Autism Diagnosis Doesn’t End College Dreams for One Local Teen

As a high school freshman, Kelvin Longe Thompson of Churchton, MD, struggled with an autism spectrum disorder which left him filled with anger and distrust. Through difficult middle school years in the public school system, Kelvin had been taunted, ridiculed and misunderstood. As a high functioning student with learning issues, he had fallen through the cracks of public school and socially just did not fit in with his peers there. He feared that that his next school, like his last school, would not work out for him either.

Jan Longe, Kelvin’s mother comments, “In our search for the right school for Kelvin, we explored schools in DC and most counties in Maryland. We were seeking a school that could offer our son the best environment to grow socially and academically. We hoped to find a program that not only provided individualized social and academic support, but also featured a college preparatory curriculum, an expectation that college was an option for most (if not all) members of the student body, and a peer group which included a significant proportion of classmates who were also college-bound.”

Kevin’s family’s journey led to Wye River Upper School in Wye Mills, MD. While at the time, college seemed very far away to Kelvin, he recalls his English teachers pushing him to think about psychology and philosophy, which began to interest him. He recalls, “I learned to exercise my critical mind. I love pulling apart humanity and examining what people think and believe. Thought is one of the greatest gifts humanity has.”

As teachers were learning about Kelvin’s interests, his personal love of anime didn’t go unnoticed. He says, “I also love fantasy and science fiction and my teachers let me write about that. Writing was a safe haven with worlds and characters I could pour myself into.”

Kelvin’s father, Mike Thompson, comments, “Kelvin was hyper-literate, but struggled with math. His instructors taught to his strengths and interests, which was a departure from the traditional school environment he had been in, and accommodated assignments around his interests to engage his learning.” He adds, “In addition, the school size enabled him to take principle roles in the activities going on, helping him to explore new things.”

In addition to his writing, Kelvin found definition in music and the arts, as well as in athletics during high school. When he started high school, he was overweight and insecure about his appearance, but through the school’s sports program and health class was able to lose 90 pounds and transform his physical appearance. He played soccer and tennis and improved his diet. He states, “There had been so much suffering along the way. I finally feel better about myself overall.”

Chrissy Aull, executive director of Wye River Upper School, comments, “I have seen Kelvin let go of his anger and defensive posture to become a trusting young man willing to take risks and try new things. He was the soloist in the school’s rock band, fullback on the soccer team, and a leading role in the school play.”

His mother adds, “The personal involvement of the teachers and other staff in the success of each student exposed Kelvin to a variety of perspectives and problem-solving skills; gave him the freedom to make mistakes and learn that he could recover from them; and helped to reinforce his sense of competence and self-worth. In addition, he benefited from the school’s use of technology in all of his courses—as an organizational aid, as a handwriting tool, as an instrument fostering creativity in music and art, and as a research arm.”

Kelvin comments, “I scarcely envisioned that I would wind up where I am today. I feel like I have fallen into something bigger and higher than myself. I want to be a writer who people can cheer for and can be happy for. I want to make other people happy and be happy in return.”

Kelvin was accepted to each college to which he applied: Towson University, Salisbury University and the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC). He plans on attending UMBC in the fall and has dreams of working in TV animation one day. But for now, Kelvin’s seemingly impossible dream of attending college one day has finally come true.

Kelvin concludes, “I feel very lucky to have grown during high school – an unexamined life is not worth living. I am comfortable with who I am and I believe I can make change happen in my future.”

In photo: Pictured is Kelvin Longe Thompson, a recent graduate of Wye River Upper School, who, because of being on the autism spectrum, learns differently. Thompson is one of the 78% of his class who has enrolled in college for the fall. One hundred percent of his graduating class was accepted by at least one college.