Walmart Community Playmaker

Maria Crawford

Maria Crawford was thrust into the world of special needs, after her youngest, adopted son was diagnosed with autism in 2009.  Since that day, Maria has worked tirelessly to advocate for her son, her family and for all children with different abilities.  In 2010, she created Zane’s Toy Chest which collected toy donations to be used by behavioral therapists with their clients at home.  She served as President of LA FEAT (Families for Effective Autism Treatment) and continues to serve on the board.  As a board member, Maria advises families of newly diagnosed children and guides them through the difficult and overwhelming process of getting services.  She became a champion of ABA therapy (Applied Behavior Therapy) and has been a speaker at many events.  In 2016, Maria launched a peer mentoring program called the “IN Crowd” at Riviera Elementary to help facilitate and grow relationships between students with special needs and their peers and their respective parents.  The IN Crowd, whose motto is “INform, INvolve and INspire” encourages and supports an environment of full-inclusion on campus.  With over 100 students involved, the program tripled in size in just one year.  Teams of neurotypical students mentor to all of the students in the special education classes, while learning about different disabilities each month.  Maria also began Autism Awareness Month at Riviera Elementary and this will be their fourth year to “Light It Up Blue” for autism, where all students dress in blue to show support for friends on the spectrum.