Stephenville resident Noah Sohm may have been diagnosed as having a form of autism, but he should not be underestimated. Those who do could end up being pleasantly surprised by the engaging, interesting youngster.
A conversation with Noah, who is 13, reveals a vocabulary far beyond his years. He is enrolled in the online Texas Virtual Academy at Hallsville (TVAH) as an eighth grader although he is taking some ninth-grade level classes. He moved to Stephenville from Dallas last year with his parents, Chris and Janette Sohm.
“He’s on the upper end of the (autism) spectrum because he’s so high functioning,” Janette Sohm said, noting that he was first diagnosed as having autism at age nine. “He did not talk before he was four, and we had him in therapy.”
When he’s not studying or reading books, Noah has also found time to volunteer 15-plus hours a week helping others, at Grace Place and Grace Closet — a local food pantry and charity closet.
“He has always wanted to help others,” Janette said. "He does a lot of stuff at our church. On Christmas Day at our church, we will have the annual Christmas dinner, and he will be helping with that.”
Noah didn’t have an answer for why he volunteers.
“I honestly don’t really know what my motivation is,” he said. “I never thought about it. It’s something that comes naturally. It makes me feel very good.”
His mother explained that it was biblical, stating, “It comes from the Great Commission, in the last chapter of Matthew. For me, I saw a bunch of people in need. I was also in need (financially), in one instance.”
KID HERO AWARD
In June of this year, Noah was recognized by the North Texas Central Council of Governments when he was presented with the 911 Kid Hero Award. He was credited with saving his diabetic mother, who had fallen asleep but was unresponsive because of her condition, leading to Noah’s 911 call on March 29.
“Noah remained very calm and I am extremely impressed by his bravery throughout the entire call,” Erath County 991 Dispatcher Supervisor Kristi Metsgar said at the time.
Noah was presented with the Kid Hero Award in a ceremony attended not only by his parents, but also by city and state officials. State Representative Dr. J.D. Sheffield stated that Noah’s response was “incredible” and that he managed to stay calm in a situation were many adults would have panicked.
Since Noah was at home and not enrolled in a regular school, he was available and able to help his mother.
“I am extremely grateful because if he was in the local junior high, he would have come home and I would have been dead,” she said. “I’m a Type 1 diabetic and I had a blood sugar crash. He was able to call his daddy and call 911. He stayed very calm through the whole thing.”
The Sohms have one other child, but he’s a grown — Jeremy Green of San Marcos. Chris Sohm works from home for a major hotel chain.
Noah’s mother is quick to point out that although he is receiving his education through the Texas Virtual Academy at Hallsville online, that does not make him a home-school child.
“In Texas, we have over 2,000 students enrolled in virtual school. It’s fully accredited for third through 12th grade,” she said, adding that TVAH is an accredited public school connected with the Hallsville Independent School District. “With us being in an online school, it allows us to have so much more flexibility.”
The TVAH website states the importance of its students recognizing “the importance of classroom pacing and published due dates and will need to complete their work based on those dates.”
Noah first logged in online as a fifth-grade student with TVAH in January 2016.
“His start date was supposed to be December 2015, but it was Christmas break so we just waited,” his mother said. “He was a week late getting started. But once he started, he has had zero absences.”
Even if he did miss a class, the format allows the students to watch a video recording of the class so they can catch up. He’s currently studying computer literacy, U.S. History Part 1, high school health, and science for the eighth-grade level, plus ninth-grade level Algebra 1, English 1 and a class titled “Reaching Your Academic Potential.”
“His lowest grade now is a 98,” Janette said. “He has high A’s, as far as his grade averages. Our plan is to keep him in virtual school until he graduates."
Noah has thrived in the virtual school environment despite also having dysgraphia, which his mother describes as a difficulty writing.
“This is a way of allowing students to get their state requirements, but it allows them the flexibility and the opportunity to get more out of their education,” his mother said. “There are over 40 states that have a virtual school that is powered by K-12, all the way from Alaska to Maine. Every teacher is certified to teach in Texas, but they don’t necessarily live in Texas.”
Students can either send a private message to their teacher during the class sessions if they have a question, or can punch a “raise hand” feature to get called on.
“They have lots of opportunities to stay engaged with the TV screen,” Janette Sohm said. “It’s very much an interactive program, which is really neat.”
When they lived in Dallas, Noah began the first grade in a charter school, but he withdrew and enrolled in public school there. Then he encountered other problems, some involving severe allergies when the children were sent outside for recess.
Noah’s mother said he had some emotional problems, stemming partially from stress that also made his school situation in Dallas more difficult.
“He was in special ed class and the school wasn’t sending his homework home,” Janette said. “With this (virtual school) we don’t have that issue. He also lost a cousin in that time frame.”
“Kids with autism don’t adapt very well,” his mother said. “Having flexibility has been one of the biggest blessings.”
Of course, nothing is perfect. Noah noted that not being physically among his classmates and teachers can have its drawbacks.
“Sometimes I miss the personal interaction,” Noah said. “It’s not the same as seeing my friends every day.”
Noah has a few years to go before he’s college age, but he already has other ideas about what he would like to do.
“I would like to be focusing on a photography and photojournalism career,” he said.
However, his mother quickly added, “Whatever career path he chooses, he probably will need some college classes.”
Noah’s mother also noted that, “There were a bunch of things doctors say you can’t do, and we end up doing them. The only experts (on autism) are the ones who actually live with it.”