When Luke S. was in second grade in Plattsburgh, NY, his family and teachers realized something was different. He struggled to keep up with his classmates, prompting his mother to take him for an evaluation. According to Luke, “It turns out after all the pain in the neck testing, I was diagnosed with autism.”

This diagnosis led to some changes in Luke’s educational program, and resulting success. “If it were not for those small classes in high school, I would have struggled because the information would not have made sense.” This added assistance coupled with Luke’s determination and hard work resulted in his graduation from high school with a New York State Regents Diploma in the spring of 2020,  and his entry into the College Experience at the College of Saint Rose this past fall.

Luke’s family, comprised of his mother and older siblings Charlotte and Grayson are always there to support him. They taught him how to make friends and regularly give him advice on how to deal with difficult situations. The most important lesson they have taught him pertains to his worst fear – that of failure. To this they reinforce the message “you cannot do more than your best.”

It was his mother who convinced him to write an application letter for the College Experience program. “Without that, I do not know where I would be. So far, this program has been the best experience of my life! It has changed my thoughts about things a lot. Not only is it teaching me life skills, but I am learning and becoming my stronger, smarter, and more independent self.”

Luke likens his initial experience in the program to being to being like “a brand-new sponge. I chose to start soaking up information immediately.” Some of his favorite classes so far are Political Culture taught by Mr. Lynch; Google 101; and Community Involvement. He explained that in the latter, “we discuss the Events Calendar and “Whenever we go to events, we get credit for the class.”

The cooking class builds upon Luke’s love of cooking, adding new recipes for him to consider. In the finance lab, students discuss the difference between needs and wants and how to budget money for different things. He explained, “The leftover money we put in savings. You never know when you are going to need a little bit of cash.”

After classes are over, there is still so much to do. Luke’s hobbies include juggling, Jujitsu, and being a good friend. He likes playing baseball and is a Yankees fan (his “All-time favorite player” is Derek Jeter.) He is a huge fan of Harry Potter. In addition, The College Experience has introduced him to new pursuits. He joined the Walking Club which achieves the dual effect of getting exercise and becoming familiar with the local community. He relaxes with video gaming in the Nintendo Switch Club, socializes with Best Buddies, and has even gotten creative with the drama club, noting that they will not be doing an actual play this semester.

Luke sings the praise of the College Experience Program, sharing, “The College Experience staff have taught me to be independent, to make more friends, and get involved with other communities that I was not familiar with. To everyone who is reading this, I highly recommend this program to anyone!” Finally, he emphasized his positive attitude regarding his innate challenges.  People out there with disabilities … do not let people bring you down because it’s who you are and there is only one you. Be the best ‘you’ you can be and be proud of it.”