DIXON – Struggling in social and educational environments is nothing new for Samantha Poe.
The 24-year-old Sauk Valley Community College art student from Leaf River has Asperger's syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism.
Asperger's complicates social interactions, affecting a person's ability to understand and navigate social and emotional situations. It often is not diagnosed until the child or adult begins to have serious difficulties in school, the workplace or personal life.
April is Autism Awareness Month, and Poe is more than willing to share her educational experiences in hopes of spreading awareness.
In seventh grade, she was sent to the Chana Education Center in Ogle County, which helps develop social, emotional and academic skills. She remained at Chana until her last semester at Forreston High School.
Her Asperger's has become more manageable over the years, but she still struggles with the every day social interactions that many take for granted.
Poe credits her improvement to maturity.
"In high school, I was much more off the walls than I am now. I would shout random things in class; things were 10 times as worse than now," she said.
"For me, Asperger's makes communication with people awkward, I tend to make a lot of tuna fish and pizza roll jokes. The jokes help me exercise my nervousness to feel a little less awkward.
"If I do something that is socially unacceptable, people see me using Asperger's as an excuse for my behavior, and not a reason. Most people are pretty understanding, and I want people to know that I can change and that I do learn from my mistakes."
Sauk also has resources for students with disabilities. The Association for Disability Awareness Club, for example, offers a support system for students with learning differences and challenges.
It's also dedicated to removing social stereotypes about people with disabilities, said ADA adviser Sandra Geiseman, 44, of Freeport.
"The club is open to all students to heighten awareness, this is a place to not feel judged, to vent and share resources," Geiseman said.
Now in her third year at Sauk, Poe has big plans for her future.
"I want to go to Northern Illinois University to study graphic design and other studio art classes," she said. "I don't really have a dream job, but I want to do graphic design and maybe create art on the side."
Last year she won an award for a self-portrait that then was displayed in the school president's office, and one of her works, a surrealist piece called "Dream Synthesis," hangs in Sauk's art gallery.
"Originally I wasn't intending on selling my art, but someone asked if they could buy it for $50, so I said that will work."
TO LEARN MORE
Go to autism-society.org for more information on autism.
To learn more about Sauk Valley Community College's ADA Club, contact Sandra Geiseman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 815-835-6246.
ANOTHER LOCAL RESOURCE
Florissa, 144 North Court in Dixon, is a centralized service facility for kids newborn to 18 years with developmental, behavioral, social or emotional needs. While it works in partnership with KSB Hospital and Sinnissippi Centers, its main goal is to provide evaluation, diagnosis and treatment under one roof.
Partner organizations also include Kreider Services, the Lee County Health Department, the Lee County Special Education Association and the Ogle County Educational Cooperative.
It also receives some funding from The Autism Program of Illinois, the Office of Rural Health Policy, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service's Health Resources and Services Administration, and the Illinois Children’s Healthcare Foundation.
The center is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Friday, and by appointment.
Find it on Facebook, go to florissacenter.org or call 815-288-1905 to learn more.