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Defying the odds: Teenager graduates from Princeton Senior High despite autism diagnosis

Bluefield Daily Telegraph - 6/4/2019

June 04-- Jun. 4--PRINCETON -- A local teenager is defying all odds and achieving greatness through hard work.

Elijah Jennings, 18, of Princeton, has not only overcome limitations set on him but has also begun paving the road for his future. While Eli's graduation from Princeton Senior High School in May is impressive enough, Eli did so with a diagnosis of autism.

At the age of three, Eli was diagnosed with moderate to severe autism and was given many limitations by doctors. According to his doctors, Eli was never expected to read past a fifth-grade level let alone graduate from high school. Eli's graduation is ever more considerable when you take into account that he did so in standard classes.

"No one ever expected him to graduate with good grades in regular classes," Eli's mother, Beth Jennings, said. Despite his obstacles, Eli worked harder than anyone ever imagined.

According to Beth, Eli's younger years were rather quiet, as he didn't fully speak, other than mimic speech or one-word answers, until the age of five. Eli was also globally delayed meaning he developed slower than children without autism. These slow developments can include speech, motor skills, social skills, and more.

Beth, who works in the mental health field, knew that Eli needed help to overcome this diagnosis. With programs such as early learning, speech therapy, and occupational therapy, Eli was given the opportunities he needs.

"Early interception has helped him," Beth said, "We don't want to cure him, it's part of who he is."

In standard classes, Eli not only completed all of his work, but he also did so with an impressive grade point average. "It's unheard of, it's a miracle," Beth said.

Of Eli's academic accomplishments, he has found noteworthy abilities with both math and reading. To prove his hard word, Eli made a 27 in the reading category of his ACT, putting him in the 80th percentile ranking of the reading ACT section. This blows his previous limitation of never surpassing a fifth-grade reading level out of the water.

For his future, Eli has decided to continue his education through college. Not only has he decided that he wants to go to college, but he has also met all the requirements to attend Concord University.

According to Beth, Marshall University started an Autism training program which has been carried over to Concord for several years. Eli has made all the requirements for the four-year program and is set to attend the university. As for his field of study, Eli is interested in the field of computer programming, though he still has plenty of time to make his decision.

Despite having his family continually remind him how proud they are, Beth stated that there has been little to no other recognition of his accomplishments. Beth believes that students like Eli should be recognized for the work they do to surpass their disabilities. Though they are in standard classes they are working through things that the standard students aren't.

"Eli and the other kids like him are underestimated," Beth said, "Eli got accepted to Concord in his own merit but there's nothing for him in his achievements." On events such as awards day, Beth believes that students overcoming disabilities and diagnoses should be recognized for the obstacles they conquer.

Of Eli's accomplishments, Beth said, "It's such an amazing thing. There should be something to recognize Eli, and students like him, but also so these kids have someone to look up to."

As a word of advice to others with autism or any diagnosis, Eli said, "Just try to strive for better. A disability doesn't limit your options it just makes them harder." As Eli looks back on his time in school prior to graduating, another nugget of wisdom was formed, "If you keep trying you might even achieve greatness."

Of his aforementioned possible focus of study, Eli said he is looking forward to becoming a mountain lion. What he's looking forward to most is to, "Find a group to fit in with."

Eli and students similar to him are the perfect examples of hard work paying off. Not only is Eli a prime example of hard work but he is also the poster child of how a diagnosis is a factor of life and not a limitation.

-- Contact Emily D. Coppola at ecoppola@bdtonline.com

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(c)2019 the Bluefield Daily Telegraph (Bluefield, W.Va.)

Visit the Bluefield Daily Telegraph (Bluefield, W.Va.) at bdtonline.com

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