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Autistic Girl To Graduate…

“Change is not easy for me.”

These are the words spoken by Ashley Griffith, a 22 year-old-student at the Tyler Junior College West Campus. Ashley loves to act, sing and watch movies. She will be graduating with a Preschool Teaching Certificate in December and hopes to one-day work as a teacher’s assistant in a childcare center or public school.

However, Ashley does not live on her own or in the dorms. Ashley must take her test orally. Ashley is autistic and does not let this get in the way of her goals and dreams.

Ashley has been diagnosed with Aspergers, a form of high-functioning Autism. With this comes a world of confusion and socially not “fitting in.”

“Her dad and I detected developmental delays from infancy to preschool,” Karen Griffith, Ashley’s mom, said. “These concerns were confirmed at age 5 when she was given a pre-kindergarten readiness test. Developmentally, Ashley scored that of a 3 year-old.”

For the next five years, Ashley was in and out of schools and doctor’s offices. While living in Tulsa, OK, she attended a private school for children with ADD and learning disabilities.

“Our family had a lot to learn about this new terminology with which we were unfamiliar,” Karen said. “Many Asperger children and adults meander through life with very few relationships, outside the family, resulting in loneliness and low self-esteem. They have trouble finding acceptance and tolerance.”

When Ashley was 14, she and her family moved to Mineola. She would no longer have the security of her private school and team of doctors. In high school she was placed in a “special education” that was embarrassing to her. However her younger sister and aunt, were also on the campus, Karen said “I’m not sure she could have persevered.”

After high school Ashley did volunteer work at the Mineola Primary School. It was here that Karen recognized her daughter had a gift with children. However, when her younger sister was going off to college, Ashley did not understand the reasoning of why she too could not attend.

“I just want to go to college like everyone else,” Ashley said.

Karen studied a TJC catalog and came across the Early Childhood Program and the certificates that were offered upon its completion. Because of her learning disability, Ashley would struggle to pass the THEA. The Early Childhood certificates are THEA waived.

Ashley was enrolled in Professor and Department Chair for Child Development Lynn Sitton’s Early Childhood Program. Ashley would be working towards a Preschool Teaching Certificate.

“I have been teaching Ashley for two years,” Sitton said. “Her test average is an A in every course. To Ashley, passing means an A.”

Ashley’s dream has always been to act on Broadway or be Hollywood star. One semester she dressed up as Hannah Montana for her report and presentation. People with Autism usually have an obsession and Ashley’s is Hollywood stars. Currently Ashley is focused on Keira Knightley and Sienna Miller.

Ashley is also a very detailed-oriented thinker. She can tell you facts and information most people miss. She has a terrific memory and is also a very literal thinker. Ashley will be graduating in December.

“Mrs. Sitton has been instrumental in helping Ashley reach her goal,” Karen said. “She has allowed her to learn in her own unique way. She has made modifications and accommodations that have allowed Ashley to perform at her best.”

“We don’t know what is in store for Ashley’s future,” Karen said. “But we look forward to the doors that God opens for her and the special people he puts in her path. Ashley will tell you that she hopes to let her Autism be her ministry someday.” 

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