Each year the Doug Flutie, Jr. Foundation and Children Making Strides award the Doug Flutie, Jr. Award to a person who has shown great commitment and dedication to raising awareness of autism spectrum disorder, or has made a significant impact in the lives of individuals with autism. The award recipient can be a parent, teacher, advocate, individual with autism spectrum disorder or anyone else who has made a difference in the autism community. In 2010, Nick Stephen was the recipient of this award. It was a difficult decision as we had many dedicated and deserving nominees. However, Nicholas stood out as a result of his accomplishments as a young adult with autism and the large number of nominations he received from various individuals in the community. Following is the story of Nick's journey as told by his mother, Janice.
My name is Janice Stephen, and my son Nick is the 2010 recipient of the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism Award. So where do I begin?
I am sitting here at Bridgewater State University, in front of the bookstore on a Tuesday, thinking about the long journey that got us here. You see, Nick is a freshman here. Something that no one but my husband and I, and the very few people who really know Nick, ever thought would happen. When the Flutie Foundation asked me to write an entry for the blog, I thought it was going to be an easy task. But it isn’t. The road has been filled with potholes and brick walls and glass ceilings as far as Nick’s life has been concerned. I’ll give this a try though or as Nick says “I’ll give it my best shot”.
Nick is by all accounts an anomaly in his own diagnosis of High Functioning Autism. As a matter of fact, he was not formally diagnosed with ASD until he was nine years old. His primary diagnosis at age four was Semantic Pragmatic Language Disorder. At the time, trying to find out what that meant was near impossible since the World Wide Web was pretty new. The only information we could find originated in Great Britain. As time went on we found out that this specific language disorder is one that is attached to autism so there you have it. I should tell you that Nick was born in November of 1991 so he will be 19 in a few weeks. Since I am spending so much time here on campus I am thinking that maybe I should spend some of it writing the blog that everyone has been pushing me to do for years. I drive Nick back and forth from home in Plymouth to the University five days a week for this semester. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I stay on campus instead of making the drive back home.
For this introduction entry I will tell you a bit more about Nick at this stage in his life. He graduated from Plymouth North High School in June of this year with straight A’s the whole senior year. He carried a college prep curriculum with supports from the Special Education Department. That in it of itself is quite an accomplishment. He has difficulty testing no matter what so his SAT’s were not the best nor were his scores on the state’s MCAS exams. However, Nick is the most determined person I have ever met. He applied for early acceptance at Bridgewater State and got his letter on December 4, 2009. He is currently an Earth Science/Astronomy major. Nick got here because of his grades and his attendance and his perseverance. He also got accepted to four other colleges but BSU was his first choice.
When he was nominated for the Flutie Award by the Director of Special Ed. at PNHS, SheldonDaly, he did not understand why he was even being considered and when we received notification that he actually was chosen, he was even more confused. Nick does not understand how significant this is. He thinks that everyone struggles and tries as hard as he does. It makes no sense to him that what he has done is not the norm for others with ASD or others without it for that matter. Nick sees himself as just like everyone else and has spent so much time having everyone know who he is that this award first embarrassed him to no end. When the local newspaper did a full-page spread about him complete with pictures and also included his college entrance essay (“Overcoming the Stigma of Autism Spectrum Disorder”) he walked around with sunglasses on trying to “escape the paparazzi”. Being his parents, my husband and I could not help but tell people about it and be proud enough to burst. We have had to back off on it though. One day he will be able to be more comfortable in the knowledge that he has done something that is going to inspire and push others to be and do the best they can at all times. Or at least to give it their “best shot”.