Photo: Chicago Tribune
For this young man, college was never a question. Many may think that's not that special, but in this case, it is. Paris King has autism, and many teens with autism might not have the same courage to go through with what he accomplished.
Autism involves a social disability that may affect someone's ability to do well in the classroom. For this reason, some people living with autism might feel discouraged from pursuing higher education. Many autistics kids struggle to focus in a classroom setting, making it even more difficult to succeed academically. Unfortunately, many autistic kids are very intelligent and are fully capable of pursuing college even though they may be discouraged to do so.
College was always in the cards for Paris
Paris was different than his peers, but it never let it slow him down. He always knew he was going to college. Despite living with autism, he and his parents firmly believed that he could accomplish everything he wanted to in life. College was no exception.
Success despite major family setbacks
Believing is key to success. Paris earned his bachelor's degree in four years. He earned this all while going through the ups and downs of any college student - and then some. During his time away, he had to go through the difficult time of mourning the death of his beloved father. If that's not enough, he also found out he had multiple sclerosis, and got mugged near his home. His mother also got diagnosed with breast cancer that needed aggressive treatment
Through it all, King kept on with his studies. He endured so much and when he walked across the stage to get his diploma, faculty, friends, and family all cheered for him. He truly deserved the honor. King had overcome not only the prejudice against autistic kids everywhere, but also was a role model for people who had disabilities. He had succeeded despite facing more personal challenges than most average college kids around the country.
More young adults with autism are graduating college every year
King was one of four autistic students who graduated with their bachelor's degree from Roosevelt that year. Over the past 4 years, that number had been steadily increasing.
The 23-year-old history-loving guy loves to learn, and he and his parents never thought twice about his ability to go to college. Faculty and friends all know him as a guy who always had a good attitude - no matter how tough life got, he was always up for the task of learning.
King said that he has no regrets. Though it has been so hard to get through the tough educational training despite the setbacks he had to experience, he still thinks it was a fun experience for him. He came to college for the purpose that he was going to learn more about the world - and that he did.
Education opportunities are needed for people living with autism
There has been a trend across the nation of autistic students enrolling and finishing college. Universities can't require students to report autism or other disabilities when they apply for acceptance, so it's tough to determine just how many are going off to college. However, advocates say that they have noticed an increase in people who are diagnosed with autism talking about how to make these educational opportunities more and more acceptable.
Incorrect diagnosis as a child
King is the youngest child of three, growing up in a Navy family that had to relocate several times. His family first noticed King's autistic behaviors when he showed some delay in speaking, sensitivity to noises, and was fixated on certain hobbies. At first, King's doctor incorrectly attributed his behaviors to a learning disability. Turns out that he actually had autism, and for a while, King and his parents didn't have any access to the appropriate resources.
Finally, when King turned 12, he was diagnosed with autism. The diagnosis came with mixed emotions - they had an answer at last, but his parents also felt guilty that they hadn't intervened appropriately earlier on.
King's parent's always planned to put him through college
King's parents were ever the more eager to advocate for him and his access to higher education. The plan was always for him to go to college, and they never lost faith that he had the ability to do so. They wanted to support him all the way and make sure he had everything he needed to succeed in this goal.
King graduated with honors from high school and went on to study history at Roosevelt University. He did wonderfully with the support of the school's academic success center. Despite having to suffer through the mourning of his father's death during his freshman year, Paris didn't lose sight of his educational goals.
More completely unexpected complications
Just two months after the death, Paris started suffering from terrible dizziness and nausea. As if things weren't already trying enough, he was then diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Luckily, doctors treated Paris with medications that helped keep his symptoms at bay, and get him get back on campus soon enough.
King couldn't catch a break after his first year. In his sophomore year, Paris was assaulted by someone who hit him in the head with a brick outside his former high school, demanding cash from his wallet. In his junior year, his mother found out she had stage 3 breast cancer. Paris stood at his mother's side yet still maintained good grades as his mother went through a mastectomy, chemo, and radiation.
King never gave up on his college goals
Despite it all, King never gave up. He continued to take the public transport every day to get to campus from his house in South Shore, where he still lives with his mom. His mom couldn't be more proud of her youngest son, saying how much he's matured during his college experience.
Paris' story is an inspiration for young minds everywhere, no matter if they live with a disability or not.
If you are an autistic teen or young adult, you may be considering college for yourself too. It might be intimidating to think about getting a higher education degree, but Paris is a wonderful role model to show us that it really can be done. Many of you who live with autism are very intelligent people who could really blossom in a classroom setting. With a little bit of support in the right direction, you can succeed just like Paris did.