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Thursday, December 28, 2017

He's in College Now

So many parents feel hopeless when the child with a disability is struggling. There is hope! Too many parents are told that the future of a child is bleak, when in fact, it is bright. 

I remember the day I first saw this young man in third grade. He was being expelled for choking a teacher. The teacher would yell at him and he couldn't take it any more. After his parents and I advocated for him, he received the right services.

Not only did he complete college, his essays have won awards, and he has been acknowledged for his work in college with disability support services. #selfadvocacy

Brent's parents were disheartened, to say the least. In 3rd grade, he was recommended for expulsion. He had a very deep interest and knowledge of cheese. Cows, grass, process for making cheese, and all things cheese. His third grade teacher yelled at him once again to 'stop talking about cheese!'. Brent attacked her. Eventually, he received the right school setting. He wrote, produced and starred in a school-wide play about cheese. The characters, Princess Provolone, Sammy Swiss (who was so holey that he was able to squeeze through the jail bars to rescue the Princess) and others were so compelling, he received a standing ovation. Here is Brent's award-winning essay in college. 

Essay by Brent Olsen, winner of the Edward M. Spath, Jr. Award

Emotionally a Refugee

  I was diagnosed with Asperger’s when I was six years old.  Asperger syndrome is
a disability on the Autism spectrum, although not as severe.  Asperger’s is a learning disability,
people with it are known to have difficulties socializing, and also happen to have repetitious
personality traits, such as a one track mind, although that’s not the case with each individual.  
 I didn’t feel the emotional effects until I got into 3rd grade.  On occasion I would try to
make new friends, but my ability to make friends was atrocious.  I walked up to a complete
stranger and with a dumb look on my face, I said, “Hey man!  Want to be my friend?”  Most
would laugh and walk away.  I later learned that you must get to know the individual and build
your relationship on that.  All throughout Elementary School I was singled out as “that kid.”  I
was the kid no one wanted to hang out with.
 It was a miserable feeling knowing that no one wanted you, that you were the most
unwanted person in the whole school.  There was also the crushing loneliness, feeling lost in
studies, and behind in every class that I had to get through in Elementary School.  Not to
mention, the teachers wanted nothing to do with students like me, and didn’t care if I needed
help to get caught up.  All of this caused stress, which after a year or two builds up.  I have never
felt more uneasy, useless, and homeless in my life.
 Eventually, I was sent to the Harbour School where my uselessness, hopelessness, and
feeling sorry for myself completely turned around.  When I first attended Harbour it was difficult
to adjust to the new surroundings.  This place was a lot different than Baden Elementary, the
previous school I went to.  Unlike Baden, people at this school were nice and non judgmental. 
Within the first week I felt more welcome than I have in school for a long time.  Luckily, I
wasn’t “That Kid.” anymore.  The longing to socialize with people not out to get me was finally
fulfilled.  The crushing loneliness had subsided.
  After a while, I began to make friends, got the educational help I needed, and I started to feel
 Throughout the nine years I attended Harbour, I grew up physically, but mostly
emotionally.  Teachers always told me that I have the personality and traits of a leader.  In High
School, I became the Manager of several shops that were opened up on Fridays, one was the
book store and the other was the literary magazine.  The teachers told me that I was best for the
job because I could make quick decisions under times of pressure.  Both Businesses I ran made
the most money out of all the others in the school.
 In FACS class I learned to become more independent.  I learned to balance my finances,
cook, organize, and pay bills.  Although it was my least favorite class, it was the most effective.  
 The credit of my success does not go completely to Harbour, but also to my church.  The
conservative morals and values I was taught in church shaped me into the man I am today. 
Unfortunately, those values got me in trouble on regular bases at school.  I was told that I am too
honest.  My Asperger Syndrome is probably a contributing factor to this.  
 For example, one day I went to Algebra, my teacher began collecting the homework.  Her
name was Mrs. Reichel.  She was a short stubby woman that had the figure of a tea kettle.  She
approached me and asked, “Brent, did you do your homework last night?”  I just stared.  She
asked again, “Brent, did you do your homework?”  I smiled, “Mrs. Reichel, I did not.”

 She closed her eyes and exhaled, “Why?” she asked.  I replied, “I didn’t feel like it.  There were
other things less dull that I felt like doing.”  She smiled, and later gave me homework detention. 
Most students would come up with a lame excuse, but not me.
 When senior year arrived, I was a little disheartened that this would be my last year.  I
was more pleased that I could move on and meet new challenges.  The anticipation of walking
across the stage was so overwhelming that year that my time as a senior was as long as an
eternity.  I must say, even though it was a pain at times Harbour was there for me.  It was a light
in a sea of darkness.
  Unfortunately, I still struggle with my social skills.  I still struggle talking to people I
really want to get to know, especially women I happen to like.  Luckily, that has not kept me
down.  I’m tired of feeling like a refugee.  My disability should not and will not determine
whether or not I’m socially acceptable.  Only I can determine that.
 I still try to better myself socially.  Instead of sitting on the sidelines, wishing I could talk
to someone, I get out on the field and play the game myself.  Sometimes I cannot help but feeling
like an outcast or a refugee because as hard as I try to hide my Asperger’s, it always seems to
surface at the worst time possible.  For example, when I make new friends and we start joking
around, my Asperger comes out and I say something dumb or something blatantly obvious
related to the joke.
 Luckily, within the last few years I have learned to ignore what people think of me.  I
have also learned not to let what I say by accident affect what I think of myself.  I learn from
what I blurt out.  So once again I feel on top of the world!



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