Autism hits home for NKU student

Symposium, local programs teach the science behind the disorder

The Dorothy Westerman Hermann Autism Symposium was held in the Otto Budig Theater March 22, allowing many students to hear from professionals about diagnostic techniques, treatments and behaviors associated with autism.

Drawing on how autism has affected her family, public relations major Dana Foster said that people won’t understand autism and its effects without actually having it or knowing someone who does.

“My brother Jeffrey is three years older than me. My life hasn’t changed from him being autistic, but it surely has been blessed,” Foster said. “He makes me view things differently and helps me see the brighter side of things.”

Many people living with autism may not enjoy the same things that others do, such as living on a college campus, but they perform many of the same activities each day.

Professionals emphasize the importance of incorporating a “normal daily routine” into the lives of those with autism while also providing outlets such as tutoring and mediation when necessary.

According to Autism Speaks, autism affects 1 in 88 children and is five times more likely to occur in boys than girls. Foster and her family said that they are fortunate enough to live in a society where most are accepting of people with disorders like autism but some people are not aware of the facts and behavior behind it.

“What bothers me the most is that some people think that it’s okay to make fun of mental disorders,” Foster said. “Small little comments about being retarded or jokes about riding the short bus are things that I hear often. But when you say those things, they do hear you and they do understand what you’re saying, and it does hurt them. We had a problem with my brother saying retard, and it’s not because any of us said it; it’s because others had said it around him.”

One of the things that the Foster family has been extremely thankful for is the program available at Campbell County High School.

Through his experience with the program, Jeffrey was able to get the individual attention he needed.

“That program is very visible in that school, and they do a great job with it. They also had very great peer tutors that helped my brother too,” Foster said. “I definitely recommend sending students with autism to that school.”

One of the peer tutors that worked closely with Jeffrey during their high school years said that Jeffrey’s upbeat outlook and cheerful smile would light up a room.

“I loved working with the special education classes at Campbell County. No matter how rough my day was, I always left school with a smile and a warm heart because of them,” Alicia Visse, Campbell County graduate and current University of Louisville student, said.

Having this program in Campbell County High School, Foster said, allowed Jeffrey the opportunity to find a job, socialize and more.

“I know the last thing a parent wants to hear is that their child has a disorder, but I know my family has been truly blessed with him. He’s an amazing person, and he loves and cares for everyone he meets,” Foster said.

The Foster family and friends are forming a team for the upcoming Autism Speaks Walk on May 18 at Coney Island. If you are interested in joining “Team Jeffrey,” contact Dana Foster at for more information.