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Grad finds real-life application for studies after son diagnosed with Asperger syndrome
May 16, 2014
It's more than fair to say that Alicia Ead of Lincoln has her hands full. Nevertheless, the mother of two and full-time Community College of Rhode Island student has refused to let that hold her back from chasing her dreams, even when it seemed like there weren't enough hours in the day to attend to her family obligations, let alone her schoolwork and field placement.
In fact, it has made her hold on more fiercely than ever to the idea of finishing her associate degree in Education/Special Education, which she will earn today.
Last year, when she was taking classes at the Flanagan Campus in Lincoln, she saw staff setting up the stage for a pinning ceremony for graduates of some of the college's allied health and dental programs. "I couldn't help but smile every time I walked by that space. I couldn't help but think about how it was going to be me someday," Ead recalled. "Continuing with my education has been what's kept me going; it's what I'm doing for myself."
Ead, 29, said that she has always wanted to be a teacher; she has known since she was in elementary school that education was the field for her. Her interest in special education came later, as she became fascinated by psychology and developmental process, learning about how the mind did or did not develop.
But her educational path would turn out to intertwine with her personal path in a way that Ead never could have anticipated when her 7-year-old son, Yunus, was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome last July. Although the toll his diagnosis took on her emotional life and her already cramped schedule – Yunus needs continuing social skills counseling, for example – Ead said she knew that finishing her degree would help Yunus just as much as it would help her.
"The things that I'm learning in school are things that I'm implementing at home on a daily basis," she said. When the time came to devise an appropriate individualized learning plan for his specific obstacles, Ead found that she had a better understanding of his needs and of the strategies to employ because of her classes at CCRI. And the relief that she and her husband, Mukhlis, finally have after years of knowing Yunus was different – but not being able to label exactly why or work to alleviate some of the pain it caused him – is tremendous.
Life in the classroom hasn't been all about the course material for Ead, though. She said that one of the most valuable things she received from her education was the opportunity to learn more about what she was capable of. She had taken a five-year break before coming back to school, not putting too much pressure on her re-entry at first, but when she got an "A" in her first course, Chemical Technology I, she felt a burst of confidence that would help carry her forward.
"My professors believed in me when I didn't really know how great I could be, and that really meant a lot," she said, recalling that it was Professor John A. Worsley who challenged her to reach higher, encouraging her to apply to Brown.
While Ead still awaits the admissions decision from Brown University, she has much to be proud of. Her record boasts a 3.98 GPA and membership in the Phi Theta Kappa honors society in addition to all of the volunteer hours she puts in at her children's school (she and her husband also have a daughter, 6-year-old Ameenah) as well as with the Autism Project.
"My message is about overcoming obstacles," she said. "Everything that has been thrown my way, I've felt like I couldn't do it. But I've learned that I can do it."
Her enthusiasm is infectious: She encouraged her husband, who owns a convenience store in Woonsocket, to return to school, and he is in the process of getting an IT Support Specialist certificate at the college now.
She said that apart from encouragement from her professors, she couldn't have made it through her schooling without her husband, who is extremely supportive of her and helps out at home and with the kids. As Ead continues on with her plan – which will eventually include a master's, she said – she hopes to continue to give back by teaching, volunteering and spreading her message about the importance of education.
"My advice to anybody would be to just get started," she said of going back to school. "And once you're there, just keep going. Things are always going to come up and prevent you from attending college if you let them, but I think that coming to CCRI has been an important journey, and definitely more than just an academic one."
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