A Dubbo student has endured a long and arduous journey but emerged to become a school captain and an inspiration.
For Marcello Davis childhood seems like a “lifetime ago”, but the Asperger’s-diagnosed 15-year-old clearly recollects some difficult times from an early age.
The Dubbo College South Campus captain shared his story this month to give hope to others suffering autism spectrum disorder.
“I went through three or four preschools, including one in Wollongong before my family moved to Dubbo,” he said.
“I kept acting up and was basically suspended several times because I had no self-discipline and I was easily bored.
“I also remember spending the whole of my last term in Year 1 outside the principal’s office because of my behaviour.
“I was diagnosed with Asperger’s, now part of autism spectrum disorder, and the best way to explain it is to say my brain is just wired differently.
“I went on to the drug Ritalin during infants school and then Risperdal in Year 4 and as a result I put on a lot of weight, so I also had to contend with the bullying associated with being overweight as well as the Asperger’s.”
Marcello said Asperger’s meant he had limited ability to read verbal and non-verbal cues when he was younger.
“I really had no concept of other people’s emotions and I couldn’t pick up on sarcasm,” he said.
“When anyone said I needed to ‘pull my socks up’ my logic told me I needed to bend over and pull up my socks – I just didn’t get it.
“But with the help of my teacher and teacher’s aide I was able to integrate into mainstream classes by the end of Year 6.”
Marcello said he was deeply indebted to his parents Erifili and Michael who stood by him and helped him through difficult times.
“If it were not for my parents I am quite sure I would not be where I am now,” he said. “They were able to source help from the Department of Education and if it wasn’t for the resources they organised both inside and outside school I am sure I would have been placed in support classes.
“In Year 4 I began working one-on-one with a teacher and from this point I came across some very caring and understanding adults who played a significant role in my life.
“One of these was my teacher’s aide Michael Ryan and my Year 5 and 6 teacher Anne Fraser.
“Working with these people gave me far more clarity in my learning and things just seemed to ‘click’ in my mind.”
Marcello’s mother Erifili Davis said there were many challenging periods through Marcello’s early life.
“We went through some very dark times as a family when we thought all hope was gone,” she said.
“But in Year 4, in collaboration with the Department of Education, a special intervention program was set up attached to Dubbo Public School.
“This gave Marcello one-on-one assistance and shorter days with the plan being to integrate him into mainstream classes.
“During this time he went from a boy who was often isolated because of his behaviour to a boy who was able to make some wonderful friends.”
Marcello came to Dubbo College South Campus in one of the school’s top Year 7 classes.
With an above average IQ Marcello’s intellectual capacity had never been in doubt but he continued to struggle with discipline and said he had been suspended several times during Year 7 and 8, as well as once in Year 9.
“I think from my time at pre-school to Year 9 I was probably suspended as many as 50 times,” he said.
“I received a lot of support from the South Campus deputy at the time Bonita Stevens and that really helped me substantially.
“Then I took up drama as an elective in Year 9 and that inspired me and increased my confidence to the point where I decided to stand for school captain.
“Even my mum had doubts about my decision but in the end I stood up in front of everyone and talked about the challenges I had faced and was ultimately voted in as school captain.”
Mrs Davis said Marcello’s transition to Dubbo College South Campus was amazing. “He had a great integration team including Bonita Stevens, Anne Fraser, Michael Ryan and Nell Powers,” she said.
“We are so proud of how far Marcello has come and we are most grateful for the supportive team around him.
“He loves his duties as school captain but most importantly he is a kind, empathetic person who cares about others.”
Even so Marcello is aware that challenging times will continue.
“I still struggle with audio processing, which means I can’t naturally block out sound,” he said.
“I hear a cacophony of sounds around me all the time and my other senses are also extra sharp.
“Of course I’m also prone to the other more normal aspects of teenage life like depression and anxiety and I have to make sure I’m really organised to stay on top of my life.
“But I would say to others suffering autism spectrum disorder that there is light at the end of the tunnel and it is ok to be different.”
The school leader’s story prompted an outpouring of support when it was posted to the Dubbo College Facebook page earlier this month.
Others thanked him for giving them hope.