by Lonnie Pacelli
This is part two of How an Autistic Child has Changed a Career…For the Better
In 2006 I wrote of Patty’s and my decision to homeschool our son Trevor to help provide a learning environment more conducive with his autism. It’s now twelve years later and time to write about how things worked out.
Trevor started seventh grade with a customized schooling plan. Patty focused on arts and language and I focused on math and science. He also attended a homeschool-assisted school which provided English and math classes and attended a science class at the middle school he would have normally attended. The curriculum plan was designed by Patty and me along with Trevor’s school counselor. It was a hybrid of homeschooling and traditional schooling which we felt gave Trevor the best likelihood of success. Trevor’s counselor was completely awesome in working with us and putting Trevor’s well-being first. The blended teaching worked very well in seventh grade, but we also noticed that Trevor wasn’t getting enough peer socialization. In eighth grade we decided to start the process of mainstreaming him back into the public-school system. Patty continued focus on arts and language and math and science topics were now being provided by Trevor’s middle school. I like to joke that I was fired as a homeschool teacher and that my wife and son did the firing. In reality the mainstreaming was the right answer because it allowed him to get needed socialization through spending more time at school while also giving him some additional 1:1 focus through homeschooling. In ninth grade we felt Trevor was ready to be fully mainstreamed into the public-school system. While we packed up our homeschool materials, our involvement with Trevor’s schooling and socialization growth was still strong.
Ninth through 12th grade brought some high points but also brought a lot of struggle. Trevor was bullied and made fun of by many other students who took advantage of his autism. He had difficulty telling the difference between kids mocking him versus being a friend. Because he was behind his peers in his social interaction skills, he would say and do things that weren’t appropriate. He did have a few close friends who were genuine in their friendship, some of which he is still friends with today. One bright spot through high school was Trevor’s involvement in drama club. He participated in many performances both on stage and behind the scenes. The drama club was his “clique”, and while some in the club took advantage of Trevor’s autism, many accepted and looked out for him.
Trevor graduated from high school in 2011 with plans to go to college. Feeling that the jump from high school to a large university would be too drastic for him, he attended a local junior college for two years while living at home. He had developed a love for movies and photography, so he decided to major in film studies with an emphasis in photography. These two years were foundational for Trevor’s growth in that he continued to progress academically while also allowing him to work on socialization and adaptation skills. In his sophomore year he decided he wanted to transfer to a four-year university majoring in film and media studies. His decision on where to go was an outstanding example of decision making through empirical data analysis and pros/cons articulation. He developed a visibility board with a number of decision criteria including offering of major, closeness of family, and church offerings. He narrowed his choice down to two colleges, Central Washington University and Arizona State University, both of which meant he would be living away from home. He ultimately decided on Arizona State, comfortable through his analysis that this was the best option. It was also during this time that Trevor wrote about his experiences growing up with autism in Six-Word Lessons on Growing Up Autistic.
In August 2013 we took Trevor to the ASU Tempe campus, helped him set up his dorm room, and left him to start his junior year of college. While it was a bit unnerving being a thousand miles away from him, we had peace in knowing there were a number of family members in the area including Trevor’s big sister Briana who was now a nurse in nearby Scottsdale. His last two years of school were those of tremendous growth. He had to figure out a lot of things on his own, make new friends, and be responsible for his own studies. Fortunately, he plugged into a church group that was walking distance from ASU. He fit in like a glove and the church group was a high point of his time at ASU. He got to experience living and dealing with roommates, most of which he felt were too immature for him. We got several problem calls when he lost his wallet, had computer problems, or was having difficulty coping with some situations. He graduated from ASU in December 2015 Cum Laude with a degree in Film & Media Studies.
His post-college life was filled with a lot of anxiety. Now he was out of school and it was time to support himself. He didn’t have a job upon graduation, so Patty and I decided to hire him into our company as our Media Director. He was employed by us for 17 months where we got to help him build good work habits. We instituted a monthly review process called “dones” where at the beginning of the month he would lay out what he would have done by the end of the month, which we would then review at the beginning of the next month. It was an outstanding process in that all three of us were aligned as to what he needed to do, and he was held accountable for getting things done. In July 2017 Trevor was hired by Northwest Center where he splits his time between facilities management and marketing. His marketing assignments have been fruitful, including being interviewed by two local TV news stations.
Today Trevor is 26. He lives on his own in a condo we purchased for him along with two other tenants on the autism spectrum. He pays rent, he manages his own money, he is as self sufficient as any 26-year-old. He’s still got some challenges that he’ll continue to have for the rest of his life. He’ll always need someone else to help coach him through situations. It was a lot of hard work on all our parts, but Patty and I are excited about his future and are grateful that we were in a position to help Trevor.
Inspiration for Life with Autism
This blog has a variety of articles about people living life with autism, and topics and ideas that can help in the journey. Guest bloggers are welcome. Inspired by Trevor, a young adult film critic, photographer and college graduate on the autism spectrum.