Henry Clay graduate cleared several hurdles to complete education

jwarren@herald-leader.comMay 23, 2013 

When Martin Weaver crosses the stage during Henry Clay High School's 2013 graduation ceremonies at Rupp Arena Saturday afternoon, his mother, Suzanne Weaver, will give him his diploma.

It will be a special moment for both. Martin will end his high school career on a high note; his mom will savor the pleasure of seeing her son graduate after so many struggles.

Martin, 18, has what is generally called high functioning autism-spectrum disorder. Those with the disorder typically have average to above-average intelligence but struggle with social interactions.

Martin mastered his academic work despite some learning difficulties. However, he endured plenty of ups and downs with social skills and working with others.

"We've been through a lot together from pre-school on up," Suzanne Weaver said. Weaver, who teaches at Henry Clay, had Martin in two of her classes this year.

Martin, the oldest of Paul and Suzanne Weaver's three children, will be a freshman this fall at Eastern Kentucky University, where he hopes to study computer science with a particular emphasis in graphics. He plans to be a part of Project Success, a special program at EKU that offers academic coaching, tutoring and other support for students who have learning disabilities.

Martin likes to make things with Legos — he even called the parent firm in Denmark to inquire about how to become a company engineer — and he is interested in designing computer games.

"I have all these ideas for games in my mind," he said.

He expects to stay busy over the summer while waiting for college to start.

Martin will be a volunteer with Kentucky Changers, a program coordinated by the Kentucky Baptist Convention in which students and young adults do free home maintenance and repair for needy people throughout the state.

Martin says he has to do some work this summer to earn his certification as an Eagle Scout, the highest rank available in the Boy Scouts of America. He hopes to able to sew on his Eagle patch before heading for EKU this fall.

But he also plans to spend plenty of time hanging out with his sister, Annika, 11, and brother, Caleb, 14. The three are very close, their parents said.

Suzanne Weaver said Martin is a faithful viewer of the network TV comedy The Big Bang Theory. He identifies with one character in particular: Sheldon Cooper, a brilliant theoretical physicist with zero social skills. Some viewers have speculated that Cooper has high-functioning autism.

Suzanne Weaver said that when Martin does something a little awkward socially now, he often laughs and says, 'That was very Sheldon of me, wasn't it, Mom?"

There were times during Martin's education when the future seemed in doubt. At one point, Suzanne Weaver dropped work on her doctorate to concentrate on helping her son.

"I joke with him that if I hadn't stopped working on my doctorate, we'd both be graduating at the same time," she said. "But his was more important than mine."

Martin began his education in the Jessamine County Public Schools, where teachers first noticed that he had learning difficulties. He was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder after transferring to the Fayette County Schools.

By the time Martin reached high school, he seemed to be on a roll, earning a 3.8 GPA his freshman year at Henry Clay. But halfway through his sophomore year, the bottom fell out.

"We think it was hormonal, or perhaps changes in his medication, or just his body growing," his mother said. "But he struggled, and his grades really fell off. For a while, we weren't even sure he'd be able to finish at a standard high school."

Martin, however, pulled things back together, and he pushed on to complete his high school requirements.

Suzanne Weaver said her son had extensive support from staffers at Henry Clay, and she's grateful to school officials for allowing her to present Martin with his diploma on Saturday.

Now, Martin is looking forward to being a college student, living in a dormitory and taking on new challenges.

"I'll probably feel like a minnow in a very big stream at first," he said.

But probably not for long.

Jim Warren: (859) 231-3255.

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