LAMAR COUNTY, MS (WDAM) - When a visitor walks into Megan Hogue's classroom at Oak Grove High School, they are welcomed by smiles and warm greetings.
That is what defines Hogue's students, rather than their mental and physical disabilities.
"I think a lot of people are scared of people with disabilities.. and they shouldn't be," explained Hogue of her special education students, whose disabilities differ.
On Thursday the students put together a puzzle to recognize World Autism Awareness Day and celebrate the qualities of their classmates with autism.
"They're regular people that have hopes and dreams like everybody else, and they can do so much," said Hogue. "You just kinda have to find their niche and really use it to help them do what they can do."
Autism Speaks, an organization that promotes autism awareness, describes the brain development disorder as one in which there are "difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors."
The autism spectrum, as it is often described, varies in severity, from fully functional to completely dependent. According to Autism Speaks, the most obvious symptoms of autism usually appear between 12 and 18 months of age, and some infants and toddlers develop normally then lose skills and develop autism in the second year of life. Adults can also be diagnosed, having never received a diagnosis as a child.
Hogue's student, Emilee, said she had to learn to speak when she was younger, and that her time with those teachers and in her classrooms now has changed her life.
"It's kind of scary at first," said Emilee. "I am very brave."
Emilee is full of life and doesn't meet a stranger. She is also quick to tell people of her knowledge of movies, actors, music, artists and awards each has received.
That vast knowledge of a specific subject is also common among people with autism.
Emilee's classmate, Josh, who is also autistic has his own interests.
"Football, basketball, and baseball," said Josh.
He said he follows Mississippi athletes, but his favorite team is the Louisiana State University Tigers.
"He's who I go to to ask about my bracket for March Madness and things like that," laughed Hogue, who explained knowing her students' interests is key to helping them in the classroom.
While the spectrum varies for autism, Emilee had one consistent message: "If they think they get scared of being autistic, just show your smile and be who you are."
Information on autism used in this article found here.