Samantha Meza: Autistic woman, 24, attending college; Mom cites 'full inclusion' while growing up

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - At breakfast in the Meza family home, and it's business as usual.

Everyone pitches in.

It's just what mom, Rita Meza, decided 20 years ago when her daughter, Samantha, was diagnosed with autism.

"Understanding what autism was and how her brain functioned, that really was they key for our family to kind of be able to do things together as a typical family," said Rita.

But that road hasn't always been easy, especially in the beginning.

"It was just starting to come out in assessments and so she was kind of the first wave of kids that were being diagnosed with autism. I was really confused and numb because i didn't know what that meant," she said.

Following Samantha's diagnosis, Rita learned everything she could about autism.

"We started school and they were willing to give her speech and language services, but their main focus was full inclusion," said Rita.

Full inclusion meant Samantha joined general education classes at school while working with a specialist. When it came time to start thinking about Samantha's future, Rita says paying attention to her interests early was key.

"Sam growing up, was so enamored by animals. everywhere we went, if there was an animal, Sam's got to touch it."

So Rita helped nurture that passion for animals.

Now 24 years old, Samantha is in college, living in campus housing and studying to be a veterinary technician.

"They work with the animals, like they do all the stuff that the animals that the veterinarian doesn't have time for, you know, taking the physical exam, you know, running lab tests, you know, drawing blood, doing all that," said Samantha.

She's a self-proclaimed geek too.

She loves to knit.

She's even found love.

"It's not impossible to find that person. Even if you have autism, it's really not, so I'm grateful," said Samantha.

It's an attitude the whole family seems to embrace.

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