Autistic TPHS student graduates, will deliver speech

Jeremy Sicile-Kira is autistic and cannot speak, but that does not mean he has nothing to say. After seven years at Torrey Pines High School, he has earned his high school diploma and will deliver a commencement speech to his classmates through voice-assisted technology at the June 18 graduation ceremony.

"I am nervous but very touched that I am giving a speech," said Jeremy, using a letter board to spell out his words. "I want to tell them never give up on your dreams."

To graduate from high school Jeremy, 21, has taken units in mainstream general education classes as well as in his severely handicapped classes with Allen Gustafson, whom Jeremy said is the "best teacher." He does all the same work as his regular education peers; he just gets more time to do it. He passed his California High School Exit Exam on the first try and will attend MiraCosta College in the fall to study communications.

Next week he will graduate on the same day as his sister, Rebecca, a senior at Canyon Crest Academy.

"I was pretty amazed," said proud mom Chantal, who never even expected it would be possible for Jeremy to earn his diploma, let alone with a 3.5 GPA.

Along the autism spectrum, every child's symptoms are different. Although Jeremy can say a few words, he has never been able to speak. In a speech written for an autism conference, Jeremy explained how his autism affected his vision, hearing and motor skills.

He said he had to learn how to hear, how to know which noise to pay attention to and distinguish when someone was speaking to him. He had to learn how to focus to be able to see.

"If I don't concentrate, the world seems surreal," Jeremy said.

He encourages fellow autistic children to be patient with treatment and learning methods and to learn to read because "when you can read the world is yours."

He tells them not to worry about what they look like when they are "stimming," a method of using repetitive motion to keep focused. It is more important to be present than to worry about what other people see, he said.

Jeremy needs support and help from his family and teachers to accomplish schoolwork, but he has never needed to be motivated to learn. He thinks knowledge is important; he loves math even though it is challenging to have to spell out how to solve each problem and he especially loves to write.

"My mom is really nice because she made me realize I could learn," Jeremy said.

Jeremy stresses there is hope in autism, but that nothing will matter if the person doesn't believe in himself.

Spreading his inspiring message of hope was only possible after Jeremy found his voice.

To communicate, Jeremy uses a litewriter. He types in sentences and the machine verbalizes his words for him. Scattered throughout the house and in his backpack for school are letter boards, which Jeremy uses to spell out words to his family and friends.

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