Feature News

Student with autism making history as well as studying it

Apr 10, 2018

Graduation is always a celebration, but for Claire Svehla ’18, it’s coming as a surprise more than anything else.

Svehla was diagnosed at an early age with autism and struggled with speech growing up. Thanks to support from her parents, a speech therapist and teachers, she was able to overcome not only her difficulties with speech, but her own expectations.

A history major and theatre minor, Svehla is on track to graduate with honors this spring, and plans to attend the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee for museum studies.

“I never expected to be here graduating and going on to study something I love,” said Svehla. “If I could go back in time and tell myself all of this, I wouldn’t believe it.”

Svehla transferred to North Central from the College of DuPage, where she gained the support she needed to prepare for success in college.

At North Central, professors and advisors guided Svehla. She went to the Center for Student Success for help with a Spanish class she found difficult.

“The Center is committed to ensuring all students have access, opportunities, and resources to achieve their highest level of academic achievement,” said Sarah Alag, director of Student Disability Services. “We are excited to watch students grow into confident learners.”

The Center for Student Success offers services for every student at North Central, including academic advising support and programs through the Writing Center and Math Resource Center.

For students with a documented disability, the Center also works on a case-by-case basis to help students achieve educational goals and participate in extracurricular activities.

“Students shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help at North Central,” said Svehla. “Everyone is here to help you succeed.”

Ann Durkin Keating, Dr. C. Frederick Toenniges Professor of History, has played an important role in Svehla’s time at North Central.

“Claire is engaged and driven. She knows what she wants to do and is focused on doing it,” said Keating. “She isn’t afraid to ask questions, and it benefits the whole class to take a new approach when exploring a topic.”

Svehla has embraced public history while at North Central, working in the Archives in Oesterle Library and contributing on a project to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the College’s radio station, WONC-FM 89.1, in May.

“I have been tremendously impressed with her work,” said Keating. “Claire is easy to work with and her dedication is remarkable.”

“Autism isn’t something that can necessarily be cured, and I still struggle with recognizing social cues and body language,” said Svehla. “Given the right tools, people can live and succeed with it. North Central has helped me envision myself as a future historian.”

Mark Mullane '17/M '19