This guest blog story is by Kevin Galbreth. He is a young adult diagnosed with Asperger’s Disorder. He was born and raised in New York, but now currently lives in New Jersey. Kevin has experiences working with adults with developmental disabilities. He is one of the panelists in the YouTube webinar series, “Ask An Autistic”.
My name is Kevin Galbreth. I am a 33 year old male with a diagnosis of Asperger’s disorder. I was born and raised in Ithaca, New York. I have been living in New Jersey for the past 8 years. This is my story of what living on the autism spectrum has been like for me.
I was born in Ithaca New York in January of 1987. I progressed through infancy and toddlerhood developing normally for the most part. I took my first steps when I was almost a year old and developed speech at the normal rate of development. It was as I entered school that it became more apparent that things were different about me. The first sign was in a day care. I would often be sitting by myself watching the washing machine or dryer as it was running as opposed to playing with the other children in the day care. Machinery was an early unusual fixation for me. I would enjoy watching household appliances like the washing machine and dryer run. I also recall really enjoying watching construction machinery. My differences became even more apparent as I got into pre-school and kindergarten. I would often be by myself in a corner self-stimming and making noises imitating the machinery I was fascinated by as opposed to interacting and playing with my peers. My teachers were suggesting that I might be autistic. My mom didn’t see how that was possible because my vocabulary and speech was very good for my age. This was the early 1990s when autistic people were thought to be non-verbal. Not much was known yet about the population of people with high functioning autism. I was eventually evaluated by a team of professionals at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester New York in December of 1993. This was right as Asperger’s Disorder was being introduced to the DSM. I was given the Asperger’s Diagnosis. I am probably one of the first people in the United States to be diagnosed with it at that time.
I had a lot of trouble adjusting to school. I was constantly acting out in class by doing things like making disruptive noises and inappropriately teasing peers. I lacked the social skills needed for positive social interaction with peers so therefore would often deliberately interact in inappropriate ways just for attention. I was place in a self-contained behavior intervention classroom for kindergarten. I was then tried in a regular first grade classroom which had a disastrous start to it. I was completely out of control and all of the teachers and school professionals wanted me either medicated or placed in a self-contained classroom. Both of my parents were against each of these things. They advocated for me staying in the regular classroom with the support of a one-to-one paraprofessional. My parents won that battle and I spent all of my elementary and middle school years in regular classes with the support of a one to one paraprofessional. My behavior was still a challenge but I had excellent support from my paraprofessionals who helped keep my behavior in check enough for me to succeed in the regular classroom. Towards the end of my middle school years and beginning of my high school years, I began to finally outgrow a lot of my behaviors and I no longer needed the support of a paraprofessional once I reached high school. I also became a lot more serious and focused academically in high school and the amount of support services I needed gradually waned.
I attended Tompkins Cortland Community College after graduating high school and transferred to SUNY Cortland where I obtained a degree in Special Education. College is by far my biggest success story. I opted to go without any support services. I left my community college with a 3.4 GPA and started earning straight A’s once I transferred to my four year college. I graduated Suny Cortland with Suma Cum Laude with a 4.12 GPA.
I unfortunately learned the hard way that academic success in college doesn’t guarantee success after college. I chose Special Education as my major wanting to use my experience of growing up with a disability to help others with disabilities overcome obstacles and meet their potential. While I was great at all the academic work, I struggled when it came to working hands on with students in the classroom. Student teaching was very challenging for me and I came out of it feeling like I might not be suited for teaching. Since then I’ve been struggling to find an alternative good career path. After college I ended up moving to New Jersey and started working in residential homes for adults with developmental disabilities. While I did get some satisfaction out of this line of work in that I was providing a valuable service to the disabilities community, I also felt very underemployed given that I was a college graduate working in a job that only required a high school diploma. It was also a dead end and low paying job and I definitely always felt like I could do a lot better given my credentials. The problem was I was never sure of what move to make so as a result I ended up staying in the low level line of work far longer than I initially intended.
I am happy to say that as we enter 2021, I am embracing a new beginning that will hopefully get me back on track. While I definitely do not condone the Covid pandemic of 2020, it did end up providing me with a new opportunity. When things got really bad back in March and April of 2020, I left my job working in the group home and quarantined at home for several months working on projects to enhance my credentials. I took and passed the PRAXIS exam to apply for a New Jersey Teaching Certification. I contributed to a recently published book titled “This is Autism” in which I and a bunch of other adults on the autism spectrum share our unique experiences of living with autism. I also took an online course to become a Registered Behavior Technician. I have recently gone back to work working in the schools as a substitute paraprofessional. I will soon be starting a job as behavior technician. At this point I am in the midst of trying out two different possibilities for a long term career. If my behavior technician job goes well, I will consider going for a Masters in Applied Behavior Analysis to become a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. I also do consider giving teaching another shot once my Teaching Certification comes through. I am hopeful that with the 10 years of experience and maturity I have since my last attempt at teaching, I will be more equipped to handle the challenges of teaching. I am viewing 2021 as an opportunity to finish what I failed to finish when I graduated college 10 years ago.