David Espinoza

2023 Amazing Kids - Hillsboro
Age: 6
School: Lincoln Street Elementary School
Hometown: Hillsboro
WHY HE IS AMAZING: He is a loving and social kid living with autism, recognized by peers and educators for his outgoing nature.


Hillsboro student isn't 'less than'
because of his autism

The pandemic was difficult for everyone, but especially for the family of David Espinoza, a 6-year-old with autism who attends Lincoln Street Elementary School in Hillsboro.

Remote learning and virtual health care made it harder to get Espinoza the assistance he needed, demonstrating how children with disabilities were some of the most impacted. David has still managed to be a loving person and social butterfly.

To outside observers, Espinoza doesn’t seem to have the “stereotypical symptoms” of autism, said his mother Leah.

His echolalia — a syndrome where a person repeats the last words someone says — can make Espinoza seem more communicative than he is actually being sometimes.

“If you asked if he wanted a red cup or a blue cup, he’d say the blue cup,” Leah Espinoza explained. “But that’s just because it was the last thing you said.”

Where he is most noticeably different than other kids is in understanding concepts like time and location and self-regulation. It’s difficult for David to recall where he was and when, or to recognize when he needs to let up for his own sake or that of other children.

Going to parks was one of the ways Espinoza’s parents were able to really tie in these concepts for him, said Leah.

The first-grader is visually gifted, able to quickly memorize what he sees. It’s part of the reason he has progressed quickly in reading.

One of the first words he memorized was “Hillsboro,” which appears on all the signage for Hillsboro Parks and Recreation sites, further helping him to connect to that time and place when they visit a park.

Leah Espinoza said that they struggled to get David properly diagnosed and to get him the resources he needed in school. Often, his outward social skills would lead to adults thinking he didn’t require the same resources as other autistic kids in school, who might be nonverbal or less able to socialize.

David Espinoza’s sociability certainly shines through. At Anna & Abby’s Yard in Forest Grove in early April, he played on the swings with a girl who coincidentally shares a name with one of the playground’s namesakes.

Espinoza enjoys play structures that he can crawl inside of and be surrounded by, and ones that spin.

They frequent other all-inclusive parks that were built with physical and cognitive disabilities in mind.

David and Leah Espinoza both said they are excited for the inclusive park being built in Hillsboro, which is expected to open this fall behind the Hidden Creek Community Center.

One of the features there will be Oro, a “friendly forest giant” statue that is really a large play structure that kids can climb in and atop, which Leah Espinoza thinks David is going to really like.

Leah Espinoza also highlighted sensory craft programs and movie nights put on by the city, which provide David with more opportunities to socialize with other kids.

“It’s affordable, and it allows him to do a structured activity with some other kids so that he can get a little bit of that socializing,” she said.

Leah Espinoza said learning coping mechanisms for David has also helped with her own mental illness and neurotypical divergencies.

Leah suffers from bipolar disorder, anxiety and depression, and other symptoms that she said are often used to diagnose autism or attention deficit hyperactive disorder.

“One of the things about the criteria is you have to have a certain number of qualifying symptoms, and I have just under that,” she said.

Depending on who’s evaluating David Espinoza, they may think the same of him.

Leah Espinoza said this is one of the ways in which autism is often misunderstood and misinterpreted by others, even his siblings.

“It’s one of those things where we might think that he’s not catching on to things, like with his memory or his cognitive delay,” Leah Espinoza said. “And he often surprises us with the things that he will understand or does remember.”

“It’s something we have to remember and remind ourselves is that he’s different, not worse,” she added. “We know that as his parents, but we have to remind our kids and help him to have an experience where he’s different but not less than.”