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.

20 responses to “Words from a College Student with Autism

  1. Geraldine Blake

    I am so pleased for you but so grateful to yourself and Ido. Such examples of selflessness. Your lives must be full and busy with its continued difficulties and yet you take the time to inspire others. My son I hope will be given this academic opportunity too. We “fight” on. God bless you.

  2. I am very proud of your achievements. I always believe if we perservere we will achieve. I am an autism therapist and work with many children who are Non verbal but provided with right intervention can enjoy a successful career. My advise to parents is to believe in your children and provide them with a stimulating environment and they will be able reach great heights. This inspires me to support children on the spectrum

  3. Thanks so much Samuel and Ido. My son Joseph is almost 8 years old, and he is non-verbal. I find so much hope for his future in the trail that you guys are blazing! Thank you for writing, keeping us involved, and letting us follow your journeys with you.

  4. So inspirational!!!!! Just came back from a conference on RPM it was amazing!!! I’m a director of recreation for a non profit organization that serve children and adults with DD. Autism should definitely be re-thought!!! Rpm is definitely the door to that!!!
    Samuel and Danny thank-you!!!


  5. hi Samuel! I am Ines, I live in Argentina, and my son German is ten and has autism. We are starting to present RPM to him. Altough I can feel is tough for him, at the same time I see he wants to do it.
    How was RPM at the beggining for you?
    Thanks a lot for sharing your experience, you are a big inspiration!

    • RPM is a process. Soma has developed a variety of techniques to help people learn to type to communicate. Depending upon the motor and sensory processing issues of the person the process can be a bit different for each individual. For example, some people have trouble sitting in a chair. Some have very little hand or arm movement. Some take in too much visually and others micro-focus. If you check out http://www.halo-soma.org there are films and stories.

  6. Thank you for this post. I work on a team that diagnoses children with autism as young as 18 months. As we talk about next steps with families, I encourage parents to keep expectations high for their child. You and Ido are examples of why that’s important.

  7. Samuel, you Rock. Congratulations on the outcome of all your hard work. Thank you for proving that competence should be assumed. I look forward to reading your words and hearing your voice in the future.

  8. Samuel, we too always believed our daughter (now 11 years) was locked inside and are so thankful that God brought us to learn RPM through Soma. You and Ido give us such hope and encouragement and we pray that you continue to promote the amazing revelation that so many (if not most) of individuals with autism are simply looking for their voice. Ido, we tell EVeRYONE about your book. I have purchased many as I keep giving them to people in hopes that they will hear your message and be moved to action. Thank you! We know our daughter, Reagan, will be adding her voice to this movement as she becomes more proficient in RPM. She is already doing well in regular classes (for 6 months) and is improving in her open communication and we have onlybeen doing RPM for a year. THANK YOU!

  9. Ido, may I pass this message to your colleague Samuel?
    Crescat una veritas [et] Floreat fraternitas!

  10. Amazing account and inspiring for those who take everything in life for granted.

  11. well said , i am so glad this was verbalized, thankyou !!!!

  12. Tell me more about RPM. What is it ,how does it work and how much does it cost?

  13. I am eleven years old and a fellow RPMer. Greetings Ido and Sam! I am so proud of you both and inspired by you. It is clear that you are both dedicated to paving the path for those of us that follow in your footsteps. Please know your accomplishments are noticed and appreciated. Just stay the course, you will take us far. Nonspeaking individuals have a lot to say and we are a smart group. I predict greatness in our homogeneous group. You my friends, will lead us to greatness! Our futures look hopeful. Thank you.

  14. Ido, Could you please post Sam’s Dad’s speech from the conference? His speech was a great communication to Dad’s of boys with autism in starting and doing RPM. Thank you if you can do it : )

    • We are waiting for a few people to send us the written texts of their speeches so we can share, but we will definitely ask again. Thanks for the interest!

  15. Shortly after attending the Spectrum of Opportunity Conference, we visited Soma for the first time and my son has since had amazing results and progress with RPM. So much so that he has communicated that he wants to get his GED to go to college “soon”. He read Sam’s speech and has articulated that Sam is a “hero” and a “mentor” to him.
    Can you provide more details regarding taking the SAT, i.e., “arranging for the necessary accommodations difficult and time-consuming…” How did you record your answers and was someone with you to assist? How did you describe to the College Board how you needed to take the SAT? Did you contact someone personally that you could recommend? Also did you ever look into the GED as an alternate degree?

    • Hi Tracy,
      This is Ido’s mom. So happy you and your son have had such a happy change in your lives.
      When you register for the SAT you have to request accomodations based on disability. They do not understand the disability or communication issues well for autistic kids who type. Accomodations seem to vary greatly in a somewhat arbitrary way from school to school and the proctor assigned also makes a difference. Unfortunately these are decisions you have no control over. Be sure your son can have a trusted aide with him and that they don’t mandate a random stranger accompany him as his scribe and communication partner. You will have to provide info to the SAT board. If you have someone from your school like an inclusion specialist who can communicate with the SAT board re your son, that helps too. It is a grueling test, very long, and they don’t let him leave the room. Main problem is they have never dealt with this kind of communication or Accomodations so it can be tough getting what your son needs. Be sure to explain how he communicates, need for scribe and don’t forget to address calculator issues in math portion.
      Best of luck.

  16. Lakshmi shanker

    Bravo samuel .well done everyone associated.this post of samuel will really inspire many of us.all the best my dear.god bless

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