Breaking Barriers 4

Inspiring young man speaks from experience.

“The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity.” – Amelia Earhart

Paul Griffin’s love for airplanes and his tenacious nature brings Amelia Earhart among others, to mind.

The 28-year-old was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome at age 12. Prior to that, some teachers and others he interacted with, including a summer camp counselor, had given up on him, labelling him “mentally challenged” or “uncooperative.”

“It was touch and go in elementary school,” says his mom, Marsha Griffin. “There were some fabulous and supportive teachers who filled all the holes – there was one we nicknamed the Swiss cheese teacher because of that – and then there were those ones who quickly dismissed Paul’s capabilities to finish middle school, then high school.”

At Agoura High School, his mom recalled some teachers didn’t want Griffin in college preparatory classes, but she lobbied for it. He graduated from Agoura High School with a 3.8 GPA and went on to major in sociology, graduating from University of California-Santa Barbara in 2012.

“It paved the way for many others. Before Paul came along, the school district didn’t even have a program in place for children with Asperger’s Syndrome since so little was written up about it pre-Google search, in the 90s,” says Marsha, who also has a daughter four years younger than Paul.

“No one had ever heard of Asperger’s before,” says Paul, recalling one school aide’s innocent question to his mom, “What is Asperger’s?”

It was at UCSB, at the Koegel Autism Center, that Paul experienced breakthrough therapies under the direction of Dr. Lynn Koegel. Marsha recalled Paul going through video modeling to identify areas of improvement, such as eye contact, while in conversation with a clinician.

Paul also recalled his daily living checklist back then which provided much-needed structure to college life. Simple things such as setting a daily alarm has helped his routine to this day.

Fast forward to 2015, Paul accepts speaking engagements around the state, having been recently invited to speak at UCSB, California State University-Channel Islands and Stanford University, about autism spectrum disorders and breaking down barriers to success.

“Autism is a spectrum,” explains Marsha. “Just like any disability, people’s expectations should be based on a person’s ability.”

Paul works with a speech coach in fine-tuning his message and getting his struggles and success with autism across to a rapt audience of students and academia. “At Stanford, he was the only non-Ph.D. on the docket and he was mobbed after. People were just so eager to talk to him,” says Marsha.

“I want people to know that success is possible. It just takes hard work and time,” he says. “Don’t listen to the naysayers who think you won’t succeed.”

Part of his core speech are his three pillars of success: find a strong, motivated advocate in your life; set high expectations and find the resources necessary and use it to the fullest.

He sees himself expanding his speaking tour, fine-tuning his blog (SuccessOnTheAutismSpectrum.com), owning income-generating commercial real estate in the future, flying or riding high on horses or airplanes, and continuing to break down any barriers in his way.