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Sep 24

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Six Degrees of Autism

When I started high school in 1986, my life was in even more than the usual adolescent-starting-high-school-upheaval. I had just moved 700 miles from Erie, Pennsylvania to Lexington, South Carolina. The depth of the culture shock I was experiencing didn’t even dawn on me until well after I graduated from college. There were approximately 2,000 students at Lexington High School at that time and the vast majority of them had a history together that had started in kindergarten. So as I learned the ropes I clung to the basics:

  • Get to the cafeteria early otherwise you’ll have to sit on the floor.
  • Don’t wear black clothes on gym day, because the walk to the gym in the 100 degree will make you faint.
  • Student Council President? Lorri Shealy. Never got a chance to talk to her, but she seemed nice—probably be a lawyer one day.
  • I really need more Aquanet, because my hair is just not big enough.
  • Wow we sing our Alma Mater a LOT, I’d better learn the words.

Flash forward to 2012.  While flipping through Facebook, I stumble on a high school friend’s link:

Vote for the Betty Jean Francis Humanitarian Award .

I learn that Lorri Shealy Unumb (Esquire by the way, I called that one) is one of four finalists. And when I learn why, I am speechless. Knowing the extremity of labor required to start a school I am very impressed to learn that she cofounded the Autism Academy of South Carolina. But not only is that on her CV, she also wrote and successfully lobbied to get passed Ryan’s Law , which requires that Applied Behavioral Analysis therapy be covered by health insurance in South Carolina. This law has become the model for several other states to enact similar legislation.

And who is Ryan? Ryan is Lorri’s oldest son, who has autism.

When Lorri and I were in high school, autism meant Rainman. Now it is not an understatement to say that autism has profoundly impacted and changed the course of both of our lives.

Please vote for Lorri every day until November 29th.

Permanent link to this article: http://cloverleafschool.org/six-degrees-of-autism/

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