Autistic man overcomes odds to become a TSC graduate

After years of struggling to find acceptance and people who believed in him, Christian Lopez found what he needed to propel him to success at Texas Southmost College.

“Some people did not believe in the autistic boy, but my home and TSC family believed in the autistic man,” said the 21-year-old. “I always felt like I belonged at TSC.”

Lopez will earn his associate degree in Architecture on May 15 during TSC’s spring 2021 virtual commencement ceremony, proving to himself and those that doubted him that he could become a college graduate.

He said he recently learned many in his own family had doubts about him even getting past middle school, a realization that shook him to the core.

“I love everyone in my family so much, so to learn this was hard, but what I have just done is prove to myself and to them that I can do whatever I set my mind to,” said the Brownsville native. “I grew up knowing I was different. Life and learning with autism isn’t easy, but it isn’t impossible either.”

Growing up with Asperger syndrome on the autism spectrum, Lopez struggled daily with anxiety, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and depression, making it hard to learn, pass tests and make friends.

Although he struggled in some areas, math and science were always his strong subjects leading him into a career in architecture.

“My dream was to always become a chef and restaurant owner, and while I haven’t given up on that dream, TSC allowed me to find another career path,” he said. “I have to admit I had doubts about myself and my skills coming into college, but I quickly learned all I needed was a great support team.”

Lopez found the support he needed in TSC’s Student Accessibility Services department and his Architecture instructors and peers.

TSC’s Accessibility Services helped Lopez with extended testing times and quiet rooms to ease his testing anxieties that throughout his life had been debilitating. TSC staff also served as a liaison between him and his instructors at the beginning of his college journey.

“Doing well in school depends a lot on how you test, which is why there were doubts I could even be a college student,” he said. “The doubt came from me mostly and other external sources, but the people at TSC never doubted me and were able to teach me so much about my strengths and how to focus less on my weaknesses.”

Lopez said throughout the two years it took him to earn his associate degree he learned how to advocate for himself, directly communicate with his instructors and peers, how to work well under pressure and be more independent.

“Had it not been for the help I received at TSC, I don’t think I’d be where I am today,” he said. “Every time life got hard, or I felt like quitting, I had people cheering me on and that made all of the difference. Now, I have an overwhelming sense of joy and I genuinely feel happy. I haven’t felt that in a really long time.”

He added that ultimately, it was his mom, who is a University of Texas at Brownsville/TSC alumna, and his brother, that gave him the drive he needed to finish strong.

“I still have a long road ahead of me, but I’m confident now that I have the skills to get the job, start my career and find success,” said Lopez. “From working at an architecture firm to designing my own restaurant someday, I have many goals. But my ultimate goal is to work hard so that I can buy my mom a brand-new house and support her the way she has me. It’s now possible because of TSC.”

Lopez is one of more than 560 TSC students who earned a certificate or associate degree during TSC’s spring 2021 virtual commencement ceremony on May 15.