Local CSUCI student redefines autism
By Michael Sullivan 05/17/2012
Calvin Nye, 23, is one of more than 1,300 students who will be graduating this weekend from Cal State University, Channel Islands (CSUCI). Actually, he graduated in December, but will participate in the commencement ceremony to officially commemorate his achievement.
Calvin is a fine arts major, having spent most of his life drawing. His latest interest is in creating comic books; he has already self-published one edition, a dark-humor comedy called #Ricky the Fangirl Killer#. Just recently, he came up with the plot for his next book: a 19-year-old superhero named Joe Hero who inherited super powers but, because he was diagnosed with autism, has to learn how to cultivate his powers while dealing with his condition. This story wasn’t just derived out of thin air, however. It is based on Calvin’s life.
“I want to promote autism awareness,” Calvin said, relaying that he would tell his story through Joe Hero while helping others understand the disorder.
Calvin was diagnosed with high-functioning autism when he was 4. This came after years of observations made by his parents, Cathi and Jim, that Calvin seemed to be experiencing some delays in development, particularly in language. He had also displayed peculiar behaviors, which included issues with his attention span, such as fixation focusing. Cathi and Jim had been told Calvin was deaf, but that didn’t seem to fit the symptoms. It would take another year before they ended up at UCLA Medical Center Pediatric Department and the doctors were finally able to diagnose Calvin. For some, such a diagnosis would be a shock, but not for Cathi and Jim.
“We were relieved,” Cathi said, noting their search had been underway for so long, they were prepared for the answer. “We were already there (at UCLA for the autism diagnosis). Our thought was, ‘So now what do we do?’ ”
The pieces then began to fall together. Cathi and Jim joined FACT (Family, adult and children therapies) via UCLA, a program that provides support for families with members who have been diagnosed with autism. Cathi and Jim joined a parents’ support group; Calvin’s sister joined a sibling support group; and Calvin joined a group with other kids with autism. (FACT is now independently operated in association with UCLA.) Calvin began speech therapy. They went to Oxnard-based Tri-Counties Regional Center, which provides an array of services, including assistance and support for children and adults with autism.
Calvin’s development disposition improved greatly over the years. Jim recalled major signs of progress.
“Every spring, he would make huge cognitive leaps,” Jim said.
For the most part, with the exception of preschool, when he was first diagnosed, Calvin acclimated well in school. In fact, he was the first child with autism who was fully included in a regular education program with the Ventura Unified School District. He was in the open classroom program, now called Ventura Charter.
Shortly before Calvin graduated from Foothill Technology High School, his teachers had recommended that he enroll straightaway into a four-year university, rather than ramp up for the experience at the local community college. Jim said that was a surprise, thinking that it would be better for him to get his feet wet at Ventura College rather than to go full throttle at a university. But Calvin’s family decided he should go for it.
When Calvin enrolled at Cal State University, Channel Islands, he became involved in student affairs and the campus disability resource program. He also became a motivational speaker, addressing students, teachers and parents about what it is like have autism and how to cope with the symptoms, such as social awkwardness, the inability to make eye contact and the common problem of misconstruing casual conversations. He also worked as a caregiver for families with children who have autism. Through his work, Calvin has become aware of when such symptoms arise in his own life. He also has a keen ability to recognize others who have autism. Developing his acute awareness hasn’t been easy.
Calvin has already self-published his first comic book,
a dark-humor comedy called Ricky the Fangirl Killer.
“I used to get pretty upset about the mention of autism,” Calvin said. He said that he wanted to be like everyone else. The struggles that Calvin had and still has in social environments, however, aren’t too dissimilar from those of most people. He said he can’t be certain when his social frustrations are normal or when they are symptoms of autism. It seems that the only difference between Calvin and anybody else is that some of his socially awkward moments have a name.
He relayed that his biggest struggle remains in social conversation.
“Information given to me — I misconstrue it for something else,” he said. “Accidentally, it will sound like an insult. It is pretty common that information is processed in different ways.”
The paradox for Calvin is that even though he has done much outreach in helping others understand autism, he just wants to live life like any other person. And by all accounts, he is doing that. He lives with friends in a home in Camarillo, and he works at the meat counter at Vons, all the while creating and self-publishing comic books.
“It’s not impossible to have a good life,” Calvin said.
According to those close to Calvin, he has accomplished much for autism causes.
“Calvin serves as an inspiration,” said Damien Peña, associate vice president for student affairs and dean of students at CSUCI. He also oversees the campus disability resource program, which includes tools for students with autism to level the playing field and help them to be successful. Peña said that Calvin is an example of what a person with autism can accomplish. While Peña said he is certain that students with autism have graduated from CSUCI, Calvin is the first to graduate having self-disclosed his condition.
“Our university is paving the way and creating the opportunity to be successful on our campus,” Peña said, referring to the numerous services available to students via the disability resource center.
Peña’s son, 4, was diagnosed with autism at 18 months of age, and Peña and his wife, Edlyn, were named Family of the Year last month by the Autism Society Ventura County. Cathi Nye founded the local chapter of the Autism Society of America in 1994, which provides families with numerous resources, a listing of related events and information about the condition.
Sharon Francis, CEO and founder of Channel Islands Social Services and who serves on the board of Autism Society Ventura County, came to know the Nye family when she worked at Tri-Counties Regional Center.
“Calvin is a pioneer for being willing to share his story,” Francis said.