Living Beyond the Label of Autistic
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Living Beyond the Label of Autistic

The following is a special needs program update from College Living Experience | CLE | Choose Your Future

By Kati Strong, Career Development Coordinator

Alec #1

During this month of Autism Awareness, we at CLE embrace the diversity of our students’ experiences, interests and talents, and we also recognize the limitations that diagnoses and labels like ‘autistic’ can impose. A person is so much more than any one label they may have been assigned. Each of us is made up of our experiences, education, maturity, family history, preferences, interests, talents, strengths, and so much more. This is the story of one young man whose unique life experiences have led him to where he is today, and who is so much more than the limited label of ‘autistic’ can encompass.

Alec McKelvey, at age 22, is better-traveled than most middle-aged adults I know. Born in Paris, France, where he lived his first two years, Alec lived in London, England for 8 years before moving to the U.S. and living in Wimberley, Texas for 13 years until he started as a CLE student in Austin in 2012. In addition to living in a variety of places and cultural environments, Alec has also traveled to places including Scotland, South Africa, and across the United States.

Alec’s love of art and history developed through his many experiences living and traveling around the world. “I first became interested in art… when I was an infant living in Paris …I also first became interested in history when I used to live in London …” During his primary school days in London, Alec was particularly interested in “the history of Britain as well as its kings and queens of both of England and Scotland.”

Alec at CLE Austin

As a high school student in Wimberley, Texas, Alec was an active member of his school community. He served as the ‘Cowboy’ mascot for JV teams during his sophomore and junior years, and was then promoted to be the Varsity team’s mascot in his senior year. This role gave Alec the chance to use his boundless energy and enthusiasm in a way that contributed to his school community and helped him to develop friendships with his peers. In addition, while in high school, Alec successfully held a job at one of central Texas’ most famous barbecue restaurants, starting with job coaching support and successfully transitioning to maintaining that job without additional support.

When asked about how autism impacts him, Alec acknowledges that there are some challenges, but also some benefits to the differences in how his brain works. Alec says he sometimes struggles in school, “especially if there’s no help,” and is not always very social or interested in hanging out with friends. However, he recognizes the unique benefits of his autistic neurodiversity, saying “it also [allows] me to be special and highly accomplished.”

Since starting CLE 3 years ago, Alec recognizes that he has grown and changed in several ways. “CLE has helped me learn how to live independently and have social skills.” He states that when he lived on his parents’ longhorn cattle ranch in Wimberley, he was fully dependent on his family, but now, he lives in his own apartment and pays his own bills.

CLE has helped me learn how to live independently and have social skills.

– Alec

Alec pursues his interests in art and history in a couple of different ways as he lives independently in Austin. First, he participates weekly in a program called Imagine Art, a city-funded art studio for individuals with disabilities. There, Alec has access to art supplies and works side-by-side with their artistic director to develop a body of artwork for exhibition. Alec also serves every Saturday as a docent at the Elisabet Ney Museum in Austin. Alec first discovered this museum when he job shadowed there for a one-day event called Disability Mentoring Day. The staff at the museum were so impressed with Alec’s art history knowledge that they invited him to come back, which led to his eventual completion of their docent training program. Alec has been assisting with museum tours as a docent every Saturday since February of this year.

Alec's Cards - CLE AustinAlec is also using his artistic talents as a way to plan for his future. He and his mom had decks of playing cards made with his artwork on the back, which can be purchased from Polly’s Place, a store that is sponsored and hosted at In addition to saving money from all purchases of his cards, Alec also enjoys giving them as gifts to people who help him along in his journey.

Alec, like most people, cannot be contained in any one label. Citizen of two countries. Student. Artist. Historian. World traveler. School Mascot. Employee. Museum Docent. Independent adult… and Autistic. When we take the wide-screen perspective on a student like Alec, suddenly autism becomes a much tinier part of the big picture.

Newsletter Articles – April 2015

Hayden and Danny - Asperger Experts

Have you ever met someone, heard their story, and were left so inspired and moved that you were speechless? Well that’s how I felt after my interview with Hayden Mears, co-founder and co-owner of Asperger’s Experts, a now flourishing internet-based company.

Hayden Mears and Danny Raede, the founders and owners of Asperger’s Experts, first met while they were attending College Living Experience in Denver in 2011. They “hung out and got close” according to Hayden, with no premonition of where their friendship would take them. In 2012, after doing well in the CLE program, Hayden decided to leave CLE and return home to his mother’s house in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Debora Smith

Especially during Autism Awareness Month, College Living Experience (CLE) likes to honor and give voice to the many and diverse voices in the autism community. Debora Smith is one of those voices. As a parent of a young adult with Autism Spectrum Disorder and a professional who has worked in the field, Debora shared her experiences and expertise with us in this interview.

Co-author of Teaching my Teacher about Autism, Debora has served as president of the Orange County Asperger’s Support Group. She is currently a member of the Interagency Autism Group, a member of the Orange County Autism Regional Taskforce, and board member of the Educational Foundation for Independence. Recently, she formed her own consulting business, ARM |Autism Resource Mom, and currently lives in Orange County, California with her husband and son.

Andy Warhol

In honor of Autism Awareness and Acceptance, we are quizzing our readers on what they know about Autism.

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