Overcoming years of challenges from autism, in the form of social and learning disabilities, one student graduates high school at 13 years old.
His mom calls autism his superpower and they hope for better gifted programs for youth in the same situation.
ROCK SPRINGS — Black Butte High School has graduated what is presumed to be the youngest student to graduate from a public school in the State of Wyoming, at least for as far back as the 8 years the Wyoming State Board of Education data goes back.
At 13 years old, Walter “Brevon” Cole, would be in 8th grade if he were following a traditional education track. Instead, he beats the previous youngest graduate that the Wyoming Department of Education is aware of by more than a year.
Susan Williams, data collection and reporting supervisor for the Wyoming Department of Education, said that the youngest graduating age from a Wyoming public school over the time period she can track, which is the past 8 years, was just over 15 years old.
With a photographic memory, Brevon has always been gifted academically. Brevin was reading 860-page chapter books like the dragon fantasy novel “Eragon” at five years old and doing algebra at six, according Phoenix Ross, his mother.
He has had significant challenges too.
“Many people’s first response is to wonder how this is even possible or they assume he is just smart, but his story is not so simple,” said his mother. “You see, Brevon is also autistic with a whole alphabet soup of other diagnoses, which many times would have inhibited his education.”
Brevon’s mom said it’s been a challenge to keep him engaged as a student because he would blow through curriculum extremely fast and boredom would set in. But, also, it has been difficult to navigate what was perceived by the schools as behavioral issues.
Social skills have been a big challenge for him, said Phoenix. He has sensory perception disorder, so loud noises and bright lights can overwhelm him. And he has troubles with executive function skills, like keeping track of his work and knowing what to do next.
Brevon started kindergarten at Sage Elementary at the age of five in 2009 and stayed through the end of 1st grade.
“He doesn’t understand a lot of things, like a teacher says ‘Hey, get finished with this work,’ but he’s already finished it. And he tells them no,” said Phoenix.
Because of behavior problems and notable differences, he was pulled out to homeschool with the help of The Wyoming Virtual Academy. His 2nd grade teacher, Mrs. Littlejohn noticed quickly that Brevon was well beyond 2nd grade and helped him find the classes that fit his needs.
“This was the start in understanding how amazing Brevin really is,” said Phoenix.
Over the next two years at the Wyoming Virtual Academy, Brevon flourished and wanted to try public school again. In 5th grade, he started Eastside Elementary with Mr. Brown, an amazingly understanding teacher, but boredom soon took hold and he was brought back home.
By the age of 10, Brevon had been consistently working well above his grade level, even with already one grade skipped. He, at that point, was maxed out of the curriculum K12 had to offer.
His parents started looking into Western Wyoming Community College to keep him engaged, but his age disqualified him.
Brevon was referred to Principal Mike Maloney at Black Butte High School. “Mr. Maloney was apprehensive, but agreed to let Brevon attend 9th grade at 11 years old,” said his mom.
“High school was not easy,” said Phoenix. “Many fellow students did not understand Brevon, and teachers sometimes didn’t understand that such a smart student was still autistic and very socially (and overall) immature compared to other students. Through hard work and a bit of understanding from his teachers, principal, and peers, Brevon beat the stigma of having social and learning disabilities and was able to let his profound giftedness shine though.”
Brevon doesn’t want to just be seen as a 13-year-old graduate, but to show the world that autism can be a superpower and acceptance of a person’s differences will help the world for the better.
“We really wanted to thank the schools,” said Phoenix. “Disabilities should never hold anybody back. He’s a good representation of that.”
And what next? Brevon has been accepted to Western Wyoming Community College and University of Wyoming, where he plans to study mechanical engineering. Phoenix said they’ve made a plan to attend WWCC first so that he adjusts to the college requirements.
“He’s trying to get an internship with a coiled tubing company,” said his mom with a laugh. “The idea of downhole drilling just really fascinates him.”
Brevon and Pheonix hope for gifted and talented programs that could help other youth going through the same difficulties, programs where they might understand that autism is a gift – and sometimes a superpower.