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Autistic ACCC student

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Joined: Nov 29, 2004
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Posted Nov 29, 2004 at 10:25:28 PM
Subject: Autistic ACCC student

Two articles from the Press of the Atlantic City features a autistic student at Atlantic Cape Community College

First one

November 23, 2004

Autistic ACCC student appeals suspension
By DIANE D’AMICO Education Writer, (609) 272-7241, E-Mail

MAYS LANDING - Autistic student Corey San Chirico appeared with family and supporters before a Student Conduct Standards Committee at Atlantic Cape Community College on Monday to appeal his suspension from the college for alleged threatening behavior toward a professor.

The hearing was closed to the media. College officials said a recommendation will be made to the dean of students, who will respond to the family within seven days.

San Chirico, a 2004 graduate of Oakcrest High School, has been suspended from ACCC since mid-October after a verbal outburst in class in which he also jabbed himself in the hand with a pencil.

Family members and supporters said after the hearing that Corey was never a threat to his professor or anyone else.

Chris Devaney, a behavior support specialist with the New Jersey Division of Developmental Disabilities, said Corey's case makes it clear why more education is needed on autism, especially at the college level. He said that while it is rare for someone with full autism to attend college, students with a milder form of autism called Asperger Syndrome, do attend college, and colleges must learn to accept them.

"Probably 75 percent of autistic kids do this type of thing (mild self-abuse) as a coping mechanism," he said. "The first step is to get a greater understanding of why he had to do what he did. We also have to look at what we can do to educate the public, especially now at the college level."

Craig Costigan, a family friend and certified special education teacher, said Corey is not a threat, but needs to be understood.

"It does appear that his suspension was based on his autistic behavior," Costigan said.

Corey read a statement saying that his actions were due to his autism.

"This condition, particularly when I am nervous or upset, sometimes causes me to act in ways that I cannot control," he said. "These actions are a part of me, the same as a limp, a stutter or hearing loss may be part of another person. They are nothing to be ashamed of, they simply are. It is just something that happens, that I live with, and, I hope, other will accept without judging."

Second One

November 15, 2004

Autism and Education
By DIANE D’AMICO Education Writer, (609) 272-7241, E-Mail

MAYS LANDING - Corey San Chirico speaks best through his artwork - landscapes and buildings he has been drawing since he was a young child.

"It's the gift he has," his mother, Camille said.

Corey, 19, also has autism, a developmental disorder characterized by repetitive behaviors and poor social and communication skills.

With the support of his family, he has persevered, attending public school and graduating with honors from Oakcrest High School last June.

"I never sheltered him," Camille said. "I always fought to keep him in public school with other students. I know it was a challenge for everyone."

Now he is facing a new challenge. Corey was suspended from Atlantic Cape Community College in mid-October for allegedly demonstrating threatening behavior toward a professor. The college says his actions violate their zero-tolerance policy.

His family maintains his behavior was due to his autism - that he has verbal outbursts when he is frustrated, but has never struck or harmed anyone. They say college faculty and staff were not adequately prepared for Corey's condition, did not know how to respond to him and over-reacted.

A college hearing is scheduled for Nov. 22. The family hopes they can reach an accommodation and has contacted state agencies that assist the disabled.

"We need to educate people," Corey's father, Michael said. "The professors just think he needs more time to do assignments. They don't know how to deal with him, personally."

Autism activists say Corey's situation, while rare, could become more common as the state's growing population of autistic children reaches college age. About 4,000 school-age children in New Jersey have some form of autism, but many show no cognitive problems and have an IQ in the average to above-average range.

"Autism affects people in so many different ways," said Art Ball, director of government affairs for the New Jersey Center for Outreach and Services for the Autism Community. "Many will never get to even a high school level, but there is that 30 to 40 percent with no cognitive disabilities. Their college potential will become greater."

But those opportunities also come with responsibilities, for which both the autistic students and the colleges are not well-prepared.

"The attitudinal barrier is the hardest to overcome," Ball said. "The zero-tolerance policy is there to protect people, and that can't be ignored. But possibly more could be done to help Corey. We applaud the college for accepting him and would like to see him have opportunities to explore his potential."

Simone Tellini, a board member of Parents of Autistic Children, said early diagnosis and treatment are offering greater promise for autistic children, but educating the public is still their greatest challenge.

"Even most teachers have had very little training or exposure to autistic children," she said.

The mother of a 12-year-old with autism, Tellini said it can be extremely challenging for everyone.

"Autism is very annoying," she said, citing the repetitive behaviors and poor social skills. "Most people just want to get the autistic person to go away. They don't want to have to deal with it."

The most common perception of autism is the movie "Rainman," in which Dustin Hoffman plays an autistic savant with poor social interaction but amazing mathematical abilities.

The San Chiricos see Corey's artistic abilities as similar, but say his public school experience also helped him develop better social and academic skills. They always hoped he could attend college and were thrilled when he was eligible for a NJSTARS scholarship for students in the top 20 percent of their high school graduating class.

The family has had occasional offers to buy Corey's art, and they hope that by studying art he can develop his talent into a career. But they also know his limitations.

They provided the college with Corey's records and the Individual Education Plan he had received in high school. They worked with a counselor, explaining he would need more time to finish assignments. They hired a family friend as an aide to take him to school and help him adjust.

Disabled students are not rare on the ACCC campus. The college offers a Student Support Services program, and has 268 students with disabilities according to the college public relations office. College officials declined to comment on Corey specifically, citing federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act provisions.

Corey began the semester taking four courses - art, English, math and human potential. Camille said they were worried professors would not understand his condition.

"I explained that he might have outbursts when he's frustrated, and sometimes he self-injures," Corey's father said. "But he's never threatening to others."

On October 19, Corey, frustrated that he did not understand some work, had a verbal outburst during a tutoring session, and jabbed himself in the hand with a pencil. The professor called security. He was taken to the nurse's office, met with a counselor, and was sent home.

The San Chiricos assumed they would meet with college personnel to discuss the incident, but were stunned when Corey was instead suspended under the school's zero-tolerance policy. They asked for a hearing and Michael even spoke to Gov. James E. McGreevey during a luncheon for NJSTARS students.

Camille said Corey was supposed to be able to work from home, but he has yet to get any assignments. He misses college, and has become more withdrawn.

"He is a success story," she said. "He should be allowed to continue, but I don't see how he's going to be able to make up the work."

Corey understands he is home "because of the college thing" and while he admits college is harder than high school, and requires more work, he likes his classes. He worries about going back.

"Is everyone going to be afraid of me now?" he asks, then buries his head in his father's shoulder and covers his ears.

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