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Some 100 middle school and high school students, along with their parents, gathered in Charlottesville in November for the fifth annual “I’m Determined” Youth and Parent Summit.
The summit is sponsored by the Virginia Department of Education and the Partnership for People with Disabilities. The three day conference included topics such as transitioning from high school to college and tips on finding a job. The goal was to encouraging the teens to focus on their strengths, rather than their weaknesses.
The gathering included teens from Bedford County.
Micah Wilgus, a senior at Jefferson Forest High School, was one of those who attended the event. Wilgus has Williams Syndrome.
“Williams Syndrome is a genetic disorder,” said Wilgus, who understands what afflicts him, as well as what his strengths and weaknesses are.
The disorder involves 26 missing genes in one section of one chromosome. Wilgus said that sometimes it causes problems with a person’s heart valves, a problem that he does not have.
“I’m lucky,” he commented.
An exceptionally friendly, outgoing personality is typical of people with Williams Syndrome, as is a love of music. Often those with Williams Syndrome show a highly developed auditory cortex that is usually only found in professional musicians. Wilgus loves music.
People with Williams Syndrome usually have poor fine motor coordination and this is true of Wilgus. He has terrible handwriting and he knows why. However, technology makes it possible for him to overcome this. He can do written assignments on a computer and put them in drop boxes so his teachers can retrieve them.
He loves history and reads well, but has one problem with history classes.
“I wasn’t good at maps,” he said.
Wilgus said that he has spacial orientation problems, something else that’s common in people with Williams Syndrome.
Wilgus said that he was attracted to the summit after seeing a poster about it.
“I knew it would impact somebody’s life in a good way. Why not do that for me?” he commented.
The fact that it was held in Charlottesville was a big deal for him for a couple of reasons. He’s a big University of Virginia sports fan. He’s also a big Thomas Jefferson fan, and he had a chance to visit the UVA campus and look at the buildings that Mr. Jefferson designed.
He also has a bit of history in his family.
“My grandfather was a World War II vice admiral,” he said.
His grandfather, Vice Admiral George Moore was second in command of the Navy’s Supply Corps during the war.
“I’m very impressed with what the Navy has been doing recently,” he commented. “They have gone after the toughest people we have had to fight.”
He’s also interested in the civil rights movement of the 1960s and President John Kennedy.
“I learned that self-advocacy is a big part of your life,” Wilgus said, describing what the I’m Determined summit did for him. He described self-advocacy as being able to do things for himself, and telling others what he needs.
He also met up with some teens he already knew.
“I got to connect with two of my other Williams Syndrome friends,” he said.
His mother, Anne Wilgus, said that there is a camp for students who are dealing with this problem.
She said that the parent portion of the conference was helpful for her. It gave her the chance to network with other parents who have children with disabilities. It also addressed higher education opportunities, legal issues and independent living programs. Higher education is a possibility for Micah and he is thinking about attending Central Virginia Community College after graduating.
“He has one of the highest averages in his English classes,” said Joy Williams, a special education teacher who works with him.