From a non-verbal three-year-old to a class valedictorian with a 4.0 grade-point average: That has been Montel Medley’s journey in school.
“Having a disability doesn’t mean you have a disadvantage,” the 17-year-old told the graduation audience, reports The Washington Post. “Sometimes it can be an advantage.”
Autism is a general term for a group of disorders of brain development, according to Autism Speaks. These disorders are characterized by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors.
The school system’s autism program taught Montel to control his anger, handle peer pressure, and organize his classwork.
His mother, Roberta Medley, placed her son in an infants’ and toddlers’ program run by the county’s Department of Family Services after his diagnosis at age 3.
The school system worked with the family, too, placing Montel in a special-education classroom at first. As his test scores improved he shifted to a mainstream classroom, the newspaper said. An aide worked with him one-on-one until ninth grade, but by his junior year, Montel was on his own.
Aisha Clark, the coordinator of the autism program at Surrattsville, told the Post: “When he came in the ninth grade, he was like the others in the program — they didn’t want to tell anyone they had autism. By 12th grade, it was the first thing he told people. It was not a setback at all. He would even explain it to people. He’d say, ‘I think differently.’ ”