At 18 months old, Billy Pagoni was diagnosed with severe autism. The disorder was so disabling, he had trouble speaking.
Today, he’s 20 years old, about to graduate from high school in Naples, Fla., and wants more than anything to go to college. But, so far, every school he and his mother have contacted have told them there is no program available for his specialized needs.
With seemingly no opportunities available for him, Billy has made a public plea to President Obama to help him enroll into a college or university and continue his education.
“Dear President Obama, my name is Billy Pagoni,” Billy implored on a video posted on Facebook. “I want to be a baker. I am a great student. I never miss a day of school. I get A’s on my report card. Please, can you help me go to college? I am an American. I am autistic.”
His mother, Edith Pagoni, explains a problem:
While universities currently offer specialized programs for blind, deaf, ESL and high-functioning Asperger’s students, there are little to no options for more severely autistic children, according to Pagoni.
When you look online,” she explained, “it looks like, yes, there are programs for these students. But what universities actually have are programs for extremely rare, high-functioning, savant-like autistic children. There’s nothing for kids who have splintered skills – for those who are excellent with computers, but may need a subject like geography broken down for them.”
“There’s a complete generation of these kids who are aging out of school, who will have nothing to do,” Pagoni said. “If colleges had a program for autism that addresses specific skills for these kids, there would be people at the door waiting.”