When one sees the ball of energy that is Alyssa Hiles, it’s easy to see what makes the 16-year-old such a great role model for youths all across Scioto County.
Hiles, who is a sophomore at Notre Dame High School, has autism, a variable developmental disorder that first appears in toddlers. The disorder is an onset one, which means that it never goes away.
However, she hasn’t let the disorder define what she is about as a person.
She remains upbeat. She’s active under the Notre Dame umbrella as a cheerleader. And last, but most certainly not least, she’s raised and donated money to help give kids with similar or more advanced versions of autism the help that they most desperately need.
So what gives Hiles the energy to be as active as she has been?
By staying active herself.
“Being in cheerleading really helps me get along with others,” Hiles said. “I’ve been around the vast majority of my friends since kindergarten and feel really fortunate to have the friends that I have today. Notre Dame has also been supportive of me, and they’ve really tried to help me with my autism. They don’t limit what I can do. I’ve been so lucky to have had an easy school life.”
Hiles, who was the guest speaker at the Autism Project of Southern Ohio’s May meeting on Saturday, continued on her mission of raising awareness for the disorder by speaking about a special autism research project called SPARK (Simons Foundation Powering Autism Research for Knowledge). SPARK has been designed for the sole purpose of building a research community where tens of thousands of individuals with autism — along with their families — can understand autism in a greater light.
Not only does this research go toward individuals in need, it also comes as no charge to the individuals who pursue the research, as the program is completely funded by the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI). The results of the research, according to the SPARK for Autism website, will go completely towards new autism research that will further advance the understanding of the disorder.
For Hiles, the 16-year old’s hope is that each of the 200-plus individuals in attendance at Saturday’s APSO meeting will at least entertain the opportunity of enrolling into the program — because she knows all too well that when it comes to autism, more questions surround the disorder than answers.
Throughout her time at Notre Dame, Hiles admitted that dealing with autism has been a struggle for herself, especially when it comes to the social obstacles that surround the disorder.
However, the sophomore has been fortunate to have had plenty of help.
Along with a close-knit school and a tight group of friends, Hiles’ late grandfather, Bob Nunley, helped get the NDHS student’s fundraising efforts off of the ground when she was in eighth grade by buying bracelets that helped Hiles raise money for autism while spreading the word himself.
Nunley, who was inducted into the Ohio Tri-State Sports Hall of Fame for his efforts in the game of softball, died on Feb. 27 at the age of 76. The 1960 Portsmouth High School graduate — whom Hiles referred to as her biggest supporter — was buried with the bracelets on his wrists.
“I started fundraising for autism, and my grandpa (Bob Nunley) would always buy the bracelets to support my fundraising efforts,” Hiles said. “He never took them off.”
Behind the support of her grandfather and additional loved ones, Hiles continued to fundraise while fighting for herself. She helped raise $3,500 for APSO in 2016. She made the high school cheerleading squad — which she is still a part of. And she’s continued to work diligently at her studies — even though Notre Dame generously offered to give Hiles extra time to complete them. Sure enough, Hiles is, indeed, on track to graduate with her fellow classmates in 2019.
“The administrators at the school said that I could stay there until I was 21,” Hiles said. “They said that I could participate in graduation ceremonies (in 2019), but that I wouldn’t get my diploma. “I was like, ‘No. I don’t want to do that. I want to go out in life and figure out what I need to do on my own.’”
And so far, Hiles has a good track on what she wants to do.
“I love kids,” Hiles said. “I want to do something in child care. I also like Photoshop and photography, so I want to do those things, too. I want to do something where I can put both of those areas together.”
However, regardless of what her future career choice is, it’s clear that Hiles has already made a lasting impact on the vast majority of individuals all over Scioto County.
“I want to give back,” Hiles said, “and make an impact on the lives of kids who have autism.”
For more information regarding SPARK, go to https://sparkforautism.org/portal/homepage/.
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @ColleyKevin7