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Autistic student becomes kid mayor of Lynwood

LYNWOOD —Eleven-year-old Angel Daniel Rodriguez is a student in Roosevelt Elementary School’s Special Needs Program. He is also the city of Lynwood’s Kid Mayor for the month of June.

More energetic than any other kid mayor so far, Rodriguez enthusiastically called the June 2 City Council meeting to order, acknowledged council members, led the pledge of allegiance with his family members, teacher and principal proudly sitting in the audience.

The young Rodriguez captivated everyone in the chamber with his ability at the dais and was filled with excitement to be named kid mayor.

His mother Magdalena Diaz, school Principal Sandra Verduzco and his teacher Christiana Okeke were delighted with his performance.

“I knew Daniel was the right candidate for this,” Verduzco said. “Not only is he academically achieving all of his goals, but he’s a born leader among his classmates, making him a great representation of what a student can achieve with a disability or not, he is a great leader.”

Diagnosed with severe autism at around 3 years of age, Diaz said that she was afraid that her little boy couldn’t hear or speak.

“At first I thought it was his hearing because I would speak to him and it felt as if he didn’t understand me, so he wasn’t talking and I thought he couldn’t hear me either,” she said. “But as it turned out, it was neither. He was able to hear and by the age of 5, he learned how to speak.

“Less than 6 years later, he has achieved so much. He can understand everything. He can speak, follow directions, and what’s even better is that today I can’t get him to stop talking.”

Diaz, who was brought to tears watching her son start the City Council meeting, said her son has become a helpful, respectful and polite young boy.

“I’m not saying all of this just because he’s my son, but he really has blown us all away with how far he has come,” she said. “Daniel is proof that the sky is the limit for anyone with special needs. He can read and concentrate, too. He proves to all of us that children with special needs can be achievers and leaders.”

Led by Mayor José Luis Solache, the kid mayor program gives Lynwood students the opportunity to serve as the junior mayor of the city for an entire month.

One kid mayor is nominated every month by each of the Lynwood Unified School District’s 12 elementary school’s teachers. Rodriguez is the sixth kid mayor.

“I’m extremely excited to work with Daniel this month,” Solache said. “I wanted our kid mayor program to be experienced by students in the district, across the board of all ethnicities and all abilities. Daniel is a natural. He did great at the dais and his enthusiasm was contagious.

“I loved having him on the dais with the rest of the council. More importantly, the fact that he understands that he is the kid mayor of the entire city and what it signifies means much more than anything in the world. He is proof that children with special needs can follow their dreams, too.”

Rodriguez was presented with a proclamation, name plaque, badge and a $400 scholarship from Solache. The expression on Daniel’s face upon receiving the $400 check for college was priceless.

“I wasn’t sure what to expect from Daniel at the meeting, but he did excellent,” his mother said. “I’m still impressed at how well he followed directions. He amazes me every day, but when he amazes other people, including people who don’t understand autism or who don’t have the patience to understand autism, it means so much more.”

Diaz said she wanted to thank the City Council for having included children with special needs in its kid mayor program.

“One thing about children with autism is that when they achieve something, they want to keep achieving it,” Diaz said. “Daniel knows this was an achievement for him. As it is intended to do for every kid mayor, this experience has set the bar higher for Daniel, too.”