Matt Gauer's Story of Sweet Success
Up until the age of 14, I attended public school. I was diagnosed as having Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of Autism. I also have reading comprehension difficulties, attention deficit disorder, auditory-processing dysfunction, receptive-expressive language disorder, sensory integration dysfunction, and obsessive-compulsive tendencies. As you can imagine, I struggled every year in school. As the years went by and the work got more difficult, I fell further behind. I relied on my parents to spend hours with me every night to help me keep up. No matter how hard I tried, learning was frustrating and confusing. I just didn’t measure up, and because I did not receive the help that I needed, my self-confidence was very low. Due to all the problems I was having, the school system wanted to brand me as behaviorally disordered. In reality, I was just stressed out, scared, and angry. Also, because I had difficulty with social skills, I never made any true friends. After so many years of this, I had just about hit rock bottom. School was a painful experience, and I felt there was no hope.
That is when my parents decided to look at other educational options. This finally brought us to a school called Horizon Academy. The difference was like night and day. School turned from a negative experience into a positive one. The teachers and staff taught me how to overcome my weaknesses and helped me to discover my strengths. They treated me with respect and encouragement. They taught me strategies like SLANT, Word Identification, Paraphrasing, Self-Questioning, and Self-Advocacy. They taught me social awareness and social skills like Accepting Criticism, Giving Compliments, and Conversation, and they inspired me to open doors to my future. Along the way, I gained my confidence back. I learned that if an obstacle seemed too big to climb, there was another way around it. I learned that we all have something to offer. Additionally, I learned that if I need help, I need to ask for it. Horizon Academy changed my life. I am proud to say I was their first high school graduate.
With the tools I had been given, I felt confident to pursue the next stage of my life. I applied for a graphic design degree at Penn Valley Community College. With the self-advocating skills I had learned, I was able to request assistance if I needed it and was not afraid to approach my instructors with any questions. Within the course of a year, I was inducted into the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society based on my high grade-point average. I developed friendships and enjoyed sharing ideas with fellow students. I had come a long way from that middle-school student who felt dumb and worthless.It took me four years to receive my Associates in Applied Science Degree in Graphic Design, but I graduated with highest honors. There were only three of us with that distinction out of 250 at the ceremony, and I got to stand and be recognized wearing some cool accessories on my gown. I will always remember the pride that I saw on my mother’s face that night.