This guest post is from Kenneth Kelty, a 24-year-old adult with autism who just graduated from Western Carolina University as part of their University Participants Program. This post is part of an initiative on our site called “In Our Own Words: Living on the Spectrum,” which highlights the experiences of individuals with autism from their perspectives.
My name is Kenneth Kelty and when I was three and a half years old, I was diagnosed with autism and an intellectual disability. Doctors said I would never talk or develop language.
Well I sure proved them wrong, because I can speak, write and I can do all the same things that my typically developing peers can. Even at a young age, I have always had goals and wanted to do activities or tasks with responsibility.
When I was seven years old, I went to a fine and performing arts camp at the United Methodist Church in South Florida where I was included by the campers and staff. Instead of looking at what I could not do, they looked at what I could do by allowing me to perform in their show. During the fall of 2003, while in the church youth group, they decided to vote for me as homecoming king along with my friend Molly.
While visiting friends up in Raleigh, North Carolina during spring break of 2006, my mom went to go check out the program Atleesville Road High. She really fell in love with the area which is why she moved my sister and me up here.
Leesville Road High School was helpful because I was able to earn my regular high school diploma but the only classes I was mainstreamed in were basic home ec courses like foods and nutrition, teen to adulthood, and child development courses. My peers and I also took a computer apps course but the OCS program did not allow my peers and I to take any other advanced courses.
In February of 2012, my mom was doing some research on the computer and the website called thinkcollege.com which is the site that lead my mom to learn about the Western Carolina University up program. It is a two year inclusion program for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
In the summer of 2012, I went to the WCU Up Program summer camp open house where I stayed in a dorm and took classes in areas of my interest for the week. While I was there, I learned about the campus life and got to meet some students and program volunteers. Shortly after the week I found I was accepted into the program.
During my first year at Western Carolina, I met friends through classes and the Up Support volunteers helped introduce me to their friends while hanging out at different activities. In spring of 2013 I was doing a research study on how to make a college campus more inclusive for students with intellectual disabilities and helped make the schedule system more flexible because before the study if friends invited to hang out at the last minute you could not unless it was planned the week before.
I won a scholarship for the American Evaluation Association and I was competing with graduate students working on masters or doctorate degrees. That gave me an opportunity to go share with evaluators and researchers why people with intellectual disabilities should be included.
While I wanted to become an official brother of the Delta Sigma Phi Fraternity at first, I could not join because I did not have a high enough GPA. But that did not stop me from eventually getting accepted as a brother. During my final semester, the fraternity brothers challenged the national organization and I had a right to become a fraternity brother.
I have always had goals and have proved to people I am still doing great things today. I can't wait to see what my future holds...