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‘Every day of my life I have longed to be understood’: USI student with autism advocates for acceptance

EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WFIE) – At the University of Southern Indiana, advocates are calling for autism awareness and acceptance.

This includes Lucas John, a first semester student at USI who also has severe autism.

This is something he never thought would be possible.

He recounts his journey, “severe autism, unintelligent, hard to manage, bully, friendless, lazy, that was how the experts, the teachers, the professional therapists, and doctors defined Lucas,” said Lucas.

Casey DePriest is the CEO and Founder of Optimal ACCESS, a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving those with autism.

DePriest has known Lucas for 10 years, “he had to fight for a really long time to get access to reliable communication,” said DePriest

That’s because he has unreliable speech, something that hindered his learning for most of his life.

“Some people doubted me but I persevered,” said Lucas.

Lucas uses a communication regulation partner, this means he communicates most efficiently by typing each word on an iPad and letting it voice his thoughts.

“These modes of communication are most often misunderstood, because our misunderstand about these children or young adults is that they don’t have intelligence,” said DePriest

Throughout his upbringing Lucas didn’t have access to the education he wanted because of those misunderstandings, now he does.

“Disability is being used against me but USI believes in my potential,” said Lucas.

Michelle Kirk works in the Disability Resources office at USI and has also known Lucas for several years.

“Lucas is so passionate about being in co0llege and wants to be there in person so we had to make it happen for him,” said Kirk.

He’s now the first student in USI’s history to use a communication regulation partner.

“He’s loved being on campus and being part of that campus community but we want to continue to build that and the only way to do that is to raise awareness,” said Kirk.

That’s what the Rethinking Autism conference is meant to do, bring education and understanding to people with autism.

Lucas is using his voice to help.

“Every day of my life I have longed to be understood, this is my chance,” said Lucas.

The sold out conference was held on Thursday.

Several speakers shared their experiences with autism as well as educational studies.

Organizers hope to hold this conference annually so that more students like Lucas have a voice that can be heard.