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Student with Autism Overcomes Disability to Earn Certificate of Completion

  • Synopsis: Published: 2010-06-01 (Revised/Updated 2016-03-18) - Student with autism overcomes disability to earn certificate of completion and begin GED studies. For further information pertaining to this article contact: Briggs & Rogers.

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Quote: "She attended regular schools through the eighth grade, when she returned to Eden. She's worked hard to be as "typical" as she can be, despite her disability."

Eden Ceremony Celebrates Student Achievement - Student with autism overcomes disability to earn certificate of completion, begin GED studies.

When 18-year-old Naples resident Hannah Kandel started school 12 years ago, her parents weren't sure they'd ever celebrate their daughter's graduation. This rite of passage is a given for many students, however, Hannah has autism.

For the past 12 years, Hannah has attended both public and private schools, and with the help of caring teachers, often kept up with the curriculum other kids her age learned. She attended regular schools through the eighth grade, when she returned to Eden. She's worked hard to be as "typical" as she can be, despite her disability.

"For years, Hannah has told us that she wants to graduate with her 'class' and if she had been a typically developing child, she would graduate this year," says Hannah's mother, Merry Kandel. "She's worked hard in school for years, so we presented the idea to the staff at Eden. They loved the idea and we decided to expand it to be an awards ceremony for all the kids."

On June 8, Hannah's family and classmates will celebrate her graduation, of sorts. While she'll be receiving a certificate of completion instead of a diploma, she is planning "post graduate" studies to work toward her GED, with the hopes of continuing on to college someday. Hannah's dream is to attend Columbia University in New York City, but Merry says she'll take small steps and hopes she can start at Edison State College locally. Hannah is very good with numbers and dates, and wrote a poem her parents set to music for her to sing at the ceremony. She hopes to someday be a movie star and preschool teacher.

Hannah Kandel’s senior portrait
About This Image: Hannah Kandel’s senior portrait
The Kandels have worked with Hannah's teacher, Staci Thompson, and others at the school to make the event as much like a "typical" commencement ceremony and awards event as possible, using the program order and elements from ceremonies their other children have attended as a guide. Hannah's rabbi will attend and perform a standard convocation and benediction. Eden Autism Services CEO Dr. Thomas McCool and Eden Florida Executive Director Susan Suarez will also attend and speak. Several students will perform a skit.

Other Eden students will also receive awards for their accomplishments over the past year, though Hannah will be the only one receiving her certificate of completion. The day after the ceremony, seven students and three teachers will go on an overnight trip to Walk Disney World®, paid for by money they raised selling cookie jars they made themselves throughout the year. For many of them, it will be their first night away from home without their families.

Eden's commencement ceremony and awards banquet will be held at 9:30 a.m. on June 8 at its Eimerman Educational Center on 2801 County Barn Road in Naples.

Eden Autism Services was founded in New Jersey in 1975 with a mission to improve the lives of children and adults with autism and their families by providing a range of community-based services to meet specific needs throughout the lifespan. In 1996, Eden Autism Services Florida was founded to address the state's growing need for specialized services for children and adults with autism and their families. Eden Autism Services Florida's services range from comprehensive outreach, including program consultations and early intervention, to 12-month education for school age students and residential and employment services for adults. For more information, contact Taire Malloy at 239-992-4680, extension 206 or

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