Asperger’s Syndrome is something most people don’t even know how to say, much less what it is. But Miguel Angel and Carlos Cavazos know all too well because they live with the form of Autism every day. The twin brothers from Las Milpas didn’t let it slow them down though. Rather, it helped them do the extraordinary — graduate from South Texas College with associate degrees in engineering weeks before earning their high school diplomas.
“This is a major accomplishment because we survived two years of hard college material with good grades,” said Carlos. “We succeeded.”
Although they are ready to celebrate a big milestone, the road to success has not been easy for the brothers of their mother, Virginia.
“Ever since they were young, they were always together and I could never understand why they only enjoyed each others’ company,” she said. “They wouldn’t like to be around other people or talk to them.”
It took 12 years and a tremendous disease to overcome before Virginia would get her answer.
“Carlos became very ill with Guillen Barre Syndrome, in which your body’s immune system attacks your nerves; he was so ill that he was wheelchair-bound and then paralyzed,” she explained. “My son Miguel Angel never left his side and pushed him around school in his wheelchair, and then insisted on staying with him and being homeschooled when Carlos could no longer leave the house.
“During that time, which was very difficult for us all, we saw many doctors to help Carlos get better,” she continued. “Eventually we saw a neurologist who diagnosed Carlos, and then Miguel Angel, with Asperger’s Syndrome. He said there was a reason they didn’t like socialization or being at school — Autism.”
The diagnosis didn’t change the boys’ situation at school though.
“We were able to get them help with tutoring and other services, but in fact, they were still victims because the kids they were surrounded by had no clue about their disease,” Virginia explained. “They were ignorant and so Miguel Angel and Carlos have, unfortunately, been in many hostile situations, even since the diagnosis. That is very hard on them.”
Despite their disorder, the twins excelled in school and qualified for South Texas College’s Dual Enrollment Engineering Academy, an opportunity that showed them that life and school can be different.
“When they entered college, they left the hostility behind them,” Virginia joyfully said. “The people they are surrounded by are more mature and aware of their illness. They have no problems with anyone and they have friends in the community now.”
The 17-year-old brothers have thrived in a newfound existence.
“What we enjoy most about school is the knowledge we gain and the opportunity to communicate with other people,” explained Miguel Angel.
“What I like about college and DEEA is the fact that we are advancing and are several steps beyond other high school students,” said Carlos.
“And it’s not only the opportunity to communicate with others, but the opportunity to mature and advance as human beings,” added Miguel Angel.
STC’s DEEA staff has worked hard to ensure the brothers have access to all the counseling, advising and academic support needed for success.
“I enjoy the classes, and the tutorials and services offered are excellent,” said Miguel Angel. “With the tutoring, I like the fact that the tutors ensure we understand how to solve the problems, not just help us with our homework.”
“Miguel Angel and Carlos love going to school now,” added their mother. “They often say that they want to stay at STC and they that would feel odd if they studied at another college. They feel comfortable at the campus. They have all the tools they need to succeed. They are very grateful to the program staff – they are not just part of the campus staff, they are part of their lives.”
However, the main source of support through their time in college has been each other.
“Going through the program together has increased our bond because we rely on each other to help each other with everything,” said Carlos. “We deal with the same homework and problems and we technically work together to make it through.”
“Carlos is my best friend and I can almost confide in him for everything,” said Miguel Angel.
“We share our secrets, we live our lives together and we share our thoughts so we can help each other,” added Carlos.
But the college graduates can’t take all the credit for their success.
“Mom has been like our guardian angel,” said Carlos. “She’s been there for us whenever we needed help.”
“She supports us anyway she can unconditionally,” added Miguel Angel.
Their struggles and triumphs have left a mark on the hearts of all STC staff and faculty, but in particular, Dr. Shirley A. Reed, college president, who has selected the brothers as the 2010 Presidential Inspirational Achievement Awards winners. The award comes with a $1,000 scholarship for each brother personally funded by Dr. Reed to support the brothers’ continued education.
“Having personally met Carlos, Miguel Angel and Virginia and hearing from many faculty and staff about this family, you can’t help but admire the courage and commitment put forth by them to create a better life for themselves,” said Reed. “During my three decades in education, I have heard many say that college is too hard; that the effort is too great; that the struggles are too big. I hope that this family serves as a role model that no obstacle is insurmountable if your desire is great enough.
“I am so touched by the love the DEEA staff and faculty have shown for Carlos and Miguel Angel and I commend each of them, as well, for their dedication to making opportunities available for all our students,” she continued. “Its special students like these with beautiful minds and hearts of gold that make our jobs as educators worthwhile. We thank them for their commitment, congratulate them on their accomplishments and look forward to seeing them change live and communities for the better.”
“We were surprised and pleased,” said Miguel Angel of learning about the award from Dr. Reed. “I am pretty proud.”
“I am happy to receive the award because it means people respect all the sacrifices I made,” added Carlos.
Now what lies ahead for them? Limitless possibilities.
“We look forward to attending classes at The University of Texas-Pan American and meeting new people,” expressed Miguel Angel.
“I look forward to the college experience because I want to train myself to become my own man,” said Carlos. “Sooner or later I need to live on my own.”
“I would like to go to medical school,” Miguel Angel shared. “I have been thinking about being either a cardiologist or neurologist. The heart seems like the most interesting organ because it controls your body and I want to know how it works and why it’s so vital. As for being a neurologist, if you study the brain, you are learning why and how human beings do anything.”
For their mother, she is content to rejoice in their current, major accomplishments.
“All I can say is that I’m grateful for having such wonderful kids and they have been a blessing,” she concluded. “My life is committed to them. I want to give thanks to the people that gave them the opportunity of a lifetime. I’m proud of my kids and that’s all I can say to anyone.”