Category Archives: college

Words from a College Student with Autism

My good friend, Samuel Capozzi, wrote this fine and informative speech for the all-day conference on nonverbal autism held at California Lutheran University last weekend. I am delighted to share his powerful message.

Samuel gradI once read that “God often uses our deepest pain as the launching pad of our greatest calling.” I believe this is true in my young life. Good morning, my name is Samuel Capozzi, and I’m a freshman at Cal State Channel Islands
in Camarillo. I am also pleased to be on the board of Autism Society, Ventura County. I have a diagnosis of moderate autism, and I’m considered non-speaking and non-writing. I only began typing to communicate about four years ago. A lot has happened in that short span! As a matter of fact, my entire life changed.

My communication breakthrough happened in the middle of high school. At that time, I was unable to expressively communicate all that I was taking in, all that I learned, and all that I hoped to achieve. I was reading Dick and Jane readers and doing double digit addition at 16 years old. This was a dark, dark time for me. After more than sixteen years of silence, I felt like I might never be heard, like I might never be understood, and like I might be treated as a toddler
for the rest of my life. To say that my hope was realized in May of 2012 would be a huge understatement!

I think it’s important to know that I didn’t suddenly learn everything with RPM, I was learning all along. I’m thankful my mom read to me at higher levels and showed me educational videos. I also did a lot of incidental learning. It’s a very hard thing to be deprived of rich, age-level learning experiences—experiences most people take for granted.

Life changed when my faithful parents took me to Austin, Texas to learn RPM—the method I use to communicate. Needless to say, many tears were shed in the Capozzi home upon the realization that not only do I understand what is being said, but that I also have excellent reasoning skills and a keen sense of humor!

I decided to stay an extra year in high school to earn a diploma and to become a college-bound student. With hard work and many sacrifices by my loved ones and me, I did it! My favorite class was Latin, and I enjoyed taking the National Latin Exam. I managed to score Maxima Cum Laude two years in a row. My school challenged the students to “Do Hard Things”, so I did, but not only for myself. You see, I understand that my success is my misunderstood and marginalized peers’ success as well.

My remaining high school years were jam-packed with academics which I thrived on! I was even my Mock Trial team’s journalist. It was a whirlwind of an experience, as I responded unusually quick to learning RPM. My high school counselor and teachers were extremely excited about and supportive of my new found means of communication. This was so important as I ‘spread my wings’ in my new world of communication, conversation, and academics. My Latin teacher
took a real interest in my journey, and this made me feel so supported and encouraged. She even read Ido’s book out loud to her family! Just one teacher can make a big difference.

By God’s grace and pure grit, I graduated with honors and managed to take the SAT. Not only was arranging for the necessary accommodations difficult and time-consuming, but I also sat for the test for over 6 hours! So did my friend, Ido. Nonetheless, I am thankful the College Board was willing to work with us on this because I know it will benefit others who face complex communication challenges in the future, and hopefully some of you here today!

As our understanding of autism evolves and increases, I am optimistic that accessing an appropriate education won’t be as challenging for others who communicate differently.

I was accepted at all three universities that I applied to, including Cal Lutheran, and offered scholarships based on academic merit and community service. In the end, I chose Channel Islands because I believe they were the best prepared for a student like me. Go, Dolphins!

Since attending CI, I love learning, walking the halls of a university, and obtaining higher education. As I understand it, I am CI’s first non-speaking, non-writing student. I simply can’t say enough about Disability Resource Programs at CI. I am truly embraced, and my presence is celebrated on campus. It’s a nice change! What inspires me most is my professors’ delighted
responses and even shocked responses when they hear my cogent answers and read my strong essays. I hope to pioneer a path for other students who communicate differently that may come after me. Knowing this helps me forge on when I become overwhelmed!

Life with autism is challenging and difficult in ways most of you could never understand. So, my efforts in high school and now that I’m in college are hopefully not only for my benefit but also for the benefit of my peers and society as a whole.

Autism is now a big part of our society with the prevalence at 1 in 68 births. With what we know, now is the time to re-think autism and give it a new face. Yes, life with autism has caused some of my deepest pain; however, living victoriously with autism is also my greatest calling. I am profoundly grateful to have meaningful communication, and I hope that I have helped some of
you to better understand its importance for everyone.

My Speech at the Autism Society Self Determination Conference

When you think of your future, you have lots of ideas.

So do I.

Remember when you finished high school? What were your plans?

My plans are similar. I want a college degree. I want independent living one day. I want a relationship. I want a fulfilling job. I must try to get these despite my autism and my not speaking and all the challenges this brings.

From our earliest ages people with autism are used to being told what to do.

Touch your nose!

Touch your head!

Look at me!

Hands down.

All done!

Self-determination means having the right to express what I need to achieve my goals.

This means that the unique and individual needs of people with disabilities need to be addressed. My needs are different than the cookie cutter. This means that agencies, like Regional Center, and others, that support us in our adult lives, need to be adaptable.

I want to get the right support. The support I need may be very different than what other people with disabilities, or even other people with autism need, to succeed in college and in a career. I am a bright enough guy to know my needs and the kind of support that will enable me to achieve my goals. I want to be sure that the support and services I will receive after high school will be what I truly need and not based on the needs of other people with different plans or different talents.

My experts have missed the mark most of my life. Kind of like a tennis player who keeps missing the ball or hitting it to the wrong court.

That’s why I would really like to plan my own course and have a say in my own life.

We need partners to support us, not planners to tell us where we belong.

Isn’t that supposed to be the objective of all the services we have received all our lives anyway?

I warn you about one thing though. A consequence of teaching autistic people to type is that we have opinions and we have determination. Once we can express them we will demand a voice in our own futures.

 

Life After High School

Life after high school is the big unknown. The help an autistic child receives tapers off in the adult years. I appreciate the support I get. It enables me to live in the real world and do much of what my typical peers do. The moment I graduate high school I lose the funding the School District provides for my trained one on one aide. Colleges do not do provide disabled students with this kind of assistance. Also, because the college day is looser and less structured than high school, I won’t be going from class to class all day long like I do now. I want to make sure I continue to have the support I need three years from now when I begin college, even during the times I am not attending class.
I want to have a meaningful career and life. This means that I need to begin thinking, even now, about my future so that we can plan. What have other autistic or disabled people done after high school to achieve this? Do you have any ideas?