As a non-verbal autistic, John found that traditional high schools were not willing to accommodate his needs for success. He and his mom found Learn4Life – and that’s where he found his voice.

When John’s mother was told by a respected university neurology specialist that her son was severely mentally retarded, she didn’t believe it for a minute. She knew her son was smart. A severe illness when he was a toddler left him silent, but she knew her son was not retarded. So this determined mother sought a second opinion and found a doctor who was convinced that he was autistic and began the treatment he needed.

His kindergarten teacher was someone who believed in him. “She introduced me to facilitated communication, which is how I express myself using my talking iPad,” John explained. “For the first time ever, I was able to tell my mom how much I love her.”

John was not eager to try Learn4Life. He wanted to be in a traditional school – like any teenager.

But slowly he realized that Learn4Life was willing to do anything for him to be successful, to get a high school diploma. “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.”

John participated in Learn4Life’s art show and created poetry for his staff. Through his facilitated communication, he was able to share how he felt about himself, about the school and the world. His goal became not only to graduate, but to tell his story and inspire others.

“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, here I found a place where my true personality is not just recognized but celebrated as well.”

He graduated from Crescent Valley Public Charter in Visalia and wants to be a lifelong learner. He enjoys horseback riding and Pilates, which help him with motor skills to improve his ability to be independent in typing. At the College of the Sequoias, he’s enjoying online classes in art history and sociology. In his free time, you will find him painting with local artists.


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Written By:
Ann Abajian
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