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Monday, September 15, 2014, 4:41 a.m.
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Rosetta Sparks

Autism: Special gift offers unique perspective — Heber Springs woman finds beauty in everything

By Angela Spencer

This article was published May 4, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.

Rosetta Sparks, 24, of Heber Springs is an enthusiastic cheerleader for her city. Sparks, who has lived in Heber Springs since she was 18 months old, has high-functioning autism, and she sees it as a blessing instead of a curse. Ultimately, her dream is for Heber Springs to be a city where people with disabilities can live and thrive.

If Heber Springs had an official city cheerleader, it would be Rosetta Sparks.

A walk around town with Rosetta — or Rosy, as her friends know her — would probably start at Kathy’s Book Nook, where she has worked for four years, and continue around town as Sparks points out shops and buildings, explaining the history of the buildings and reciting the names of current owners. A walk past the courthouse would incur a brief history of the county, along with a quick comment about the landscaping.

Sparks, who is 24 years old, has lived in Heber Springs since she was 18 months old. She is a member of the Lion’s Club, stops in at the Heber Springs Chamber of Commerce at least once a week and loves telling others about how much she adores the city and its people. Ultimately, her dream is for Heber Springs to be a city where people with disabilities can live and thrive.

“I want this place to be a place where any person with any disability can come and live in peace and harmony,” she said. “I want them to be able to follow their dreams. If I can do it, anyone can do it.”

Sparks has high-functioning autism, and she sees it as a blessing instead of a curse.

“I’m able to see the world in a way that most people don’t see,” she said. “Everyone has a unique perspective. People with autism are very unique in our perspectives. It really has allowed me to understand other people. Ever heard the phrase ‘walk a mile in her shoes?’ To me, it’s ‘walk a mile in my mind.’”

If someone did walk a mile in Sparks’ mind, she said, they would find meaning in everyday occurrences and see thoughts as clearly as things that are physically there.

Once, when riding in the car, Sparks saw a mockingbird on top of a stop sign. To her, it was a clear sign to stop and listen to the world around her.

“In my mind’s eye, I can see something corporeal, which means physical,” she said. “If I describe a book, in my mind’s eye, I have seen what I’m describing.”

Sparks enjoys reading, which fits in nicely with her job at Kathy’s Book Nook on South Second Street. She has worked at the bookstore since 2010 and said her favorite thing about it is meeting people from all over the country as they visit Heber Springs and peruse the shops downtown.

“It’s great seeing people from all walks of life and from all around America,” she said. “I’ve learned that America isn’t as different as I thought. I’ve pretty much stayed within the borders of this area for most of my life. To meet people from Florida or Texas, it really is amazing.”

Sparks does not seem to mind staying in Heber Springs. She knows all of the shop owners around her and likens the close-knit group to a clan.

“We help each other, watch each other’s back,” she said. “We keep each other safe around here. Heber Springs is a city that I think is a hidden gem, to be honest. It’s peaceful, quiet.”

While Sparks is content with sitting and reading on the porch at Kathy’s Book Nook, she said she has seen her share of excitement in Heber Springs, including time out on the lake and watching the traffic roll through town.

“Of course, seeing it from the air is better,” she said. “I have a friend who has a plane, and for my birthday two years ago, my mom arranged it, and I got to be taken up in a plane ride. It was so cool. There are no words to describe the beauty that this city truly is.”

Sparks’ caregiver is Jannette Jarrett, who works at the Community School of Cleburne County. The school is a private nonprofit licensed by the Department of Human Services Division of Developmental Disabilities Services and strives to provide a specialized learning environment for infants, children and adults with developmental disabilities.

“Ms. Janette has been my mom since my dad died in 2005,” Sparks said. “She helped me see who I am.”

Between meeting new people, learning the history of Heber Springs and Cleburne County, and taking care of Kathy’s Book Nook, Sparks leads a simple yet fulfilling life. Her disability — or blessing, as she says — has helped her encourage others to reach for the stars.

“If I had one thing to say to everyone else, it would be to follow your dreams,” she said. “Follow them wherever they may lead you.”

Staff writer Angela Spencer can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or aspencer@arkansasonline.com.

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