For more than two decades, Plano resident Nagla Moussa has worked tirelessly for people with autism. She was initially inspired by tragedy. In the 1990s, a local teen with autism was shot and killed by a police officer who felt he had to act in self-defense. The event struck a chord with her because at the time she was raising a 10-year-old son with autism.
“It was personal because I could see my son in that situation,” she said.
Motivated to act, Nagla lobbied the state legislature to require 16 hours of autism training for all police and emergency personnel. After achieving her goal, she continued working as a volunteer advocate for the autism community. Among her accomplishments are founding the Autism Society of Collin County in 1996 and founding the North Texas Chapter of the National Autism Association in 2008. She also chairs the Lifepath Systems advisory committee and is a member of the human rights committee for the Easter Seals autism program. Two years ago, she started Moussa Autism Consulting, a professional organization committed to serving the autism community’s needs.
“North Texas is incredibly fortunate to have Nagla represent the intellectual and developmental disabilities community,” My Possibilities Executive Director Michael Thomas said. The organization Michael leads is a for-cause organization dedicated to helping adults with disabilities, including autism. “Nagla provides amazing services such as informational trainings and autism presentations, transition guidance for families throughout various life stages, and action plan guidance. Her work on the autism spectrum is a guiding light for many of our families.”
Nagla often represents families in school meetings where she advocates for things like speech therapy, occupational therapy and the right to be included in general education settings instead of self-contained classrooms. She helps children and their parents plan for the transition to adulthood and advises them on how to access government services that they are entitled to.
“If I could wave a magic wand and change one thing, I would just make it easier for these kids to have friends,” she said.
When children with autism reach adulthood, they often struggle to find meaningful employment. According to Nagla, many people have the misconception that all people with autism are quirky geniuses, like the title character from the movie “Rain Main.” In fact, those characteristics are indicative of less than 10 percent of those with autism. The rest fall somewhere else on a broad spectrum that ranges from completely non-verbal to very communicative and conversational.
“I try to open people’s eyes,” Nagla said. “The fact is that all of these adults and children are trainable and employable. Some will go to college and some can work. Those are the things that I really try and hammer in.”
Nagla’s own son is a perfect example of what’s possible for those on the spectrum. When he was first diagnosed, Nagla decided to leave Dallas and return to Plano. She’d attended school here after her parents moved in 1973, and knew it would be the ideal place for him. Her son attended Plano ISD public schools his entire childhood. He then went on to Collin College and UT Dallas, where he graduated with a business degree.
“I’m proud, but it took a lot of hard work,” Nagla said. “It wasn’t just a blink of the eye by any means.”
In the future, Nagla hopes that more people become accepting and accommodating of those with autism. She encourages anyone wanting to get involved to contact the National Autism Association to learn about volunteer opportunities, or your local school district to help mentor kids with autism.My Possibilities > National Autism Association >
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