Graduating CTE student Keeton Capling hasn’t let autism hold him back.

May 24, 2022

Graduating CTE student Keeton Capling hasn’t let autism hold him back.

By Kim Beardslee, Correspondent. 

West Shore School News is a presentation of West Shore Educational Service District in partnership with Mason County Press and Oceana County Press. 

High School seniors and families are currently celebrating their child’s accomplishments and graduating from high school.  Keeton Capling’s untypical journey of school success is a story of hope and perseverance. Keeton is a senior, living in Manistee, attending Manistee Catholic Central High School as well as attending West Shore Educational School District’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) where he is enrolled in the building trades class. 

When he was a child, Keeton was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). 

ASD constitutes a wide range of behaviors, cognition, and social interaction challenges. As a toddler, Keeton demonstrated sensory challenges and was non-verbal.  “I sought out independent evaluations and therapies in order to help Keeton to be successful,” his mother, Denny said. “I knew that if I didn’t do something, he would end up unemployable, living in our basement.”  

Keeton’s parents knew that intervention strategies were critical for their son’s ability to function as an adult. “We had to pay out-of-pocket for  evaluations and therapies and the costs became a financial challenge,” Denny said. “At the time, the cost of “ASD” treatments were not covered under private insurance”. The State of Michigan had not yet required insurance and medical coverage for a child diagnosed with ASD. The legislation mandating therapies for children with autism be covered by insurance for evidence-based treatments was not passed until March 30, 2012. By that date Keeton was already 9-years-old.  

When he’s not in school, Keeton likes to lift weights, bowl and to run. “I think I’m something like, in the top 16 of all the high school runners in the state in track,” he said.  He is also an avid coin collector and can share detailed information about coins and coin history. He has obtained his driver’s license. 

Around the house, he helps his dad. “I’m helping to remodel the utility room with my dad,” he said. 

“Discussions, intervention therapies around the topic of autism weren’t like they are today,” Denny said, reflecting on Keeton’s younger years. “I was learning as I went along.”

Within the school setting Keeton received speech and language pathologist (SLP) services as well as occupational therapy (OT) to address his sensory needs. His family also supplemented his services to include private speech and language services.  The family also participated in services through Arbor Autism Center, which offers the “PLAY Project”.  The “PLAY Project” website states that it provides “established and evidence-based, high-quality program that helps young children improve their language, development, behavior, social skills, and autism severity.” 

“We drove  Keeton to attend monthly sessions in Ann Arbor because that was one of the few resources specific to ASD that was available,” he said.

After completing a Young Fives program twice and kindergarten in public school, Keeton’s family chose to enroll him in the private school, Manistee Catholic Central, when he entered first grade. The decision for Keeton and his younger brother, Ryker, to attend Manistee Catholic Central, “was based on the offering of smaller class size and it is a faith-based, Christian school. That was important to us,” Denny said.  

During Keeton’s school participation at Manistee Catholic Central, Denny continued to advocate for special education services (SLP and OT) and established monthly team meetings for her to meet with staff that worked directly with Keeton.  An ASD Consultant was also included to discuss progress and to brainstorm accommodations for Keeton in order for him to progress in the general curriculum, and progress he did.

In tenth grade Keeton and his family began exploring the possibility of Keeton attending the CTE program.  During the 2020-2021 school year Keeton attended and completed the welding program. His welding skills have been observed by many and he has already had employers interested in hiring him for such skills.  

During the 2021-2022 school year, Keeton successfully completed the building trades program.

“Keeton demonstrates skills that employers seek in an employee,” said instructor Aaron Tarsa..”He has excellent focus on the task, is meticulous, and is easy to work with.”  

Shelby Hughes, work-based learning coordinator echoed Tarsa. “Keeton stands out because he is willing to learn new skills, advocates for himself, and demonstrates great punctuality and attendance. He has been known to be at his internship site half hour earlier than he needs to be. Employers have already approached Keeton to discuss job opportunities upon graduation.”

While completing the CTE trade programs Keeton also has participated in a work study program. His work placement through Manistee Catholic Central and CTE has been so successful that Keeton now participates two full school days in the work study program and is paid $14 an hour for his efforts.

Denny said Keeton’s school success has been a culmination of partnerships with schools, family, and agency supports, and many “checks” and “adjustments” along the way, but it is Keeton’s determination that has been integral to his success. 

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