“I Can’t Talk, But I Have a Lot to Say.”

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Non-verbal autistic student found his voice at Learn4Life

Learn4Life graduate John B. enjoys painting and art history

Autism Awareness Month is a chance to highlight the one in 59 children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) like John B., who suffered a severe illness as a toddler which left him silent and diagnosed with non-verbal autism. ASD is on the rise , but the question is whether or not educators are equipped to keep up with the special needs of a growing student population.

John’s kindergarten teacher introduced him to facilitated communication so he could express himself using a talking iPad. But as a teen, John felt that traditional public high schools were not able or willing to accommodate his needs for success. Then, he and his mom discovered Learn4Life, a network of 80+ nonprofit public high schools that focuses on at-risk students and anyone who requires personalized support in school. About four percent of its students with disabilities meet the criteria for ASD.

John realized that Learn4Life was willing to do anything for him to be successful and earn a high school diploma. And this is where John found his voice.

"Much to my surprise, my new school became my new home. Instead of shoving me into a box, it built one that fit me. I think this is how school should be. Fitting themselves to students instead of the other way around,” he said.

Through facilitated communication, John could share how he felt about himself, school and the world. For the first time, he was able to tell his mom how much he loves her. His goal became not only to graduate, but to tell his story and inspire others.

During the pandemic he wrote a poem that correlated the frustrations that people were feeling by not being able to go anywhere, to how he feels all the time. “To think that you’re all getting a little taste of my world…Staying at home to be safe…But wanting to go out…Not able to do a lot of things you want to do. It’s a lot like my world.” Read John’s full poem.

"Being different doesn't mean being incapable. It just means that society needs to find the best way to allow skills like mine to flourish. Thankfully, I found a place where my true personality is not just recognized but also celebrated."

John enjoys horseback riding and Pilates, which help him with motor skills to improve his ability to be independent in typing. He’s now enrolled at the College of the Sequoias, taking online classes in psychology and art history. In his free time, you will find him painting with local artists. Watch John B.’s video.

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About Learn4Life
Learn4Life is a network of nonprofit public schools that provides students personalized learning, career training and life skills. Each school is locally controlled, tuition free and gives students the flexibility and one-on-one attention they need to succeed. Serving more than 49,000 students – including full-time and intersession students – we help them prepare for a future beyond high school. For more information, please visit http://www.learn4life.org.

Ann Abajian, Learn4Life
(844) 515-8186

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Ann Abajian
+1 (844) 515-8186
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