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Curtiss makes it to top of his class
Incoming Manteca High freshman Curtiss Beyers who happens to be autistic holds his 8th grade promotion plaque while wearing his honors cord. - photo by HIME ROMERO

He can’t.

He won’t.

He never will.

Those were the words that accompanied a doctor’s diagnosis of Manteca High freshman Curtiss Beyers, then a slow-to-develop 2 ½-year-old falling further and farther behind a cousin close in age.

Curtiss had learned to walk, yet suddenly refused after taking a spill and bumping his head. Instead, he scooted about the house, dragging his body from Point A to Point B. He had several food allergies and struggled to maintain eye contact with others.

“My mom recognized it first,” said Andi Beyers, Curtiss’ mother. “... My mom said there was something strange about him.”

Strange, but not uncommon.

Curtiss’ symptoms were consistent with those on the Autism spectrum, and that was precisely the diagnosis his parents, Andi and Kevin Beyers, received.

Autism is a developmental disability that affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others and is often detected in children in their first three years, according to the Autism Society.

A study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention last year revealed the seriousness and prevalence of autism. It was found once in every 88 births, an alarming ratio that comes with a heavy price tag.

That was the world the Beyers entered into that fateful day, a life framed by doctor’s visits, leg braces, medication, special education, sometimes violent mood swings and personal aides.

Curtiss would, according to professional opinion, have trouble speaking and communicating with his peers. The Beyers were also told not to anticipate those milestone moments every parent wishes for their child.

“The doctor’s words were he’ll never acquire the concept of language,” Andi said, playing back the conversation. “In other words, he’ll never speak; never understand anything spoken to him.

“We were told we shouldn’t hope for him to achieve things like graduation.”

The diagnosis was damning and hard to hear, especially for young parents with high hopes for their only child.

Yet, it only strengthened the Beyers’ resolve – and their hopes and dreams for young Curtiss.

“It wasn’t disheartening,” said Andi Beyers, who was raised around disorder. Many of her childhood friends were developmentally delayed, she said, of which the closest was deaf, blind and mute.

“We knew he was capable. As long as our son is doing his best, he can’t disappoint us. As long as he’s trying, he can’t disappoint us.”

Well, try this on: Curtiss is now 15 and everything his doctor said he wouldn’t be. He’s talkative and energetic, curious and almost free of inhibition.

He’s smart, too.

On a timid summer evening, Curtiss bounced about the living room, clutching a wood plaque with the phrase “Challenge your horizons” stamped below a photo.

He points to the boy with a mega-watt smile; the one shaking hands with school officials.

“That’s me,” he said, “Curtiss.”

Around his neck, he wore an honor cord and academic medallion.

The kid who wouldn’t amount to much because of a developmental disorder rose to the head of his class.

Curtiss graduated from Stella Brockman earlier this month with an armful of accolades, most of which have been framed for a makeshift Wall of Fame amid the clutter and collections in the Beyers’ household.

The cord signified his place on the school’s Honor Roll for all four quarters. He graduated with 3.68 GPA, while mainstreaming into traditional classrooms. He earned the Teacher’s Choice award and was a four-time recipient of the Character Counts award.

Curtiss also achieved a perfect score on the school’s math exam. “He is a math savant,” Andi said.

Oh, but Curtiss won’t speak ... Curtiss won’t ever grasp the concept of language?

He not only communicated with his teachers and fellow students, but he proved charismatic and compassionate and at times, a regular Chatty Cathy as he toured the Silverado Drive campus.

Para-professional Michelle Cordova was Curtiss’ aide at Stella Brockman this past year. She watched with awe as Curtiss defied the limitations of his condition, blossoming socially — a trait often stunted in most children with Autism.

“He’s really caring. What shocked me, I would be walking around with him and if he would see someone sad or down or not having a good day, he would immediately go to them,” Cordova said. “He’d ask them what was wrong. He’d tell a joke and make them laugh.

“Once you meet him, he’s such a joy to be around.”

Curtiss can do more than speak. He can sing, too, in seven different languages: English, Spanish, French, sign language, Hindi, Zulu and Swahili.

He is a regular living-room performer and a natural entertainer.

Standing atop a foot stool in front of the TV, Curtiss recently belted the words to “Wind Beneath My Wings.” For added effect, he pulled a microphone from the tangle of wires on the TV stand’s shelf.

“People who hear ‘autistic’ automatically think you’re stupid or something,” Andi said. “People that know Curtiss have learned that you can overcome obstacles. That doctor learned not to say you’ll never do it.

“He shows people that he’s autistic – not disabled. We won’t let him be disabled; he’s challenged. There have been a lot people who have told us he’s been an inspiration.”

Not bad for a kid once told he can’t … he won’t … he never will. Instead, Curtiss has replaced those three words with three tenets, which act as pillars in his everyday life.

His mantra: “I can with practice and hard work and imagination. Don’t say ‘can’t.’ ”