Category Archives: family support

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.

Planting Seeds

I receive many letters from people who are not parents of kids with autism but they are relatives or friends of someone who has autism. They have read my book and see the child has the potential to understand, but they cannot influence the parents to change the way they interact with the child or  teach communication. It is painful to read these letters because I know the kid is trying, they are trying, and the parents aren’t ready to hear the message. So they ask me how can they change things.

I wish I knew. The parents or teachers must be open to new ideas. If they’re not, what can one do who has no guardianship? You can treat the child differently yourself, talk to him normally, perhaps even see if the parents will let you introduce a letter board just for practice, but beyond the steps people have told me, it cannot be forced.

I guess one argument to the parents could be, what do you have to lose by trying? Like I’ve written in the past, how is it harmful to read someone an age appropriate book or speak in normal speech tones? This is modeling for people who have never seen their child treated like that.

I know several parents personally who were not open to teaching their kids how to type in the past because they couldn’t see their potential, but after many other kids they knew began typing they started to become more open. They had lots of conversations with other parents and gradually it helped them.

I don’t blame them. They have had lots of professional opinion to overcome as well as confused and conflicted emotions. I guess it’s not always immediate, but you are planting seeds. Hopefully one day they will germinate.

Me, Nick, Sydney and Emma

I have some friends I love to see. Unfortunately I don’t live near them.I have a long drive of an hour and a half once a month to see them but I feel it’s worth it. Each of us is living in Autismland but we can all communicate in typing and letter boards. Some use i-pads. I use a dynawrite or a letter board. Each of us is living the best we can in spite of our challenges.

We all have very loving families who noticed the potential in us in spite of expert advice that preferred to see us as “low functioning”. Thanks to our parents’ hard work we are free in life. I notice we all have very persistent, positive, and determined moms who didn’t want to give in to a label that told them it was hopeless. The result is that we are their kids in all ways like any other in spite of autism. In this group I don’t have to work on acting normal. I can be autistic with people who are friends, and friends with lovely, intelligent people who are autistic.