Student with Autism Says Her Teachers Made All the Difference

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This story is part of a series of profiles the Ventura County Office of Education is presenting about outstanding graduating seniors in the Class of 2021.

Carissa-TritonCarissa Llamas has a bright smile that lights up the room. She’s a confident speaker who has no trouble expressing herself. And she also has autism.
As she prepares to complete four years of high school at Triton Academy in Camarillo, she says she’s come a long way from a time when she was more withdrawn and less social. And she credits her teachers with helping her come out of her shell.

In particular, she wants to thank Triton Academy teacher Adam Underberger. “He’s just a really cool guy,” she says. “He’s very helpful and understanding. He helped me become a better person by teaching me how to cope and by being there for me.” Carissa says he was someone she could count on whenever she was feeling uncertain. “He said everything will be OK. We’ll help you, we’ll support you, and we’ll get you there. And I believed in myself that I could do it.”

class-of-2021Before enrolling at Triton Academy for high school, Carissa attended Phoenix School in Moorpark. Both schools are operated by the Ventura County Office of Education and provide specialized educational and support services for students with disabilities.

Carissa says she’s been so encouraged by her teachers that she wants to pursue a teaching career herself. “Over the past four years, I’ve been inspired by my teachers. I love when they teach me new things, and it motivated me to be a teacher.” She’ll continue working toward that goal next year at a program in Simi Valley that provides continuing education and job training for young adults with disabilities.

With her high school journey coming to an end, Carissa has a message for teachers who work with students like her. “I want to thank all the teaches who are in special education. I want them to never give up on their career because it’s very important,” she says. “Kids with autism need that support, and I want to give a shout out to all the teachers that help us to grow.”

Carissa also wants everyone to know that autism isn’t something to fear. She says she now considers it a gift. “I’m very proud of myself. I’m not scared or worried. It’s just who I am, and I accept myself.”


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