- Associated Press - Monday, July 6, 2015

ANDERSON, S.C. (AP) - Before the Anderson 5 Charter School opened, a student with Asperger’s syndrome found it difficult to learn in the public school system.

Devon Haist, 17, changed schools several times since middle school, trying to find the school that would be just right.

One in 68 children are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to Autism Speaks, a nonprofit organization, “Asperger’s syndrome is an autism spectrum disorder considered to be on the ‘high functioning’ end of the spectrum.”

Haist is following in his father’s and grandfather’s, both engineers, footsteps. While at the Anderson 5 Charter School, he took dual enrollment classes at Tri-County Technical College where he studied mechatronics. By the time he graduated high school, he also completed his first year of Tri-County, earning a certification in basic electronics. He plans to graduate next year with his associate degree.

Usually individuals with Asperger’s do not have any difficulties in language and cognitive development, but they do have trouble socially interacting with others, according to Autism Speaks.

“He’s learned how to give people more eye contact, shake hands and he handles himself a lot better. He’s still a quiet person, but he’s come a long way,” said Devon’s mother, Cindy Haist.

Devon Haist said it was a rough road in school.

His mother never saw any of the early symptoms of Asperger’s until her son reached the fifth grade. She got a call from his teacher, who told her about her son’s lack of socialization with the other students.

According to Autism Speaks, some of the symptoms include limited social interactions, monotone or peculiar speech, misunderstanding of nonverbal communications, inability to understand social or emotional issues and lack of eye contact.

Some children with Asperger’s have sensory problems. When Devon Haist went to McCants Middle School, it was overcrowded, and gave him panic attacks. He did not like to be around crowds, and the loud bells bothered him. He spent more time in the nurse’s office than in class, which put him behind academically.

“It tended to get worse with middle school years,” Cindy Haist said.

Devon Haist went through middle school at McCants, transferred to an online school, and then transferred to a private school.

“The public school system was very difficult for Devon,” Cindy Haist said.

Cindy Haist became an advocate for her son, and spoke to the board when Anderson School District 5 decided to make a decision about starting a charter school in 2011.

“You don’t have the right environment for my child,” Cindy Haist said she told the board.

Devon Haist found his home at the charter school, which opened in 2012, and graduated in the class of 2015. At the charter school, he was able to take classes in machine technology and robotics.

“It’s hard to socialize with Asperger’s, so I don’t have many friends,” Devon Haist said.

Even though it is difficult for him to make friends because of Asperger’s, he has become close to his high school principal, Katie Brown.

“She is outgoing and cheerful,” he said.

“The charter school was such a great fit for Devon,” Cindy Haist said. “I don’t know what we would have done without the school.”

She took a position on the governing board and has been involved in the school ever since.

Devon Haist received the Principal’s Award for overcoming great obstacles his senior year at the charter school.

“It feels pretty good having overcome everything,” he said.

The road he has taken to get to where he is now has not been easy. It took several years of doctors’ visits before Devon Haist was diagnosed with Asperger’s in 2010. He accepted it as a moment of clarity of what was happening to him. “It was his aha moment,” Cindy Haist said.

Devon Haist completed 45 treatments of transcranial magnetic stimulation, which uses magnetic currents to stimulate the brain, according to the Mayo Clinic. This treatment is most commonly used with individuals suffering from depression. Devon Haist’s therapy targeted four different parts of his brain to improve his socialization.

“Everybody at the school swears he’s improved from the treatment,” Cindy Haist said.

“I really liked the therapy,” Devon Haist said. “Every time I left that place, I felt a little bit better.”

He also had therapy with Heather Kline Schaffer in Anderson, who helped him learn how to control anxiety and to recognize social cues such as facial expressions or body language. Social cues were the most difficult for him to learn, and even though he has stopped going to therapy, he said he is still learning to recognize them.

Cindy Haist said that people tend to think of Asperger’s as a negative trait, but it can be positive. “You live with it. It’s not who you are. It’s like being born left-handed,” she said.

“I’m fine with what I have,” Devon Haist said.


Information from: Anderson Independent-Mail, https://www.andersonsc.com

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