Foundation from Beyond Academics bolsters his day-to-day successes
When D.J. Neblett was 2 years old and diagnosed with autism, his mother was afraid for his bright future.
“When a child is diagnosed with autism, people think the worst,” Kimberlin Neblett said. “And we did.”
Nevertheless, Kimberlin said her son succeeded at every test she threw at him over the years. His most recent accomplishment was graduating from UNC Greensboro.
D.J. was among eight other graduates who participated in the Beyond Academics program to matriculate from UNCG in May.
The program is one of only a few North Carolina post-secondary education programs for students with disabilities, offering participants one-on-one support and life skills for community inclusion, career development and independent living.
A group of human-interest organizations initiated the program in 2004. Eventually, it was adopted and implemented at UNCG in 2009.
Kimberlin said one of D.J.’s high school teachers told her about Beyond Academics after she became frustrated with looking at opportunities that did not fit her son’s needs.
She applied for her son, and he was accepted in November 2008.
After he graduated from high school, D.J.’s parents helped him move into his UNCG dorm.
“I was more stressed with him going to stay in the dorm than he was,” Kimberlin said. “It’s a scary thing. Some parents are scared to send their regular children out, much less their child with disabilities, but the program is set up so students need less and less support.”
During his four years at UNCG, Kimberlin said she started to see an improvement in his independence and interpersonal behavior.
“I have seen his social skills improve immensely,” she said. “He introduces himself to people. He likes knowing what people are doing. He likes going to work and hanging with friends.”
Beyond Academics offers different levels of support. D.J. was a tier 2 student, so he received daily check-ins with an advisor. He learned how to manage money, and wash his clothes and clean among other skills.
“I can feel comfortable with him living by himself,” Kimberlin said. “Without this opportunity, I wouldn’t have known for sure. Now I know. I have seen him become an adult.”
Since graduating, D.J. has moved back home, gained new friends and started new jobs.
He works in Henderson’s Platinum Cuts IV Barber Shop and Durham’s Crayons and Calculators throughout the week for about two hours a day.
Platinum Cuts manager Arnold Booth said he has seen a lot of changes in D.J.’s social skills and has let him take over promotion of some of the shop’s activities.
“When he first started coming through we used to walk and talk him through his daily task,” Booth said. “Now he comes in to do tasks, as far as coming and picking up a broom. He suggests things, and he does a lot of stuff that he’s asked. The program really helped him out.”
Doris Powell-Terry, his community support aide with Beyond Challenges Community, said she saw his ability from the very beginning.
“I knew then that he had a lot of potential,” Powell-Terry said. “I always knew that he would do great things. I told his mother that. But I had no idea that college was on the horizon.”
D.J.’s parents advocated hard for their son’s education as he went through Vance County Schools. They often struggled with acceptance, Kimberlin said.
“I really had to push to get the services that he needed,” she said.
After she started a support group with other parents, the school system started to develop more programs for students with disabilities.
D.J. started to excel in those classrooms, and Kimberlin moved him to traditional classrooms when he was around 7 years old.
“We discovered that D.J. could read,” she said. “We discovered that he could use a calculator. We discovered that he was a typical kid. We didn’t know what was going to happen when we tried it, but we knew he had the right to try.”
Kimberlin said she wanted more people from Vance County to really look at the opportunities available for their children, whether they had a disability or not.
“I think it’s a great program for people to be aware of so that parents know that their options are out there,” she said. “I just wish more people from our area would see if that’s appropriate for their son or daughter. No one can tell me what my son can or can’t do.”
As Beyond Academics continues to expand, more students with disabilities across the country have begun taking notice.
UNCG Beyond Academics admissions director Eric Marshburn said it has accommodated 50 students, and he hopes more will apply going into the 2014-2015 school year.
“We were really excited about our nine graduates this year. That was our largest class so far,” he said. “We have had inquiries from other states, as well, for next year, so we just continue to grow.”
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