Autistic students can succeed with support

By Dean Galiffa

Jane Hutchinson, of Springfield, Pa., pursued immediate action for her son Frank’s future education when he was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at age 3.

After exhibiting delays in speech and occupational development, Hutchinson’s son received early intervention services through the state.

When the Delaware County Intermediate Unit suggested that Hutchinson enroll him in a developmental delay preschool, she did so at the Pennington Education Center, which serves students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

“At first it was very difficult,” Hutchinson said. “One day at the pool, I remember explaining to another parent where Frank would be attending school. That was the first time I said the word ‘autism.’”

But over the next several years, Hutchinson educated herself on the disorder.

“When Frank was first diagnosed, it was one in every 150 kids,” she explained. “Now, it’s one in every 65. And, it’s more common in boys over girls. I found comfort in that knowledge.”

For Hutchinson, choosing to enroll her child in specialized education rather than mainstream resulted from a combination of suggestions from doctors and educators.

“Typical kids were not Frank’s peers,” she said. “Kids with autism were Frank’s peers.”

Hutchinson’s son is now enrolled at The Vanguard School, a specialized education program of Valley Forge Educational Services.

As she prepares for her son’s future, Hutchinson faces a decision similar to many parents of children with autism spectrum disorder: what postsecondary life for their child will be.

In the journal of Remedial and Special Education, researchers L.E. Smith and Dr. Kristy Anderson noted that families parenting a child with autism spectrum disorder experienced significant stress levels, especially during adolescence. Parents also played critical roles in their child’s post-high school transition.

According to Dr. Jo M. Hendrickson writing for the journal of Education & Treatment of Children, “autism-friendly” school environments positively impacted the mental health of family members and the student.

However, data that indicated a college environment to be autism-friendly, meaning each student received person-centered aid, was scarce. The Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability suggested that traditional college accommodations did not meet the needs of students with disabilities.

Consequently, these students are at high risk for dropping out. Furthermore, experts evidence suggested that the views of parents and students attending postsecondary programs did not align, interfering with the student’s progress.

A study published in the Journal of Developmental & Physical Disabilities suggested similar conclusions.

In interviews conducted between 10 parents and six university personnel, five themes emerged, including the personal needs of students with disabilities and their transition to the university.

Findings suggest that services offered by universities may need to be expanded to meet the unique requirements of students with disabilities.

The journal of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry & Mental Health evaluated the transition from high school to postsecondary options among students with autism.

The students used an online interactive program called the Better Outcomes & Successful Transitions for Autism, or BOOST-A.

The program “empowers adolescents on the autism spectrum to plan their transition from school to further study, training, or employment,” according to the article. “The trial will involve adolescents on the autism spectrum in high school and their parents, who will be alternately assigned to a control group….or an intervention group.”

The goal of BOOST-A is for students with disabilities to successfully transition from high school to postsecondary options, including employment.

The University of Iowa Realizing Educational and Career Hopes Program, or UI REACH, as described in the journal of Education & Treatment of Children, is a “well-integrated two year certificate program.”

The program integrates students with disabilities into the mainstream college atmosphere. Residence halls and classrooms are occupied with typical students and students with disabilities alike.

A student can earn a collegiate, trade, or technical certificate after two to four years of study.

Despite the progress made at some institutions of higher learning, Hutchinson said she still struggles with the decision to allow her son to attend a postsecondary institution.

“When I sent him to specialized education, I looked at it as Frank being in a community of his peers,” said Hutchinson. “He would not have benefited from attending mainstream education. Now, he’s getting to the age of making another big commitment.”

The Vanguard School, where Hutchinson’s son currently attends, allows students to remain enrolled until age 21.

“After that, I really would like to see Frank in a college setting,” said Hutchinson. “But I am very hesitant to make those decisions now. College isn’t specialized education, and Frank would have to learn basic skills in order to live on his own.”

Hutchinson explained that her son may experience difficulty leaving high school.

“Frank does not transition well,” she added. “The idea of college is too open-ended to him, and he views the world in a very precise and logical way.”

For now, Hutchinson hopes that her son will pursue higher education and possibly attend trade school.

“He’s very hands-on,” she explained. “I think a trade would be good for his stronger assets. More than anything, I just want him to be happy. I want the best for him.”

Contact Dean Galiffa at

Alumnus speaks of autism at work

By Dean Galiffa

Speaker Patrick Viesti addresses students and faculty in the DCCC Marple campus lecture hall. Photo by Dean Galiffa

Standing at the podium, looking out into the crowd of students, Patrick Viesti introduces himself to the onlooking pupils. All eyes are on him as he stands in the front of the DCCC Marple campus lecture hall on April 11.

“Good morning, everyone,” Viesti says. “I want to thank you for inviting me to talk about SAP’s ‘Autism at Work’ program and share my journey. To begin this story, I need to provide a background of who I am. [I have been] featured in several major video and written news publications. But, before all of that, at the age of three, I was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome.”

Viesti is one of five who were selected to be a part of the Autism at Work Program at the Newtown Square campus of SAP, one of the world’s largest business software companies, where he currently manages company projects as an order execution manager.

Viesti has spoken at the United Nations in New York for World Autism Awareness Day. He was asked by Jose Velasco, head of SAP’s Autism at Work Program in North America, to be interviewed by news television channels Al-Jazeera America and CBS This Morning.

The ARC of Philadelphia, SAP’s local implementation partner with the Autism at Work Program, asked Viesti to visit Capitol Hill and speak to Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) about how colleges and local businesses can form partnerships to help those on the autism spectrum better integrate into the workforce after graduation.

After receiving DCCC’s 2017 Rising Star award for the 50th anniversary last September, Viesti recently visited the Marple campus to discuss his experiences as a student with Asperger’s.

“It’s hard to believe, but I, too, sat in the very same seats you are now,” Viesti says, looking out into the lecture hall. There was a murmur from the audience as students and teachers chuckled.

“Taking my first steps towards higher education was something I had been preparing for since I graduated from Hill Top Preparatory School,” Viesti says. “My experiences with DCCC were some of the best at challenging me to become a better writer, a better critical thinker, and a better person.”

After attending Coeburn Elementary School in Rosemont, Pa., Viesti’s parents found it best for him to attend specialized education for both middle and high school.

Hill Top Preparatory School is a grade fifth through twelve preparatory day school for students with learning disabilities.

Viesti attended the school for seven years. After graduating in 2005, he attended DCCC where he received an associate degree in communications.

In 2008, Viesti transferred to West Chester University where he graduated Cum Laude with a bachelor’s degree in communications in 2011.

After graduating, Viesti had difficulty finding a job due to a combination of the recession and his Asperger syndrome. However, in May 2013, a family friend referred Viesti to a CNN news report on SAP’s Autism at Work inAfter applying for the program, Viesti was contacted by ARC of Philadelphia in late February 2014 to be interviewed.

Walking toward the audience, Viesti addresses the students and faculty with nothing between them. Hands crossed over his tie, he stands only feet away from the front row.

“The interview process was nothing like I expected,” Viesti says, abandoning his scripted speech. “They actually really wanted to get to know me on a personal level.”

Audience members smile as they listen to Viesti share why he thinks it is important for colleges to support students with autism.

“I cannot stress enough the importance of colleges such as DCCC forming partnerships with local businesses that will give students on the spectrum a better, stronger chance at being hired after graduation,” Viesti said.

Now, Viesti speaks on behalf of his personal experiences at SAP when other companies interested in Autism at Work visit. He helps inform and equip their administrators to implement the program at their own company.

Viesti hopes that both students on the spectrum and otherwise will continue to persevere and use their available resources.

“When I was looking for work, there were times that I thought ‘what more can I do?’” Viesti said. “There will always be that one person that will say ‘I want to hire you.’ You have to keep going, you have to keep pushing. Even beyond graduation, continue to keep in contact with people who can help you. I would not have graduated without that support.”

Contact Dean Galiffa at

Religious zealots occupy campus

Photos by Dean Galiffa

‘Delaware County Community College is a public institution that believes in and encourages free speech, whether we agree with that speech or not.’ -DCCC President Dr. L. Joy Gates Black

A representative of Key of David Christian Center holds anti-sodomy sign in the Marple campus courtyard.


A representative of KDCC proclaims people who do not accept Jesus as their savior are going to hell.
Em Mirra pleads for tolerance.
“Feminists are whores,” according to protestors.
Students protest KDCC’s controversial claims.
Students make light of tense protest by peacefully dancing in the courtyard.
Rebecca “Bunny” Thompson challenges KDCC representative’s beliefs.

‘Coping With Anxiety’: a professional perspective

By John Kearney

Richard M. Conforto, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist and clinical director at Springfield Psychological, spoke to almost 30 students in Room 4255 on Marple campus, April 11. The workshop, “Coping with Anxiety,” focused on anxiety disorders and their complications, while providing insights on how to manage their anxiety.

DCCC counselor Jennifer Kalligonis said she initially invited Conforto to speak in March, but the talk was postponed due to inclement weather that closed the college.

“We’ve had a lot of students coming in with symptoms of anxiety,” said DCCC counselor Kalligonis, who also hosted a workshop earlier in the academic year for students feeling anxious regarding tests and exams.

“Since it seemed so prevalent, it seemed like a good idea to have a workshop about general anxiety,” Kalligonis said.

Conforto began his presentation by recognizing what anxiety is.

“Anxiety is the body’s natural reaction to a threat,” Conforto said. “It could be categorized by feelings of apprehension, dread and fear.”

Conforto highlighted cognition as a major role in the amount of stress an individual can experience.

“Most of the stressors we face today are psychological, whether they are worries about the future, regrets about the past, or injustices that cause frustration and anger,” he explained.

Conforto then categorizes the symptoms of anxiety as physical, mental, and behavioral.

Physical symptoms include feeling tired, headaches, chest pain and pounding heart, muscle tension, and trouble sleeping.

Mental symptoms include an inability to concentrate, a lack of interest in things previously enjoyed, irritability, and excessive worry.

Behavioral symptoms comprise a decrease in performance at school or work, increased conflicts with others, and using recreational drugs to cope with stress.

“There is a neurological basis for anxiety and stress,” Conforto said. “While we cannot remove or eliminate anxiety neurochemically, we can manage it.”

He next offered ways of coping if the trigger or stressor can or cannot be controlled.

“Being assertive with others is useful if stress is generated by others imposing their agendas on you,” he told students.

Conforto then outlined some coping techniques to consider when feeling anxious such as “healthy self-talk” which allows people to “talk to themselves like they would a friend or loved one,” he stated.

He considered perfectionism or “all or nothing” thinking as counterintuitive to mental health.

“Life has shades of gray,” Conforto added.

In social and personal situations, Conforto suggested that one “examine the evidence” and “dispute irrational beliefs” as a means of providing clear context.

Overgeneralizing and jumping to conclusions were also noted as a means of “taking a simple event, and blowing it out of proportion,” according to Conforto.

After the lecture, Conforto managed an activity in mindfulness in which participants closed their eyes for five minutes and focused their attention on their breathing.

“Breathing is our anger at the present,” he whispered. “Notice how each breath fades into the next.”

Tips provided at the end of Conforto’s talk emphasized the role of caring for one’s self, filling one’s life with positive experiences and people “for those you have control over,” and recognizing the things that are worth being grateful for “as they can really shift your perspective,” he said.

Louis Silvestri, a 19-year -old business major, believed the talk was beneficial.

“I thought it was useful,” Silvestri said. “ I like how he showed us how everything is connected.”

Conforto also mentioned the importance of keeping a journal as a means of venting, self-reflection, and personal growth.

Afterward, Conforto offered references to help manage anxiety: free apps like “InsightTimer” and “Headspace” provide mindfulness training, as well as readings, such as “When Panic Attacks,” by David Burns, and “Mindfulness for Beginners” by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Some websites were MindfulNet ( and UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center (

The full list of references Conforto provided is available as a handout in the Career and Counseling Center.

“Fear and anxiety are like bullies; they are not scary once you confront them,” Conforto said. “It is necessary to move toward the feared situation rather than avoid it.”

Contact John Kearney at

Talent Show spotlights a variety of cultures

By John Kearney

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Abstract the Entertainer tells the audience to turn on their flashlights and join him on stage to dance.

The Multicultural Talent Show welcomed 25 different acts celebrating many races, ethnicities, and ages inside the Large Auditorium on Marple Campus April 24.

Performances varied from well-choreographed dance routines to a kung fu act, as well as softly-sung original songs, stand-up comedy, and fan- favorite covers of songs with origins spanning the globe.

“It’s not necessarily a cultural focus; however, we call it multicultural to encourage people from all walks of life to perform,” said English professor Tanya Franklin, who emceed the event. “We want people to feel comfortable, regardless of whatever their talent might be.”

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Wenzong Zou performs a kung fu meditation with a dao.

The panel of judges included English professor Bonnie McMeans,  drama professor Stephen Smith, and Ms. Nicola Harris, Franklin’s mother. Campus Life awarded

$150 to first place, $100 to second place, $50 to third place.

Anthony Montgomery, also known as Abstract the Entertainer, came in first place after performing his song “Hello” with Ikechi Onyenaka accompanying on alto saxophone. Abstract invited members of the audience to turn on their cell phone

flashlights and dance with him on stage as he sang verses over the upbeat instrumental.

Wenrong Zou and company gracefully performed a kung fu meditation to claim second place. They used a bendable dao, a sword commonly used in Chinese martial arts, to demonstrate other techniques and motions. Third prize winner Theresa “Chyna Blakk” Rothmiller- Hayes had the audience chiming in with the lyrical bar “call him,” in the chorus of “Tyrone” by singer Erykah Badu.

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Chyna Blakk gestures to call Tyrone while singing the song “Tyrone” by singer Erykah Badu.

Donations collected at the door benefited the Hearts for Hardship Scholarship, a program supported by the Black and Women’s History Commitee and Phi Theta Kappa.

Franklin has been coordinating the show since 2009, except for taking a one- year hiatus in 2013 to have her daughter Quinn. Now four years old, Quinn performed during intermission by dancing with her mother to the tune of “Hard Knock Life” from the musical Annie.

“You are all winners!” Franklin told the performers. “Y’all came out here; y’all did your thing. If you are going to be here next spring, please sign up!”

Contact John Kearney at

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All performers gathered on stage after the Talent Show held, April 24 in the Large Auditorium on Marple Campus, for a group photo. All photos by John Kearney