CHICAGO — Tamika Lechee Morales is an inspiration to many families who have a child with autism.
After her son Maximilian was diagnosed with autism in 2015 just before his fifth birthday, Morales became determined to help other children get the medical care they need.
"I don’t think I was quite ready or expected to hear that he was autistic," she said, "and so it hit me pretty hard."
Morales said she was so overwhelmed with fear that she told almost no one about the diagnosis. But when asked to share her story in a book, Morales said, the healing process began.
"When I started writing it, I started my healing path because I started going through all the levels of grief," she said.
Morales soon had a new outlook on life. The teacher and actress became an advocate for children with autism, and in 2017 founded the "Autism Hero Project," a nonprofit organization that purchases medical insurance premiums for families that qualify.
"We believe every child who is affected by autism should have the access to therapies they need to be successful," she said. "There should be no financial barriers. … We buy medical insurance because we know early intervention is key. The younger that the child is, the younger they can start getting those therapies. The sooner they can close the gap, the more successful they will be."
Through fundraising and donations, Morales raised more than $47,000 in her first year. To date, she has raised $67,000 and helped more than 28 families.
But Morales' mission goes beyond finances. She emphasizes the importance of creating awareness of children with autism.
"Our world has to prepare itself," she said. "What are we going to do when these children become adults? We have to create a world that is empathetic and kind and inclusive."
Morales' next fundraiser is slated for April, which is Autism Awareness Month. For more information, visit autismheroproject.org.
Tamika Lechee Morales is one of Chicago’s Very Own.