelor’s in education in 2010 and a master’s in special education in 2013.

For the past 10 years, Blue has volunteered at Parents Reaching Out, a nonprofit organization in Albuquerque that works with parents, teachers and other professionals to advocate for families and children with special needs, as well as provide educational and emotional assistance to them.

Blue pairs aspiring teachers and medical students with families. In counseling sessions, family members describe what it’s like to live in a household with special needs children. This gives the medical students a chance to add breadth to their education by hearing real-world testimonials about how families cope, Blue explains.

“It’s a really good way to understand a snapshot of who the person has to care for,” Blue emphasizes. “It’s much better than reading about it in a book. People need to remember that and treat [a special needs child] as a person and not as a disability.”

[My son is] what made me go back to college at 47. And I loved everything about it.

She notes that she’s sometimes surprised at how her work has made a difference. At a conference on autism last summer, a woman told her, “I never forgot the things you said [when Blue spoke to her class], and I’m trying hard to be the teacher you want me to be.” That her talk had such an effect on someone, Blue says, “really touched me.”

Now a fourth-grade teacher, Blue says her class is made up of “kids with autism and other behavior disorders. You have 25 kids and some of them are bouncing off the walls, and you have to figure out how to handle them.”

While working as a teacher, Blue also is adding to her educational credentials. She has begun a PhD program in special education at the University of New Mexico and wants to do more public motivational speaking with the goal of helping people understand the full spectrum of special needs children.

“There’s a saying, ‘If you know one child with autism, you know one child with autism,’” Blue says, “because each child is different. My hope is to open more doors. I want to get into conferences and talk about the realities of life with special needs children. You need to know the theory, yes, but it all boils down to the real world and living with it 24/7 for your entire life.”

As for being honored by University of Phoenix, Blue says she’s still in shock over receiving the accolade. “I was kind of blown away,” she admits. “They gave it to me in front of the whole faculty and told me I was the first person in New Mexico to win one.”