“Autism can’t define me. I define Autism.” ~ Kerry Magro
This week I had the immense pleasure of being introduced to a young man with Autism, Everett Kasian, a senior at Pequea Valley School District and two wonderful ladies who have played a major part in his accomplishments–Cathy Koenig, Director of Student Service and Special Education and Lauren Lefever, Speech and Language Pathologist.
Pequea Valley School District has often gone above and beyond each year to support The Tommy Foundation during Autism Awareness Month (April for those unfamiliar with the International Campaign and Efforts). This year, however, there was a big twist–one of their seniors had designed a t-shirt and video to help raise awareness and funds and help others have a better understanding about who he is and about Autism.
I traveled with my Assistant, Alex, to Pequea Valley then this week and got to meet the amazing team that helped this young man get to the point where he not only self-advocates and teaches others about his condition but that also helped him to the point where he is now going to be matriculating at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia to study the Music Business.
You can read more about those pursuits in the current issue of the Pequea Valley Pennysaver.
As to Everett’s specific efforts for Autism Awareness month and to help his local community get a better understanding about the condition, he made a video about what it means to live with Autism–from his perspective.
From the video sprang the idea to expand on his efforts and working with Mrs. Lefever, his Speech and Language Pathologist, he came up with a t-shirt design that include the words “Fight For Autism”. His efforts successfully raised over $800 for The Tommy Foundation locally and they sold out of the shirts! This is why I am not wearing one below, though I am hoping more are coming and I can get a hold of one as well.
Everett is funny, personable, creative and warm–we even exchanged a hug when we parted ways–with his permission of course. I enjoyed getting even a snapshot of his journey and seeing what the next steps are for him. He’s already gotten word that he has a $14,000 scholarship towards College next year but that’s not quite sufficient for the school he’s going to attend. Our hope is to definitely get the word out there about this inspiring young man and have others support his efforts so he can continue to persevere and achieve all his goals. He definitely already has the drive and determination for it.
As for Mrs. Koenig, she shared her perspective with us about why she does what she does and what she hopes to achieve in the District:
“I want to be a part of our students and families journey in life. That does not begin or end at the bell of school. With the support of our amazing teachers we have been able to work with families outside of school to help them find support or to offer educational and fun nights for families. We did a game night, paint night, and siblings night. We try to ask the parents how we can support them and find the right people to support us. Every child counts and trying to help give families the confident to be their child’s advocate is important in school so that when they don’t have their school team they can still be the voice to fight for what is best.” Kathy Koenig, Director of Student Service and Special Education.
With all the things we often hear about what’s wrong with having people truly understand why Autism Awareness is still important and why having a functioning relationship between the school team and parents and the individual that hopefully learns to advocate for themselves as well, it’s truly humbling to get to meet a team of people that gets it.
To us, the team is always the individual who has the Autism Diagnosis, the parents or caregivers, the education and support team, and anyone and everyone in the community that chooses to be a voice for positive change and understanding.
Congratulations Everett on all your accomplishments and for reminding us about why we fight on!