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La Salle senior a leader in the classroom despite autism

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May 11, 2011

By David Eck

ST. MARY MARGARET DEANERY — With a smile and quick nod, La Salle High School senior Matthew Westermeyer delivers a daily joke each morning as part of the announcements broadcast over the school’s closed-circuit television system. It’s usually a groaner, but the students tend to chuckle.


“I like giving them a laugh,” said Westermeyer, who has autism. “It gives them a good laugh to start off the day.”


 Matthew Westermeyer (Courtesy photo)

Being a fixture on television has gotten Westermeyer noticed, but his perseverance in the classroom has made him a role model. He has never missed a day of class, has maintained a high grade point average throughout his high school career and is willing to do what he can to help others.


Westermeyer is in a La Salle program that enables students with learning challenges to take college preparatory courses in smaller classes at a slower pace and with more support. Still, he has taken a full load of courses including four years of English, science and math. He has also taken Spanish and two years of accounting.


“Academically, Matthew has always done superior work,” said Maureen Johnston, Westermeyer’s guidance counselor at La Salle. “Matthew takes his academic responsibilities very seriously. I doubt he’s ever had a late assignment and he’s never earned less than an ‘A’ in any of his classes. He is as diligent and responsible and conscientious as a student could ever be.”


He is willing accept challenges, Johnston said, such as taking a second year of accounting.


Westermeyer studies hard, is optimistic and remains focused on his class assignments. He seeks out help when he needs it and uses a variety of learning styles, like flash cards.


He enjoys drawing and has developed an aptitude for numbers. He and Daniel Scott, another student who is taking accounting, are interning at a local law office doing such things as checking account reconciliation and preparing bank deposits. Westermeyer has a strong memory when it comes to facts and topics, rattling off concepts about government.


“He copes by his recognition of his strengths,” Johnston said. “Like everybody, he plays to his strengths, and that’s how he manages his life. He does what he does very well and he capitalizes on what he knows he does well.”


While he was nervous about attending LaSalle, Westermeyer said, he found an inclusive and supportive atmosphere at the school. Students help and look out for one another. He’s made plenty of friends and relates well to the student body.


“I think, in general, they are very accepting people,” Johnston said. “It wasn’t that they had to grow to accept him. From the beginning, that’s just the atmosphere at this school.”


Westermeyer’s brother, Aaron, is a sophomore at La Salle. When Westermeyer’s family was looking into sending their son to La Salle, Johnston recalled, there was some concern about his participation in gym classes. But there was never a problem and students always included him in the activities.


At a recent banquet, the Autism Society of Greater Cincinnati recognized Westermeyer and several of his classmates attended the event to support him.


“Everybody at La Salle likes Matt,” said Tom Doerger, director of guidance. “To see the way Matt’s been befriended by the other kids is neat.”


Westermeyer’s parents, Annie and Joel, are looking forward to their son’s graduation. They remember doctors and therapists telling them that it would be difficult for him to make it through elementary school, much less graduate from high school. They said La Salle provided their son with a welcoming environment that gave him confidence and enabled him to thrive.


“I think he’s had a marvelous experience,” Annie Westermeyer said. “He could have never achieved what he achieved anywhere else. It was the perfect place for him.”


In addition to Aaron, the family includes a daughter, Mary Beth, who is a student at the University of Cincinnati.


A member of St. Martin of Tours Parish in Cheviot, Westermeyer volunteers at Mount Airy Elementary School as part of his La Salle religion class. He also volunteers monthly at the soup kitchen and helps during the summer vacation Bible school at St. Peter and St. Paul United Church of Christ in Cincinnati. He’s a frequent blood donor.


“I help out other people besides myself,” Westmeyer said. “As we serve others, we serve Christ at the same time. One of my main concerns is pleasing God.”


 David Eck can be reached at [email protected].

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