College was on his Radar Screen – Challenging Preconceptions about Autism

Parenting is both the most challenging and rewarding endeavor we take on. In this guest post Terry Matsunaga shares how his son, Kevin is challenging preconceptions about autism one college class at a time. 

Part I.  The introduction.
Kevin Matsunaga is just like any other fourth year college student.  He goes from class to class, sits in the front row so he can hear the professor, comes home and studies, even takes breaks to watch Chopped or Sweet Genius.  On weekends, he plays his Nintendo games and dances to videos.  He is a good student, (keeps a B average) and likes to eat in the food court at lunch just like the 30,000+ other students that attend the University of Arizona.  But Kevin is unique; you just may not know it yet (can you see the punchline coming?).  Despite his being like many other kids in college, Kevin has to try a little harder than most.  He has to work hard to communicate in class.  He has to work hard to make a point.  He has to work hard at absorbing his lectures…and yes, he has to work really hard to prepare for exams.  You say this is not unlike any other undergraduate at a major university and you would be right.  Kevin would love to say you’re right! He would love to be like any other undergraduate at the University.  Except that Kevin has high functioning autism.  This makes it extra difficult for him to comprehend lectures, understand how to interpret test questions, and formulate his thoughts so he can write down an answer.

But he does!  Even though it takes longer than most of the students in his class, Kevin excels because he has that undying determination and drive to reach that one goal that many kids with autism have eluded; to get a degree in college.  Every year he stays in college, he gets one step closer to that Bachelor’s degree that he believes will be the key to work and an independent life.

But Kevin would be the first to admit that his journey to achieve that degree was not alone.  Kevin has a large support group that started at the age of four and continues to this day.  He receives tutoring in the Strategic Alternative Learning Techniques (or SALT) center and from an educational specialist.  He gets extra time to take exams through the federally mandated Disability Resource Center.  He gets support from the Department of Economic Security for the State of Arizona…and… he gets help from the most dedicated educational specialists in the world, his professors and teaching assistants who have identified his limitations and have gone far out of their way to help him succeed.  They are amazing.  Finally, he gets lots of help at home from his parents.

But Kevin does not want to be alone.  He doesn’t want to be the lesson to which all parents want to use as their yardstick for their autistic children.  He may be one of the few as far as he knows…but…Kevin wants nothing more than to be one of many kids with ASD to journey through a college experience.  Kevin wants to be the rule instead of the exception.  He believes it is possible, his mom and dad believe it is possible, his professors, TA’s, tutors, speech therapists, and friends are now convinced it is possible.  It is difficult yes, but it can be done.  It just takes a lot of hard work, dedication, and perseverance.

We are writing this now to show that, although never, ever, a guarantee, kids and families similar to Kevin’s may want to think about college.  Whether it is possible or not, we cannot say.  Maybe it will be emotionally or intellectually too tough.  We cannot say which kids have a chance.  The only thing that we know is that Kevin has managed to get this far and we are all hopeful that he will not be alone.

In the next edition of this blog, we outline how his journey to college really began….