Lone Star College-Atascocita student soars above autism
Figuring out exactly what to major in, whether to stay on or off campus, and how to spend summer vacation are all routine thoughts of every college student. There’s nothing extraordinary about it at all, but throw in a diagnosis of autism? Now you have a story.
Lone Star College-Atascocita student Shaelynn “Shae” Castle was initially diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in elementary school, but her mother, Annie Castle, a teacher at Whispering Pines Elementary, knew that there was something more. In middle school, Castle took Shae to a private psychiatrist who diagnosed her with autism. The diagnosis was not only enlightening, but also freeing to a degree.
“We knew the struggles she had socially and academically, but without understanding what was wrong, we didn’t know what to do about it. The diagnosis helped us to identify what her needs were and helped the school to develop a plan to assist her,” said Castle about what life was like before the diagnosis.
Although there are certainly challenges that come with such a diagnosis, Shae has not let it define who she is or limit what she does with her life. At 23, she is bright, witty, cute as a button, and has a boyfriend, two jobs and big plans for her future. Those plans include becoming a math teacher who works with special needs students like herself.
Shae is well on her way to accomplishing her goals and will graduate from Lone Star College with an associate’s degree in education in just a few short weeks.
When asked why she wants to be a special education teacher, Shae said, “My experiences help me to help other children who are struggling. I can say to them, ‘I know what you’re going through.’ Working with them also helps me because it has made me change my ways some, because I want the kids I work with to learn how to cope.”
Shae’s ability to cope and navigate the various systems associated with becoming an adult is due in large part to an Humble ISD program for special needs students, Mosaic.
“I’m autistic,” she said. “That means I have a disability. Through my journey of college, Dr. Simpson helped me through this program called Mosaic. Mosaic is a program that helps people with disabilities to be better adults and be more independent. The skills they taught me about the disability services that are available for me ensures accommodations for classes. They are very supportive of how I do in class.”
Dr. Simpson is Claudine Simpson, the Humble ISD Mosaic lead at Lone Star College. Mosaic has operated in Humble ISD for the past eight years. The program is specifically designed to assist students 18-21 and supports their transition from high school to independence.
Simpson beamed with pride as she spoke about Shae’s journey of personal growth and the impact of Mosaic.
“We gave her the skills to advocate for herself effectively. Once we did that, she was able to navigate the system on her own. We didn’t have to keep stepping in. Shay has really grown and gotten adjusted to the different changes. She used to cry with every change, but now she’s much less emotional. The tears are fewer and further between now,” said Simpson.
Shay currently channels her advocacy skills to assist students at Whispering Pines Elementary, where she works as a tutor for special needs students. Shae said that the students she works with have grown through her help and she is very proud of that.
As part of her efforts to better understand her diagnosis and raise awareness about a very challenging life landscape, Shae produced two YouTube videos: Shaelynn Castle Autism and Me, youtube.com/watch?v=v-cp5c-YI3g and Disability Awareness Shaelynn Castle, youtube.com/watch?v=J9-pZdtGZcI.
Shae is an outstanding young woman and all those who know her cannot wait to see what the next phase of her life will bring.
According to the National Institute of Health, autism is one of the fastest growing developmental disorders in the U.S. For more about autism, visit autismspeaks.org.