11:23 AM

Student with Learning Disabilities Goes to College

Jason Quintanilla Keeps Learning through Pragmatic Studies

Jason Quintanilla, Pragmatic Studies studentAs a youngster, it was clear that Jason Quintanilla was not like most other kids. He remembers being an especially “wild and hyper child.” The diagnosis was autism. Throughout school, he was one of the students with learning differences. Following high school, the high-energy jokester had a job working at McDonald’s, but anything beyond that seemed out of reach. He found himself between a rock and a hard place: too high functioning for a community college vocational program but needing more support than a traditional college setting offered.

Pragmatic Studies to the Rescue

Quintanilla’s grandmother spotted a social media post by the University of St. Thomas-Houston about an innovative new associate degree program for students like Jason. So he signed up, excited to be attending a “real” college. The two-year program is called the Associate of Applied Science in Pragmatic Studies degree and it prepares students to be socially responsible citizens.

The 21-year-old said, “They have a different way of teaching that makes me really think and focus. Plus, I gotta thank Dr. Tera Torres for getting me a reading tutor. I really struggled with reading before. A part of me didn’t want to read, and a part of me didn’t know how.”

Out-of-the-Box Instruction

Dr. Tera Torres, UST's Kolbe School Pragmatic Studies Program Chair, said, “Without this particular degree at UST, college would not have been an option for Jason and other students like him. They can get pigeon-holed and stuck there. Pragmatic Studies keeps them growing by providing personalized learning support and Universal Design principles, which allow us to modify curriculum appropriately.”

For example, to demonstrate their knowledge following a lesson, some students might create a vision board, a traditional PowerPoint presentation, or a video. Quintanilla is a gifted artist and sculptor, so he is encouraged to present an art project. After a recent lesson about coral reefs, he fashioned a fantastic sculpture out of green clay.

“I love doing these sculptures because they express how I truly feel and what I think,” Quintanilla explained. “For the coral reef project, I decided to put little details there, including how an old shipwreck became a coral reef. And that became a home to many different creatures. The main body of the art is a giant manta ray-humanoid figure with one wing spread over the fish to protect endangered species, including the coral reefs.”

Doing What Everyone Does

“Jason is doing what just about everyone his age is doing—having the college experience," Dr. Torres said. "If you have the skills and want to go, why can’t you go? What happens to people who do life differently and can’t go to college? He’s getting learning experience, not just graduating from high school and staying at home with the family.”

Dr. Torres believes Quintanilla’s future is staying in the art realm somehow.

Quintanilla will be 23 when he finishes the program. Still working at McDonald’s, he is upbeat and optimistic about what might come down the road.

He smiled broadly, “Let’s see what life has in store for me next. Surprise me!”