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DOUGLASVILLE, Ga. -- Little Dakota has been curious his whole life. He's interested in everything, but because he has autism, he needs help with focus.

Dakota's mother said she tried sending her son to a number of schools, but nobody could reach him -- until Jill Buchanan became his teacher two years ago.

"She makes him feel good," Dakota's mother, Donna Minor said. "She makes him feel comfortable, and kids don't learn if they don't feel secure."

That's how Buchanan treats all her special needs students at Dorsett Shoals Elementary School in Douglas County. She expertly guides their learning and celebrates each child as an individual.

"We know these kids have struggles, but they have strengths too," Buchanan said. "You have to be patient. You have to love what you do. These kids are my heart."

Minor has seen changes in Dakota.

"He's learning now because he feels he belongs in there," she said. "You know how autism is represented by a puzzle piece? Dakota is my puzzle piece. (Buchanan) built the puzzle around him. It's magic to do that."

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